Carroll College football is looking to return to its winning ways after three straight 4-6 seasons and the Fighting Saints kick off 2018 on Thursday night at Rocky Mountain College live on SWX.
Carroll split two meetings with Rocky last season. The Battlin' Bears won inside Nelson Stadium for the first time in program history during September but the Saints avenged that loss in Billings during October.
Six-time national champion head coach Mike Van Diest says an experienced 2018 roster helps make the 20th-ranked Bears one of the top teams in the Frontier Conference.
"We've been watching them probably since March. They've got a lot of players coming back. I think they've got the second-most returning starters. A terrific offensive line with those two tackles, a center coming back, a great group of running backs, and they've got three starting quarterbacks on their team. That's impressive," said Coach Van Diest.
Coach says rushing offense and defense played a major role in deciding both 2017 results and he expects this year to be similar.
"The first game they had their way with us. They rushed for over 300 yards and we just didn't run support well. We didn't tackle well. The second game we settled down a little bit. We didn't have as many missed tackles and that helped us quite a bit," said Coach Van Diest.
Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Reese Hiibel made his first career road start in Billings last year and he says the Saints always have match Rocky's intensity.
"They play with a lot of energy. They're very passionate about what they do. Coach Petrino does a great job. Everybody knows we have a brand-new offensive line. I have full faith in those guys. They've been having a great camp. They're gonna be facing a really good defensive line but they're gonna have to play hard and we're all gonna have to play hard," said Reese Hiibel.
Coach says an improved Saints passing attack could be the difference between being unbeaten or win-less after the opener.
"We've got to be able to throw the football this year. We've got to protect Reese. We've got a lot of weapons that we didn't have in our arsenal last year. We're a little bit deeper at that position of wide receiver and just hopefully offensive line can hold up against their pass rush," said Coach Van Diest.
The Saints and Bears are both looking for a prime-time rivalry win to start off the season. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. at Herb Klindt Field in Billings on Thursday.