By Bill Foley
DILLON — Just when it looked like the Orediggers would get all the breaks, a gray Montana Saturday became a Dawg Day Afternoon.
Montana Western scored three straight touchdowns to overcome a 21-14 deficit to pick up a season-saving 35-21 Frontier Conference victory over Montana Tech on the “Cow Pasture” at a packed Vigilante Field. (Stats)
For Western coach Ryan Nourse, the win was a fulfillment of a prophecy of sorts to see his team respond to some serious adversity.
“That’s really the thing we’ve worked on I believe the hardest this year, just maintaining your composure throughout the entire game,” Nourse said. “Regardless of what’s happening, just keep playing. Good things will happen if you just keep playing.”
Those good things were happening for Montana Tech when Jet Campbell hit Kyle Torgerson on a crossing pattern. Kameron Rauser brought the Oredigger receiver down, but the officials did not blow the whistle as Torgerson rolled over the top of the defender.
Torgerson shot up and ran down the Oredigger sideline for a 53-yard touchdown in the west end zone.
The extra point by Ryan Lowry put the Orediggers up 21-14 with 12 minutes, 37 seconds showing on the third quarter clock.
“It was great effort,” Oredigger coach Kyle Samson said of the play that looked like it might be the biggest of the season for Montana Tech.
Western, though, marched 75 yards on 14 plays to answer. Colten McPhee dove into the end zone on a 7-yard run to cap the drive and knot the score at 21.
Then, things really started to fall apart for Tech.
The Orediggers were flagged for holding on the kick return, and the Western defense forced a three and out. Tech’s Andrew Almos punted from his own end zone, and Tech was called for interfering with the catch.
The 15-yard penalty put the ball on the Tech 33-yard line. After a reverse to Trey Mounts took the ball to the 10, John Jund threw his third touchdown pass of the game, a pass over the middle to Nate Simkins, aka “The Magic Man.”
The touchdown was the second of the day for the Dillon receiver, who racked up 106 yards on nine catches.
With a 28-21 lead, the Bulldog defense really came alive.
The Orediggers opened the following drive with a quarterback draw. Just when it looked like Campbell was going to have a ton of running room, the arm of Reese Artz came out of nowhere to trip the quarterback up for a 1-yard loss.
On the next play, Bryer Monson and Brandon Aimsback combined to sack Campbell for a 15-yard loss to close out the third quarter.
Aimsback sacked Campbell again on the first play of the fourth quarter.
In all, the Bulldogs got to Campbell six times, leaving the quarterback “pretty banged up,” in the words of Samson. Receiver Jaden MacNeil took the final snap for the Orediggers.
After a punt, the Bulldogs took over at the Tech 45-yard line. Four plays later, McPhee was in the end zone again, this time on a 2-yard run.
The Orediggers kept fighting, and Campbell scrambled and slid inside the Western 20-yard line as the Orediggers tried to cut the lead in half. Tech fans cheered when a flag flew for what looked like a late hit call.
On the play, however, the Orediggers were called for a hold. To make matters worse, Campbell was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for apparently saying something about the late hit.
After an incomplete pass, the Orediggers were flagged for another unsportsmanlike penalty, give the Orediggers an unheard of third and 50 from their own 34.
Tech, though, ended up with a first down after a Western penalty. But the Bulldogs got the ball back four plays later.
“Our guys fought really hard today, and we did some really good things,” Samsons said. “That’s a good football team, and we just didn’t execute in some situations both defensively and offensively. We gave them some extra chances. You can’t give a good team extra chances.”
Both teams opened the game with touchdowns on the first possession. Western drove 75 yards on 10 plays. The drive was capped by a 5-yard pass from Jund to Mounts.
Tech responded by going 77-yards on eight plays. Blake Counts scored on a 7-yard run that resembled a rugby scrum.
Tech took the lead midway through the second quarter when Trevor Hoffman hauled in an 8-yard pass for a 14-7 advantage.
After the play, Hoffman was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for apparently tossing the ball toward the Western defender.
Western turned the short field in to a 12-play, 50-yard drive, which was capped when Jund hit Simkins for 10 yards with 1:02 left in the second half.
The Orediggers, who have struggled scoring in the second half much of the season, busted out of the second half with the big play by Torgerson. The rest of the day, though, belonged to the Bulldogs.
“I don’t fault their effort for one minute. I love this team. I love these guys,” Samson said. “They played really, really hard.”
Campbell completed 12 of 21 passes for 164 yards in an all-out effort. Hoffman caught four passes, while Torgerson and Kiley Caprara each caught three.
Counts ran for 96 yards on 18 carries.
Defensive back Teddy Croft had a huge day to lead the Oredigger defense. He racked up 10 total tackles, one more than lineman Logan Kolodejchuk. Jake Orvis and Spencer Schock each got in on seven tackles, while Naoki Harmer and Angel Sanchez III got in on six
Blake Allred recovered a fumble that he helped force along with Keyshawn James-Newby and Schock deep in Tech territory.
Jund completed 14 of 22 passes for 143 yards. Reese Neville, whose 43-yard run set up Western’s first touchdown, ran for 101 yards. Jund scrambled for 85, and McPhee picked up 53.
Senior linebacker Joe Caicedo led the Bulldogs with 11 tackles. Monson got in on six tackles, while Artz added six tackles and two and a half sacks.
Playing his final game against his hometown team, Butte Central graduate Kyle Schulte got in on three tackles.
“I was proud of the boys to be able to flip the switch,” Nourse said. “That was a good one to get under our belt. It’s hard to beat somebody twice.”
With the win, the Bulldogs (7-3 overall, 6-3 Frontier) kept pace with Rocky Mountain College and the College of Idaho.
If Western can beat Rocky at home next week and the College of Idaho falls to Carroll College in Helena, the Bulldogs would claim a share of the Frontier Conference title and possibly a berth in the NAIA playoffs.
“It gives me a bad taste in my mouth to hope Carroll wins a game,” Nourse said. “We’ve just got to do what we’ve got to do to take care of business on Saturday.”
The Orediggers fell to 4-5. They will try to close the season at .500 when they play host to MSU-Northern next Saturday.
“We’ve got to bounce back,” Samson said. “We’ve got one more game this week, and we’ve got to come back to work on Monday.”