Close-knit Orediggers spend Thanksgiving together

One of the problems that comes with making the quarterfinals of the NAIA national football playoffs is you have to practice on Thanksgiving.

Since the vast majority of Montana Tech football players are from out of town, the Orediggers will not be going home for the holiday.

That, however, is just fine with the 10-1 Orediggers as they prepare to take on 10-0 Saint Francis Saturday in Fort Wayne, Indian. Kickoff is at 10 a.m., and the game will be carried live on KBOW (550 AM, 101.5 FM or online).

“Obviously on holidays you want to spend it with your family,” Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “The cool part for us is that we get to spend it with our football family.”

The Frontier Conference champion Orediggers will practice early Thursday. Then, they will gather together at the HPER Complex for a Thanksgiving dinner, courtesy of some supporters in the community.

Community, Counseling, and Correctional Services, Inc. is cooking the traditional turkey dinner for the Orediggers, who are just thrilled to still be donning the pads this late in November.

“They guys are obviously excited to be rolling and playing at this time of year,” Morrell said. “Anytime you’re still practicing on Thanksgiving it means there are a lot of positives going on for your program.”

As that high-flying program gathers for its feast, Morrell said the Orediggers have a lot to be thankful for.

“I’m really appreciative of the people of the Butte community,” the coach said. “Between helping us host a playoff game and helping us feed the kids over the holiday, the support from the community has been amazing.”

The Orediggers are two wins away from appearing the NAIA national championship game, which is Dec. 19 in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Next week is the semifinals, and it is possible that Montana Tech could host a game, even though the Orediggers are the No. 5-ranked team in the playoffs. The top four teams are still alive.

Frontier Conference Commissioner Kent Paulson said the NAIA has an unwritten rule that prohibits conference foes from playing in the championship game.

Southern Oregon, which finished second to the Orediggers in the Frontier, is playing at Baker in Kansas. If Tech and the defending NAIA champions both win Saturday, that would put that rule to the test and force the Orediggers and Raiders to play in Butte.

Travel considerations could also come into play, with the NAIA wanting to only have to pay one team to fly from the west.

“It’s possible,” Morrell said of playing at home in the semifinals. “There’s a lot of extenuating factors that go into it.”

Another home game, though, will not be what’s on the minds of the Orediggers during their Thanksgiving dinner together.

“It’s possible, but we’ve got to go out and play one of the top teams in the country,” Morrell said. “They’re the only undefeated NAIA team in the country. We’ve got to make sure our focus is squarely on that right now.”

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