By Bill Foley
Three weeks ago, Montana Tech’s football team had the look of a true NAIA national title contender.
On Saturday, Oredigger coach Chuck Morrell was proud to give his beat up team another label: Blue collar.
No. 22 Montana Tech saw its season end with a 24-10 loss to No. 5 Southern Oregon on the Bob Green Field, but Morrell pointed out his team went down swinging. Stats
“It was gritty,” Morrell said of the Oredigger performance. “I asked our kids to do one thing today: Come out and fight as hard as they could fight. I’m just so proud of them. I really feel like that’s one of our toughest, most blue-collar performances we’ve had in a couple of years.”
With its third straight loss, Montana Tech — once ranked as high as No. 5 in the NAIA — closes the season at 6-4. The 10-0 Raiders head to the NAIA playoffs as the Frontier Conference champions.
Southern Oregon will host a playoff game next week. Playoff pairings will be released on Sunday.
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How beat up the Orediggers were by the end of the once-promising campaign we may never really know. What we do know, however, is Tech was without three starters on the offensive line and one of the best running backs in the NAIA in Jed Fike.
Senior quarterback Quinn McQueary played despite severely-bruised ribs — at least. McQueary clearly wasn’t 100 percent, but he still willed his way to 302 yards passing and 35 yards and a touchdown rushing.
“We were a little under gunned, and guys just stuck in there and kept swinging,” Morrell said. “We were in it right up until the end.”
The Orediggers, who passed on field goal attempts only to fail to convert on fourth down on four separate occasions, trailed 18-3 before McQueary scrambled four a 4-yard touchdown run with 5 minutes, 33 seconds left in the game.
The Oredigger defense looked primed to give the ball back to the offense when Rey Vega busted loose for an 81-yard touchdown run. The point after touchdown was missed, but the raiders still led 24-10 with 3:58 on the clock. Vega, who had been basically shut down before breaking the big run, slammed the ball on the ground and gave the Oredigger crowd the shush sign.
The Orediggers drove to the Southern Oregon 32-yard line, but Tech ran out of time and downs.
“We just wanted to give ourselves a chance to be there in the fourth quarter today, and we did that,” Morrell said. “They made one more play than we did, and that’s all I can say about it.”
Matt Boudreaux was a big-time playmaker for the Raiders Saturday. He caught eight passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns.
He set up his first score by going up high for a 32-yard gain to the Oredigger 32 on third and 11.
Two plays later, Boudreaux hauled in a 28-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Tanner Trosin, who also passed for 302 yards, with 4:03 on the first-quarter clock
Instead of kicking a field goal to cut the lead in early in the second quarter, the Orediggers went for it on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line. The Raiders stuffed Tech running back Braden Feisthamel for no gain.
Tech, though, eventually took advantage of the field-position advantage when Derrick Holt booted a 39-yard field goal to cut the lead to 6-3 with 9:46 left in the second quarter.
Southern Oregon got the three back when Marcus Montano drilled a 28-yard field goal 14 seconds before halftime. That score was set up by an interception by A.J. Cooper.
The Orediggers took the kickoff to start the second half and went backward, and that wasn’t the worst news on the drive.
Keegan Lawrence blocked a Holt punt out of the back of the end zone for a safety and an 11-3 lead.
Southern Oregon parlayed that into another score five plays later when Boudreaux outjumped a pair of Oredigger defenders for a 39-yard touchdown and an 18-3 lead.
Tech’s defense kept the score there until McQueary scrambled for the touchdown, reaching the ball across as he took a hard hit.
Grant Benz, Hunter Berg and Hayden Smith started on the offensive line in place of Jack Hape, Trevor Hopf and Nate Younk. Jalen Whitley and Kellen Davis were the only usual starters to play.
“I’m proud of our guys and the O-line that stepped up,” Morrell said. “We were short three guys on the O-line today. To have those guys step up and play the way they did, I’m really proud of them.”
With Fike on the sideline with an ankle sprain, redshirt freshman Braxton Porter led the Oredigger running attack with 14 carries for 47 yards.
McQueary completed 29 of 63 passes. He hit Dion Williams 10 times for 126 yards.
Chris Kelly hauled in seven passes for 54 yards, while fellow senior Sean Sullivan grabbed six for 63. Senior Chris LaChance caught three passes while Alec Steele caught two and Tanner Osborne pulled down one.
Senior defensive lineman Tyler Sanders closed his Oredigger career with an inspired effort. He registered a team-best 11 tackles.
Junior linebacker Connor Wines added nine tackles, including a two and a half tackles for a loss, and a sack.
Seniors Will Davey and Reid Siderius picked off Trosin passes. Siderius’ pick came in the end zone.