For a guy not used to running with the football, Drew Schleeman certainly looked like he knew what he was doing.
The Montana Tech sophomore linebacker picked off a Jess Krahn pass, secured the football and outran running back Zach McKinley down the sideline for a 17-yard touchdown Saturday afternoon at the Bob Green Field.
Schleeman’s pick 6 was the first of four touchdowns coming from the Oredigger defense or special teams as No. 13 Tech stomped the MSU-Northern Lights 40-0 in a Frontier Conference game. Stats
“That’s my first pick. That’s my first touchdown, and it was awesome,” Schleeman, a 2013 Butte High graduate, said. “He floated one up for me, and I took advantage of it.”
The score was the first for Schleeman at any level, and he wasn’t about to give up the ball when he got his hands on it.
“I tucked it way, and I was praying to get in. I had McKinley right behind me,” Schleeman said. “I just saw end zone and I took off.”
Tyler Sanders, Dion Williams and Rial Gunlickson also got in on the unlikely touchdown parade for the Orediggers, who overcame a rusty offensive performance.
“It’s kind of nice when you find that many different ways to score touchdowns,” Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “We found a way to win playing team football.”
Tech got more traditional touchdowns from quarterback Quinn McQueary, who saw his first action in a month following a shoulder injury, and Clay Cavender as the Orediggers (5-1) remained in a first-place tie with Southern Oregon.
Schleeman’s score came immediately following an Oredigger turnover in the red zone. The score up Tech up 6-0 after a 2-point conversion failed with 11 minutes, 32 seconds left in the first quarter.
“Coach Morrell emphasizes that we’ve got to play a team game,” Schleeman said. “When the offense turns the ball over, the defense has got to step up and make plays. That’s what we did today. It was a great team win overall.”
Tech made it 13-0 with 7:52 left in the first when McQueary ran right, dove and extended the ball with his right hand to hit the pylon for a 9-yard touchdown run.
That score came after a long pass from McQueary to tight end Kolby Kansala.
“Quinn is so dang competitive,” Morrell said. “I look at some of the mistakes he made today, he wants it too bad almost. You’ve got to let the game come to you. After being away for that long, it’s just a matter of getting back and getting into that rhythm again.”
McQueary, who separated his throwing shoulder in Tech’s Sept. 19 loss at Eastern Oregon, completed 8 of 19 passes for 147 yards. He was picked off once.
The lead stayed at 13-0 through halftime, keeping the Oredigger faithful a bit on edge with the team leaving the winless Lights in the game.
Then, the Orediggers erupted and turned the game into a rout almost in the blink of an eye.
It started when defensive back Anthony Nelson came off the edge to block a Northern punt. Gunlikson scooped up the ball and took it 23-yards for a score. After Matt Berg’s extra point, the Orediggers led 20-0 with 4:34 left in the third quarter.
Sanders scored 15 seconds into the fourth quarter.
With Tyler Gavlak taking him to the turf, Krahn made an ill-advised throw. Sanders grabbed it and rumbled 60-yards for a score. He was escorted to the end zone by a host of Oredigger teammates.
Just 1 minute, 10 seconds later, Williams was celebrating a touchdown. He raced to the back of the end zone and recovered the ball after it was snapped over the head of the Northern punter.
Cavender then capped the scoring with 11:24 left in the game. Lining up in the wildcat, Cavender raced 67 yards for a score.
On the day, Cavender ran for 144 yards on 14 carries. That was particularly big considering junior running back Nolan Saraceni sat out the game with an injury.
The Orediggers outgained the lights 434-189.
Will Davey added an interception, while Gavlak registered two and a half sacks. David Meis, Levi Dawes, Brock Beede, Jake Orrino and Luke Benz also got in on sacks.
“We’ve been emphasizing that we’ve got to get turnovers, we’ve got to get turnovers,” Schleeman said. “We’re second to last in the conference in turnovers. I think today might bump us back up there.
“It was great to see,” Schleeman said. “I think we’re a great defense.”
One black mark on the Oredigger win was penalties. The Orediggers racked up 103 yards in penalties. Of those, 68 came in the first half.
“We were poor on penalties,” Morrell said. “We were starting out first and 20 or second and 25. That’s really hard. We talk about staying ahead of the sticks. The holding penalties really hurt us today. Those are attention to detail kind of things. We’ve got to get that cleaned up this week.”
Next up for the Orediggers is a trip to Helena to take on Carroll College. The Saints fell 28-27 in overtime at Southern Oregon on Saturday.