By Bill Foley
What should not be lost in the wake of Montana Tech’s 64-35 loss at the College of Idaho on Saturday is the play of quarterback Davan Norris.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound redshirt freshman from Sandpoint, Idaho, started in place of injured senior Quinn McQueary, who had been playing through a significant injury for a couple of weeks.
Norris completed 28 of 44 passes (64 percent) for 357 yards and four touchdowns. He did not throw an interception.
Those numbers are even more impressive when you take into consideration that they came after Norris lost one of his best assets — sophomore running back Jed Fike — to injury early in the game.
Not to take away from Norris, but there is another factor that should not be overlooked. That is the group of receivers Norris and McQueary have to work with.
Orediggers Dion Williams, Sean Sullivan and Chris Kelly are ranked Nos. 1 through 3 in receptions in the Frontier Conference.
With 67 catches for 878 yards, Williams, a junior, also sits atop the conference in receiving yards.
Sullivan has 49 catches for 518 yards, while Kelly has 48 grabs for 528 yards.
Southern Oregon’s Bronson Ader is fourth with 47 receptions and second with 818 yards.
Williams caught 10 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown Saturday. Kelly, a senior who set the Tech single-game reception record earlier this season at Carroll College, caught five for 80, and Kelly, also a senior, grabbed six for 67.
Williams (9), Kelly (7) and Sullivan (3), have combined for 29 touchdowns. Senior Chris LaChance and Fike each have hauled in three touchdown passes, while freshman tight end Tanner Osborne grabbed two.
McQueary, who leads the league with 23 touchdown passes, said he is hoping to be back in the lineup this week.
Fike suffered a serious ankle sprain after just four carries Saturday, so his season was basically limited to eight games.
Still, the former Whitehall/Harrison Trojan put together one of the greatest seasons ever by an Oredigger running back.
With 1,252 yards on 174 carries, Fike will likely win the Frontier Conference rushing title, even though he won’t play in Saturday’s regular-season finale against Southern Oregon.
College of Idaho quarterback Darius-James Peterson is the only player in striking distance with 1,011 yards.
In terms of yards, Fike’s 2017 season is the fifth best in school history. He ranks only behind Don Heater’s 1,797 yards in 1971, Nolan Saraceni’s 1,683 yards in 2015, Pat Hansen’s 1,383 yards in 2011, and Saraceni’s 1,314 yards in 2016.
Fike will also stay on top of the category of all-purpose yards of 1,601 and scoring with 108 points.
Only Heater (158 points in 1971) and Saraceni (120 in 2015 and 114 in 2016) have scored more points for Montana Tech in a single season.
All Oredigger eyes were clearly on Peterson heading into Saturday’s game, it was Nick Calzarett who did the most damage.
The 5-11, 205-pound freshman from Larkspur, California, ran 162 yards and five touchdowns in to lead the Coyotes to the win.
Calzaretta tied a very old team record along the way. His five touchdowns tied Tom Winbigler and Ted Martin in the school record book.
Winbigler scored five touchdowns against Willamette in 1949, while Martin found the end zone five times against Montana State in 1953.
To say Calzaretta’s performance was surprising is an understatement. Heading into the game, Calzaretta had 294 yards and four touchdowns in eight games.
Work to do
With one game left in his Montana Western career, senior running back Hunter Thomsen has some work to do if he wants to become the second Bulldog to run for 1,000 yards in a season.
Carroll College held the Great Falls Russell product to 54 yards on 20 carries in the Saints’ 25-15 win over the Bulldogs last week at Nelson Stadium.
That leaves Thomsen at 912 yards. He’ll need at 88 yards as the Bulldogs close the season against Rocky Mountain College Saturday at Vigilante Field to join a club in which the only other member is Sam Rutherford.
Rutherford set the school record with 1,061 yards in 2014.
Carroll College’s win over the Bulldogs was the third straight for the Saints, who are within one game of .500. Once again, the key to success for the Saints was running the ball and stopping the run.
Led by Major Ali’s 175 yards, the Saints out-gained Western 280-78.
During the Carroll winning streak, the Saints have out-rushed their opponents 892-158.
The Saints, who started at 1-5, can close at 5-5 with a win Saturday at Eastern Oregon. Carroll finished each of the last two seasons one game below .500.
Southern Oregon, which moved up to No. 5 in the NAIA this week, clinched the Frontier Conference title with a win last week at MSU-Northern.
The victory locked up the Raiders fourth playoff appearance since Southern Oregon joined the Frontier Conference in 2012. This year marks the Raiders’ first solo league crown.
Southern Oregon tied for the top spot with Montana Tech in 2012. In 2014, the Raiders finished a game behind Carroll College in the league standings.
The Raiders, though, won four playoff games, including that 45-42 thriller over the Saints in Helena, on their way to the national championship.
Southern Oregon will find out its playoff opponent on Sunday. Montana Tech is the only other Frontier school with an outside shot at a playoff berth, albeit a long one.
Tech fell to No. 22 with their second straight loss. A win over the No. 5 team in the nation could possibly be enough to get the Orediggers into the dance.
At least that is the hope for the Orediggers.