Digger offensive line emerging as bright spot

There’s no denying that this football season has been an incredible disappointment for Montana Tech.

Not all is lost for the 2013 Oredigger, though.

The team hasn’t stacked up wins like most expected in 2013, but the Orediggers have been able to gain valuable experience for a lot of young players.

No group has developed more than the Oredigges’ ever-improving offensive line.

“Coach (Scott) Sampson has done such a great job with those guys,” Montana Tech head coach Chuck Morrell said Friday. “They’re such a young group of guys. We don’t have a single senior there. It’s a couple of juniors, then it’s sophomores and redshirt freshmen and true freshman down there. They still have a long ways to go, but I’ve been very pleased.”

Ryan Stemple is the true freshman. Along with redshirt freshman Travis Oakason, sophomores Tyler Denny, Alex Havlovick and Gage McCann and junior Will Morse, the Oredigger big men led the way to a 144-yard performance by Pat Hansen two weeks ago against Dickinson State.

Last week, junior Mack Ferko returned from injury to rejoin the group, and the result was 159 yards by Hansen in a loss to Eastern Oregon.

“I’m proud of them because I ask all our guys, ‘just get a little bit better every day,'” Morrell said. “That’s really the group that stuck out in my mind the most as far as continuing to progress. That’s exciting for us through the end of the season and certainly something that’s exciting for us down the road.”

That road includes Saturday when the Orediggers play a stout MSU-Northern defense in Havre.

“It will be a very big challenge for us offensive line wise,” Morrell said. “Northern is a physical crew up front with their defense.”

Yet Morrell likes his line’s chances because he has seen how the group has grown.

“At the beginning of the season we had combined 18 total starts for the entire offensive line,” Morrell said. “Now we’ve got a bunch of guys who’ve got good game experience. I think that’s why they’re continuing to get better.

“They’re not making huge mistakes, that’s the biggest thing,” Morrell said. “We’re not making the gigantic mistake and just letting people run free at the quarterback.”

Morrell said his offensive linemen have been “thrown into the fire.”

“You’ve got Ryan Stemple, who is a true freshman. He played almost every snap this season, Morrell said. “That’s a tough spot to play as a true freshman. There’s some big, physical guys up there. It’s not blocking 165-pound nose guards or anything like that.”

“Gage McCann is in his second year of starting. He competes every snap,” Morrell said. “Alex Havlovick is a junior. He got himself into a starting role this year and has done some good things. Travis Oakasson is a redshirt freshman and he did some good things for us lately.

“Tyler Denney, who is a redshirt sophmore was a defensive line for us. We moved him over this summer form to offensive tackle. He gets better and better each week.”

While the Orediggers aren’t going to make a return trip to the playoffs, Morrell is banking on the experience his linemen have gained in 2013 as being a key to a return to the post season down the road.

“We’re hoping that’s something that is going to be as strength for us,” the coach said.



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