When the Montana Tech football team makes the 550-mile journey to Dickinson, N.D., for Saturday’s showdown with Frontier newcomer Dickinson State, the Orediggers won’t be exactly breaking new ground.
Montana Tech has been down this road before.
The most recent time Tech has played in Dickinson came on Nov. 20, 2004. Tech made the trip for a first-round game in the NAIA playoffs.
That game, which was played the day after the infamous Pistons-Pacers brawl that extended into the crowd in Detroit, was played in the cold, windy, but sunny Whitney Stadium.
Baker product Jace Shillinger ran for 161 yards and two touchdowns, and Marcus Davis scored on a 100-yard kickoff return as the No. 9 Blue Hawks ended Tech’s season with a 30-13 win.
Like today, the Orediggers were ranked No. 13 in the nation heading into that day.
The Blue Hawks still wear the plain blue-and-white uniforms, and longtime coach Hank Biesiot is still in charge of a team that runs a ground-and-pound offense.
However, a lot has changed since that cold 2004 day.
For one thing, Tech’s longtime coach Bob Green is retired, and Chuck Morrell is in charge of the Orediggers.
Whitney Stadium was demolished in 2009 to make room for the Badlands Activities Center.
The Orediggers limped to Dickinson that year. The week before, the Orediggers lost a chance at a home playoff game and the outright Frontier Conference title with a 34-6 loss to Carroll in Helena.
That loss was the beginning of a 16-game losing streak to the Saints. That streak ended last month in Butte.
This year, the Orediggers are rolling to North Dakota riding a four-game winning streak.
Also, the Blue Hawks appear to be only a shell of the team that thumped the Orediggers in the 2004 playoffs.
The Blue Hawks enter the game with the conference’s worst scoring offense and defense. Dickson beat MSU-Northern 21-20 Sept. 15 in North Dakota. Last week, though, the Blue Hawks were blown out 42-6 by Carroll College. A week earlier, Dickinson fell 45-7 at Southern Oregon.
That 2004 playoff game was the first postseason appearance for the Orediggers since 1997. The Orediggers were back in the playoffs the next year, winning at Azusa Pacific and losing at Carroll.
The Orediggers haven’t played a playoff game since.