Diggers blow past Bears for ‘statement win’

Diggers blow past Bears for ‘statement win’
Montana Tech’s Zach Hulse (31), Tyler Sanders (55) and James Foote (98) look on as Nic Amestoy (36) and Chance Hansen bring down Rocky Mountain College running back Kodee Varner Saturday on the Bob Green Field. (Bill Foley photo)

By Bill Foley

Oredigger fans will have to settle for what might have been following Saturday’s 48-12 win over No. 25 Rocky Mountain College on the Bob Green Field. (Stats)

The only drawback in No. 13 Montana Tech’s “statement” Frontier Conference victory was that the crowd of 3,117 had to watch as junior cornerback Andre Brown’s 104-yard interception return for a touchdown was wiped out by a penalty.

The Orediggers, though, did too many things right in their second home rout in as many weeks for that to put a damper on Hall of Fame Day.

“We tried to stretch it out as far as possible,” Brown said of the lopsided win. “This is a statement game for us.”

That statement started from the start. The Orediggers won the coin toss and elected to defer until the second half. When Rocky took the ball, the Orediggers took the wind, and that turned out to be a very big deal.

Tech used the three-club wind from the southwest to its advantage, heading north and scoring 24 first-quarter points to take control of the game over Rocky, which was previously unbeaten in the Frontier Conference.

“It was awesome,” said Tech senior running back Nolan Saraceni, who ran for 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns. “It seemed like it was probably the first time we were really clicking. It’s great to see everyone participating and scoring today.”

Rocky picked up a pair of first downs on its first possession before Tech’s Rial Gunlikson recovered a fumble at the 50-yard line.

That led to a 31-yard field goal by Derrick Holt.

The Digger defense forced a three and out, and senior Zach Bunney capped a five-play, 48-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown to put Tech up 10-0.

The scoreboard showed only 5:53 left in the first quarter, but the Orediggers were far from done.

After another three and out, Quinn McQueary threw the first of his three touchdowns, a 56-yard strike to Dion Williams to make it 17-0.

The Orediggers called three time outs following three Rocky offensive plays to force the Bears to punt into the wind one more time. That worked out, as Levi Lynde returned a punt 47-yards to the Rocky 3.

On the next play, Saraceni scored out of the Wildcat formation.

“We took a risk down there at the end of the first quarter, burning all three timeouts,” Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “Sometimes you make those moves and it looks like you know what you’re doing. Sometimes you make those moves and you’re an idiot. It worked out for us.”

Tech’s average starting position in the five possessions in the first frame was at the Rocky 46-yard line.

“The wind was a factor, and our field position was so great,” Morrell said. “I wanted us to have one more shot with great field position.”

McQueary, who passed for 237 yards on 18-for-27 passing, hooked up with Chris Kelly for a 40-yard touchdown as the Orediggers extended the lead to 31-0 with 9:21 left in the second quarter.

“He’s a heck of a quarterback,” Saraceni said of McQueary. “I love having him back there. He definitely puts me at ease knowing he can make a play. He’s hard to tackle. He’s got some moves, and he can throw the ball perfectly where it needs to be.”

Rocky got on the scoreboard late in the second quarter thanks to an Oredigger miscue.

Tech punter Slaton Long, whose big day included a 71-yard wind-aided punt, accidentally touched his knee to the ground when going down to get a low snap.

That gave Rocky the ball on the Tech 31, and four plays later Griff Amies booted a 49-yard field goal as the half expired to cut the lead to 31-3.

A 28-point lead might seem safe in most games. The Orediggers and Oredigger fans, however, remembered two years ago when the Bears overcame a 36-7 lead to beat Tech 45-39 in overtime.

“I pointed to the scoreboard when we came in at half,” Morrell said. “That was almost the identical situation we were in 2014, and I’ve got enough guys who played for me in 2014 to know. We were a little up and down in the third quarter, but I’m proud of the guys for finishing the game.”

Brown, a transfer from Compton, California, wasn’t with the Orediggers in 2014, but he was well aware of the Rocky comeback.

“The coaches told us don’t be complacent, just keep on rolling,” Brown said. “That’s what we have to do.”

After the Bears cut the lead to 31-6 on a 39-yard Aimes field goal, Saraceni broke a 66-yard touchdown run to make it a 38-6 game.

“Everything was pretty much in the right place,” Saraceni said of the run. “As a team, we were doing our assignments right that time. It felt great, running like that and getting into the end zone. On that play, everybody did what they were supposed to do, and I have to give it to them for making that touchdown possible.”

Rocky, which fell to 2-2 overall and 2-1 in the Frontier, wouldn’t go away.

Chase White, the architect of the 2014 comeback, hit Brandon Mosley for a 3-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 38-12.

The 2-point conversion failed, but the Bears recovered a pooch kick at the Tech 30-yard line.

After White hit Tyrell McGee for a 29-yard pass to the Oredigger 1, the Tech defense said, “Enough is enough.”

Three plays later, the Bears went for it on fourth and goal from the 2. Brown stepped in front of the White pass in the end zone and raced, untouched, down the Rocky sideline to the north end zone for the score.

The play, however, was wiped out because on an uncharacteristic unsportsmanlike conduct call on an Oredigger teammate, and Tech took over at its own 45-yard line.

“It was incredible. I just wish we wouldn’t have gotten the penalty on it,” Morrell said of Brown’s interception and return. “What a heads up play. It was fun to see. It couldn’t have it happened to a better kid.”

Brown seemed unfazed that his touchdown didn’t count.

“I didn’t know it was called back until I was going back to the sideline,” Brown said. “I was just glad to make a play and put us back in position to be on top. I’m just having a good time with my family.

“It didn’t really matter as long as the interception mattered.”

The interception did matter, and the Oredigger offense eventually turned it into points. McQueary finished the drive by finding Sean Sullivan for a 12-yard touchdown that killed any Rocky comeback hopes.

Holt capped the scoring with a 31-yard field goal after a short Tech drive led by freshman quarterback Danny Peoples.

The win puts the Orediggers at 2-1 overall and in conference standings heading into next week’s game at Eastern Oregon.

It also likely opened a few eyes as the Orediggers showed they have, indeed, recovered from the heartbreaking last-second loss to Carroll College two weeks ago.

“Today we definitely made a statement,” Saraceni said. “Everybody played their butts off.”

The victory also impressed the 1996 Orediggers. Many members of Tech’s only team to make the NAIA championship game were in town as the squad was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame.

“It was a big deal for us to have the Hall of Fame inductees here,” Morrell said. “A lot of the guys from the ’96 team were here today. We talked all week about legacy. What they established allowed us to do what we did today. I’m really proud of our guys for playing that way in front of that group.”

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