Diggers-Dawgs renew rivalry in opener

When Montana Tech and Montana Western meet on Vigilante Field at 6 p.m. Saturday, it won’t be the only college football game of the day.

The contest will be one of a handful on the day around the country.

It’s probably fair to say, however, that no game will be as important as when the Orediggers and Bulldogs renew their rivalry. There will certainly not be a game that will be more intense.

The game can be heard on KBOW (550 AM, 101.5 FM or online).

When the Orediggers and Bulldogs play, you can usually count on two things. The game will be close, and the game will be heated because, simply put, these guys don’t like each other.

“There’s some bad blood between these two,” Montana Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “It goes back a long time before I got here.”

The Orediggers and Bulldogs haven’t opened the season against each other since 2005.

“It doesn’t get better than that for a first game,” Morrell said.

Adding to the drama is the fact that the Orediggers and Bulldogs will only meet once this year after the Frontier Conference schedule change.

“Everything is on the line and it’s the first game of the year,” Western coach B.J. Robertson said.

All 10 games the Orediggers play in 2014 will be Frontier Conference contests, so this game has big-time mean, even though it will take place eight days before the calendar strikes September.

“This game is going to have huge implications,” Morrell said.

Western swept the season series with the Orediggers a year ago, the Tech heads south on I-15 with some retribution on its mind. Western spoiled the debut of the Bob Green Field with a last-minute touchdown for a 29-22 win on Sept. 21.

The Bulldogs completed the sweep by hanging on to win a 20-14 nail-biter on Nov. 9. The Orediggers won both games in 2012, and that included a double-overtime classic in Dillon.

Both teams enter the season coming off losing seasons. Western went 4-6 last season in Robertson’s first year as a head coach, while Tech followed the 2012 Frontier title with a 3-7 campaign. Both are also entering the season with a new offensive coordinator.

Bruce Carpenter takes over Western’s offense, while Pete Sterbick is the new man in charge of the Tech offense that flopped under a new system last year.

To say both men have lots of weapons to work with is an understatement.

The Orediggers, who are going to start sophomore transfer Andrew Loudenback at quarterback, have one of the all-time Oredigger greats at running back in Pat Hansen.

The Ekalaka product enters the season less than 800 yards shy of the legendary Don Heater’s school rushing mark. Morrell said the team is hoping to strike an equal balance between running and passing, and that should make his star running back even better.

“I’m really excited in this system to see how far he can take us this year,” the coach said.

Hansen highlights a talented backfield that includes sophomore Nolan Saraceni, sophomore Zach Winfield and freshman Hunter Gappmayer.

“Having four guys back there makes you feel strong,” Morrell said.

They will be running behind an offensive line that returns everybody from last year. Yes, everybody.

“This is probably the first time we had that,” Morrell said. “It takes a long time to develop depth on the O-line. I feel this year, for the first time, we have a legitimate two deep.”

Butte senior Mack Ferko anchors the offensive line. He’ll be joined by fellow starters Ryan Stemple, Travis Oakason, Alex Halovick and Tyler Denney, according to the team’s depth chart. The Orediggers, though, expect to play more guys, with Jack Hape, Gage McCann, Alex Ravarino, Randy Ford and Devin Ward seeing time.

Mack Ferko

The Orediggers are also deep and talented at receiver.

Senior Braxton Lucero, junior Alec Bray and sophomore Zach Bunney of Butte High are listed as the starters.

They also have speedsters Clay Cavender and Carlos Martinez in the mix, along with Sean Sullivan and Nick Beauchaine.

Morrell said he expects the tight ends to play a major role in the new offense. Beau-Riley Pearson and Kolby Kansala are listed one, two on the depth chart.

Tech coach Chuck Morrell said Alec Bray “probably has the best hands of anyone I ever coach. If the ball gets close, he catches it.”

The first week will be a big test for the Orediggers. Even before defensive-minded B.J. Robertson took over as head coach of Western last year, the Bulldogs have been known as a tough defense.

Joe Coker at linebacker and Jesse McCloud at safety highlight the Bulldog defense that is led by a solid group of defensive linemen.

“I really think their defensive front is going to be a force to be reckoned with,” Morrell said.

Offensively, the Bulldogs know how to rush the ball, and they return experience and play-making ability at quarterback in senior Tyler Hulse, whose brother Zach is an outside linebacker for the Orediggers.

Sam Rutherford, who took the Frontier by storm as a freshman before being slowed by injury, ran for 815 yards last year. Of that, 190 came against the Orediggers in Butte.

Dylan Kramer put up 205 against the Orediggers in November. Of his 671 yards on the ground a year ago, 480 came in the final three weeks.

“They had a couple of the best running backs in the league last year, and they’re both back,” Morrell said. “They have their quarterback back and three of their starting five offensive lineman.”

Western quarterback Tyler Hulse, 15, is a guy the Orediggers don’t want to see running wild.

Hulse, who threw for seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2013, didn’t set the league on fire with his arm. He proved deadly with his feet, however, running for a total of 131 yards against the Orediggers last year.

“Tyler Hulse is an athletic quarterback,” Morrell said. “He can get out of the pocket and run. That’s one of my biggest worries. He could be the best running quarterback in the conference. When Tyler is at his best is when the play breaks down.”

The Oredigger defense will be run by B.J. Campbell, who takes over as coordinator this season. He was a key defensive assistant for Morrell, who had been the defensive coordinator, since Morrell came to town.

It is a Tech defense that is loaded with talent.

The obvious strength of the squad is at linebacker, where David Meis, Mike Touzinsky and Tommy Peterson return. Touzinsky and Peterson are seniors, while Meis is a junior who with two years experience under his belt.

Senior Rob Corson will start at inside linebacker with Peterson, while Meis and Touzinsky will play on the outside.

“They’re as good as outside linebackers as there is in the conference,” Morrell said of Touzinsky and Meis.

Hulse and Butte High grad Drew Schleeman are backup outside linebackers, while Bryce Ballard and Tyler Gavlack are inside backups.

Morrell feels his defensive front could be a force — a deep force.

Austin Brinkworth, a senior, will start on the line, along with freshman Tyler Sanders and sophomore Luke Benz. Junior Devon Jones and freshmen Jalen Whitley and Levi Dawes will also see time in the trenches.

The secondary might be a question mark for Oredigger fans looking at the roster. It isn’t for Morrell.

With senior Andre Cornell and junior transfer DeAngelo Bell starting at cornerback and junior Caleb Vance and sophomore Rial Gunlikson starting at safety, Morrell likes what he sees in the unit that will be tested all season long.

Cornell got off to a fast start last year — he picked off three passes in the first two games — before seeing his season sabotaged by injury.

Reid Siderius, Zavier Mardsen, Will Davey and Gunner Kayser will also see time in the secondary. A year ago, the team lost nine players to injury in the secondary, meaning a lot of the young players on the roster have experience.

The Orediggers are set in the kicking game with senior Travis Farewell, a four-year starter, handling the punting. Butte junior Matt Berg enters his third year as Tech’s place kicker.

Top to bottom, Morrell said he likes his roster.

“I think we have enough talent to compete in every game this year,” he said. “Let’s just get it on. We’re ready to go.”

The Bulldogs will be honoring the 2004 Frontier Conference champion Western team on Saturday.

“It’s going to be a great crowd,” Robertson said. “It’s going to be a great atmosphere, and it’s going to be fun.”

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