HELENA — Carroll College football coach Troy Purcell has waited a long time for the opportunity to step onto a football field and coach his alma mater.
In his 28 years of coaching, he has always expressed a desire to return home.
So, with the start of the season just a few days away, it makes sense that his excitement is through the roof.
“It’s going to be fun, finally, not to line up against each other and see where the kids are at,” Purcell said. “It’ll be good to go out there and compete with some other teams.”
That excitement starts with a trip to Dillon on Saturday to face Montana Western.
The Saints are going to walk onto Vigilante Field with a Bulldogs team that exceeded expectations from last season.
They racked up six wins and finished tied for second in the conference after being picked to finish near the bottom of the Frontier Conference before the start of the season.
But now Montana Western is no surprise.
This past July, the Bulldogs were picked by the coaches to finish third and even earned a first-place vote.
Part of the reason for last year’s success came from sophomore quarterback Jon Jund.
The Spring Creek, Nevada native finished with 2,510 passing yards and 14 touchdown passes - the third most in the Frontier Conference behind Rocky Mountain’s Jacob Bakken and Eastern Oregon’s Kai Quinn.
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But Purcell said the Bulldogs have much more than just a good quarterback.
“They have an explosive offense,” Purcell said. “We know what (Jund) can do, but they are sound on the defensive side as well. Their linebackers are probably the strongest on the defensive line.”
One linebacker in particular is Jason Ferris. Last season, he led the conference with 125 total tackles.
While there is excitement, there is also uncertainty.
Who will the starting quarterback will be on Saturday?
Purcell said on many occasions this fall that sophomore Devan Bridgewater and junior Kolby Killoy are neck and neck. He did not say who will get the nod, but whomever it might be, they will have the opportunity to start the season off with a win for the first time since 2016, when JT Linder threw for 330 yards in a 27-24 win against Montana Tech.
Carroll technically did win last year’s season opener after Rocky Mountain was forced to forfeit a 19-0 victory because it used an academically ineligible player.
The Saints know they aren’t wasting time jumping into conference play. But with disadvantages, like the possibility of an early loss, there are also opportunities to learn.
“There is going to be adversity out there,” Purcell said. “I just want to see how we are going to respond. We have to respond in a positive way, and there are going to be highs and lows. We just have to stay the course and keep going.”
Kickoff against the Bulldogs is scheduled for 1 p.m.