The big games just keep coming for the Montana Tech football team.
The No. 17 Orediggers (2-1) play their third ranked team of the season Saturday when they take on No. 22 Rocky Mountain College at Herb Klindt Field in Billings.
The game will be the second straight road game in which the Orediggers will be trying to spoil a homecoming celebration for the home team.
“It really reminds me of a playoff atmosphere with how our schedule is laying out now,” Oredigger coach Chuck Morrell said. “We’ve got not another quality ranked opponent, and it’s their homecoming game. I really feel like we’re going to have to play our best game of the season to date to be able to go over there and get the ‘W.’ It’s exciting for us. It’s their homecoming game, and I told our guys ‘The hits just keep coming.'”
The Orediggers, who will celebrate homecoming themselves next week against Southern Oregon, beat Montana Western in a 30-24 double-overtime classic Saturday night in Dillon.
That the Bulldogs were not ranked at the time doesn’t take anything from that victory, Morrell said.
“The parity in the Frontier Conference is unbelievable,” the coach said. “You can’t go around and score watch and try to do the score comparison thing. If you did that, you’d be wrong every time.
“There’s such parity in the Frontier right now that a win is a win,” Morrell said. “Did we play our best football? Absolutely not, but I’m proud of our guys to be able to come out and finish. I would expect more of those types of games between us and Western because it’s such a huge rivalry game. With the parity right now, you can throw out anything that happened previously. I know it’s a little bit cliché, but you can throw that stuff out the window.”
Montana Tech played the first three games of the season without starting linebacker Ryan Jones, who was injured in an offseason car accident.
Jones, who has been on the sideline for the first three games, is improving all the time, but Morrell said he hasn’t decided whether to redshirt the senior because of the injury.
“It’s something we’re taking at a day-by-day basis. He’s working and getting in great shape. He’s getting closer, but it’s such a long recovery process for him,” Morrell said of Jones, who has a redshirt year available. “He’s not back to 100 percent, and I’m not going to put a guy out there who’s not 100 percent.”
Jones’ injury has created opportunity for redshirt freshman David Meis.
“He’s been playing very well,” Morrell said of the Helena High product. “Going into the season, that wasn’t necessarily the plan to have him on the field every single snap. But he’s growing up fast and playing extremely well. That can only mean good things for us in the future.”
Meis is one of several young players in key roles on the Orediggers. Morrell also pointed to young players on the offensive and defensive lines.
“Even though they’re sophomore status, I don’t look at them as young guys any more. They’re actually veterans for us,” the coach said. “It’s really nice for us to have those guys who are going to be three- or four-year players who are contributing pretty significantly right now.”
In all three games, the Orediggers have blown a 10-point lead.
The Orediggers led Eastern Oregon 23-13 in the fourth quarter before falling 26-23. Tech led Carroll College 20-10 at halftime, only to see the Saints tie the game at 20. Tech outscored the Saints 17-0 in the fourth quarter to end that game.
In Dillon, the Orediggers led 10-0 and 17-7 only to see the Bulldogs battle back to send the game to overtime.
“I think that’s part of the maturation process of our team right now,” Morrell said. “We’re learning how to play with a lead. If you look back to last year, we were hardly in that position. Now we’ve been in that position a couple of times, and now finishing is that next step.”