UM Western survives Rocky comeback effort 50-42, earns share of Frontier Conference title

DILLON, Mont. -- The stakes couldn't have been higher on Saturday afternoon as the Montana Western Bulldogs (8-3) hosted the Rocky Mountain Battlin' Bears (7-3) with Frontier Conference title implications on the line.

With the College of Idaho (7-3) losing earlier in the day to Carroll, the door was open for Rocky and UM Western--a win for the Battlin' Bears would mean sole possession of the conference title, while a victory for the Bulldogs would ensure a three-way share of trophy.

Ultimately, the home team Bulldogs came out on top 50-42 to clinch a piece of the conference title, but that score does not tell the full story of the madness that unfolded on Saturday.

It originally seemed as if the Bulldogs were going to cruise to a victory, as UM Western lead 21-0 going into halftime.

As per usual, senior receiver Nate Simkins was quarterback Jon Jund's favorite target. Simkins hauled in nine catches for 159 yards and three touchdowns, his third score being the record-setter for most receptions all-time in UM Western history.

"It's been awesome [coaching a player like Simkins]," said UM Western head coach Ryan Nourse. "I think we have a pretty good sense of one another and what Nate can do well. He's been such a great competitor. Maybe the Frontier Conference will give him Player of the Week for a change."

Despite Simkins' heroics, the full game was not a bed of roses for UM Western. The Rocky Mountain Battlin' Bears earned that "battlin'" nickname, scoring 42 points in the second half after being shut out through the first 30 minutes.

Two of those touchdowns came on the Nathan Dick-to-Lucas Overton connection, including one with 32 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 42.

The Bulldogs were able to score enough points in the second half to keep the Bears from ever taking the lead, but mistakes on defense, such as allowing two touchdown passes of 50+ yards, and offense, such as throwing a pick-six mere seconds after giving up a touchdown to Rocky, allowed the Battlin' Bears to battle back.

"We made a lot of mistakes there for a while, and they were coming after us," said Nourse. "It was a good football game. They forced us into some mistakes, and we did some silly stuff, and they capitalized on it."

After a scoreless overtime period, the decisive blow came in double overtime when UM Western back Reese Neville scored from 1 yard out to put the Bulldogs on top 48-42. The Bulldogs followed that up with a Jamison Hermans 2-point conversion to take an eight-point lead.

Rocky, meanwhile, came up short on their double overtime drive, as the UM Western defense forced an incompletion on fourth down, earning the Bulldogs the 50-42 victory and a share of the conference title.

"We just kept fighting, baby," Nourse said. "We don't have much shiny stuff down here, but we've got a lot of fight."

This marks UM Western's first Frontier Conference championship since 2004. The Bulldogs will now wait for the tiebreakers to sort themselves out to see whether or not they will earn an automatic bid to the NAIA postseason.

"If we get to go to the playoffs, we'll prepare like we do every week," Nourse said. "If we don't, we still had a great season. All we can do is keep our heads up. Hopefully we'll get a chance to play somebody new."