By Bill Foley
Quinn McQueary threw four touchdown passes Saturday afternoon to lead Montana Tech to a 42-21 win over the College of Idaho on the Bob Green Field.
That won’t be what Oredigger fans will be talking about Saturday night. Instead, they’ll be raving about the junior quarterback hurdling College of Idaho defensive back Tristen Alesi on a 17-yard run that started a 92-yard scoring drive in the third quarter.
“I’ve done that one other time, and that was in high school,” said McQueary, who admitted to watching the replay with the rest of the Oredigger players, coaches and fans as it played on DiggerVision. “I landed right on my face. It was time to redeem myself today.”
McQueary, who added a smaller hurdle in the fourth quarter, also busted a 50-yard run on the scoring drive that was the biggest of the day as the No. 7 Orediggers won their eighth straight game to clinch the Frontier Conference title and a NAIA playoff berth.
The drive, which started at the Tech 8-yard line because of block in the back on a kick return, came after the College of Idaho cut Tech’s lead to 28-21 on slippery quarterback Darius-James Peterson’s third touchdown run.
It ended when McQueary hit senior Zach Bunney in back corner of the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown. That play came right after McQueary had a 2-yard touchdown run called back for holding.
“We had little lulls through it throughout the game, but we stuck to it,” McQueary said. “The offense stuck to it, the defense stuck to it, the special teams stuck to it. It was an overall team win today.”
It was also a win for the 19 Montana Tech seniors who were honored before the game.
“Our whole team was playing for our seniors today,” McQueary said.
Oredigger coach Chuck Morrell echoed his quarterback.
“I’m just so proud of that senior group. They haven’t lost a game on this field in two years, and that’s pretty impressive,” Morrell said. “Champions aren’t built on everything going right all the time. They’re built on adversity. This group of kids has been through a lot of adversity. A lot of these guys have been through a 1-9 season and a 3-7 season. They just kept sticking in there, and to see them get paid off the way they did is just incredible.”
The Orediggers, who haven’t trailed during their eight-game winning streak, might not have played their best game on Saturday. The team, though, made enough big plays to hold off the pesky Coyotes, who fell to 3-7 overall and 2-7 in conference.
Like usual, senior Nolan Saraceni started the big-play barrage for the Orediggers, scoring on a 39-yard run to cap Tech’s first possession.
Peterson, who ran for 164 yards on 22 carries, tied the game at 7 on a 57-yard run.
“He was tough to tackle,” Tech junior linebacker Drew Schleeman said. “Coming into today we knew he was a playmaker. Today he really showed it. He made plays. He broke a lot of tackles, and you’ve got to give him props.”
The Orediggers answered the TD with a 10-play, 77-yard march. Dion Williams made a leaping catch for a 14-yard TD pass from McQueary to put the Orediggers up for good at 14-7.
Tech extended the lead to 21-7 one play after Connor Wines recovered a fumble on the Tech 47. McQueary hit senior Keeton Mitchell for a 53-yard score.
On the day, Mitchell caught nine passes for 123 yards.
“That’s what’s great about our offense. At any point someone might break one,” McQueary said. “We’ve got a ton of playmakers.”
Tech made it 28-7 with 10 minutes, 50 seconds left in the second quarter when McQueary hit Williams for an 18-yard score. Again, Williams went up high to make the catch.
Peterson cut the lead to 28-14 on a 4-yard run with 5:48 left in the second, and the score stayed there until halftime.
Tech marched to the COI 1-yard line, but the drive stalled when a McQueary pass to Williams was batted away at the goal line.
Peterson cut the lead to 28-21 with 3:03 left the third. Then McQueary starting hurdling.
“We needed this to be very frank and honest,” Morrell said of the close game. Tech beat MSU-Northern and Rocky Mountain College by a combined score of 125-26 on the road the last two weeks.
Saturday’s game was definitely closer than the score might show. Junior tight end Andy Butcher recovered a muffed punt in the end zone for a game-capping score with 2:43 left on the clock.
“We needed this type of game where we had to play the whole game,” Morrell said. “I was a little concerned after the last two weeks when we basically had to play one half and hang out. It was good to get this type of test going down the stretch.”
Saraceni finished with 156 yards on 24 carries, while McQueary ran for 83 determined yards on 11 carries. The quarterback also completed 25 of 32 passes for 294 yards. He wasn’t picked off.
Williams added eight catches for 98 yards, while Bunney grabbed six for 45. Chris Kelly got into the act with two catches for 28 yards.
Eddie Smith and Luke Benz led the Orediggers with eight tackles a piece. Caleb Vance made the most of Senior day with seven tackles, and Andre Brown registered six.
Benz had the biggest tackle of the day, stopping Peterson for a 1-yard loss on fourth and 1 from the Tech 11 with 10:23 left in the fourth quarter. That was the last time the Coyotes threatened.
“We needed somebody to make a play, and Luke stepped in there and made a big-time play,” Schleeman said. “To step up there late in the game was kind of nice.”
“That’s our senior leadership stepping up and making some plays when it counts and when things are critical,” Morrell said.
At 8-1, the Orediggers have a one-game lead over Eastern Oregon, which beat Rocky Mountain College 19-16 at home Saturday, with one game left. Tech, though, has the potential tiebreaker advantage thanks to their 37-24 win over the Mountaineers Sept. 24 in La Grande.
The Frontier crown is the second straight for the Orediggers, who won back-to-back titles for the first time since the 1996 and 1997 seasons.
“It wasn’t our best performance,” Schleeman said of Saturday’s win. “But when you still win by 21 points when it wasn’t your best performance, you’ve got something special here.”
The Orediggers will play at Southern Oregon next Saturday. The team will likely have to win that game to host a first-round playoff game in two weeks.
“We talked about it after the game,” Morrell said. “We need to get a win next week to get a home playoff game. Our home environment is so awesome. I want to make sure we get to play here again.”
Schleeman said the Orediggers are focused on making sure that Saturday’s game wasn’t the last time the 19 Tech seniors will play on their home turf.
“The seniors, they deserve to play on this field again,” Schleeman said. “It’s nice to get a big-time win on Bob Green Field for those guys.”