Diggs look to end season on high note at Rocky

Diggs look to end season on high note at Rocky
Montana Tech quarterback Jet Campbell scrambles for yardage during Tech's Oct. 27 win over Southern Oregon. (Bill Foley photo)

By Bill Foley

Montana Tech won’t make the NAIA football playoffs with a win Saturday at Rocky Mountain College.

The No. 11 Battlin’ Bears, meanwhile, will not miss out on the postseason if the Orediggers pull off the upset at noon on Herb Klindt Field. (Radio: KBOW, 550 AM, 101.5 FM, online or on the KBOW app)

At 7-2 (8-2 overall), Rocky has at least a share of the Frontier Conference title wrapped up. The Bears also have a stranglehold on the tiebreaker in the event they tie with Montana Western (6-3), which plays at Southern Oregon Saturday.

The Orediggers, though, have a whole lot to play for when they close out their season against the best the league has to offer in 2018.

“They’re the clear cut No. 1 team in the league right now,” Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “They’re the No. 1 offense in the league. They’re the No. 1 defense in the league. They have 28 seniors this year. They’re a very, very veteran team.”

Tech has dropped four out of five and enters the game with a 4-5 record after last week’s stunning 35-14 home loss to Carroll College.

A win Saturday, however, would make the disappointing season a lot easier to swallow.

“We’re excited about it because it’s going to be a great test for us,” Morrell said. “Our guys are disappointed in the outcome of last week. They’re really looking forward for an opportunity to go back out and prove themselves this week.”

The last time these teams met was Oct. 28, 2017 in Butte, and it was a painful loss for the Orediggers. Griff Amies drilled a 45-yard field goal as time expired to give the Bears a 30-27 victory on the Bob Green Field.

The win came 364 days after the Bears were embarrassed by the Orediggers in a 62-10 home beating.

While Morrell doesn’t like to focus on the past, there is no doubt both those games will be in the minds of the players from both teams heading into Saturday’s game.

Rocky enters Saturday’s game red hot. The Bears have won six straight since their 24-21 loss to Western Sept. 15 in Dillon. (Rocky’s other loss was a forfeit of what was a 19-0 win over Carroll College because an ineligible player played in the game.)

Last week, the Bears traveled to Eastern Oregon and slapped the Mountaineers 48-10 in a game in which first place in the Frontier hung in the balance.

Senior quarterback Jacob Bakken passed for 423 yards and five touchdowns in the victory. That garnered him NAIA National Offensive Player of the Week honors.

On the season, the Wibaux product has completed 67 percent of his passes for 3,066 yards. He’s thrown 32 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions.

Clearly, stopping Bakken — or at least slowing him down — is key for the Orediggers against third-year head coach Jason Petrino’s Battlin’ Bears. It is also a very tall task.

“I’ve been really impressed with his growth,” Morrell said of the 6-foot-4, 195-pound Bakken. “He’s been more or less a four-year starter for him. Early in his career he was really up and down, and he turned the ball over a bunch. He didn’t make great decisions.

“Last year you started to see some improvement out of him,” Morrell said. “This year he’s been absolutely incredible. In my mind, he’s the Frontier Conference Offensive Player of the Year.  His stats don’t lie. He’s made some incredible throws.”

Last week, Bakken hit Max Gray for three touchdowns. He found Darneai Jenkins for two. Gray caught 12 passes for 117 yards, while Lucas Overton grabbed six for 121.

Senior running back Mason Melby added 81 yards and a touchdown on the ground in Rocky’s win.

When Morrell sees how far Bakken has developed, it gives him even more hope in redshirt freshman quarterback Jet Campbell, a former Billings Central Ram. The converted receiver will start his fourth straight game Saturday.

Campbell struggled after a fast start last week against Carroll. The week before, though, he threw for four touchdowns as Tech beat Southern Oregon at home.

The quarterback is one of many youngsters playing key minutes for the Orediggers.

“Thirty guys that were sophomores or younger played significant numbers for us,” Morrell said. “To me, that’s also a positive sign for the future.”

Tech has clearly experienced what Morrell called “growing pains” with the young group. He said hits players will learn from those.

“It gets me excited because we’ve been competitive in every single game,” Morrell said. “It bodes well for us in the future.”

A couple of offensive players who haven’t experienced those growing pains are senior receiver Dion Williams and junior running back Jed Fike.

Williams has hauled in 64 passes for 655 yards and despite unsteady play from the quarterback position. His six touchdowns are tied with redshirt freshman Trevor Hoffman.

With 1,117 yards, Fike will easily win the Frontier Conference rushing title for the second straight season.

Junior linebacker Jacob Clarke leads Tech with 59 tackles. Junior defensive back Tucker Rauthe has 57, while sophomore DB Justin May has 48, senior linebacker Connor Wines has 45, and senior lineman Chance Hansen and junior linebacker Carter Myers each have 41.

Wines leads the team with six sacks, half of which came in the win over Southern Oregon. Senior linebacker Brock Beede has four sacks.

The Orediggers are going to need big performances from those players and more to pull off an upset Saturday.

Morrell said he isn’t asking his team anything it isn’t capable of doing.

“I’m just asking my guys to go compete and play as hard as they can,” he said.

The coach praised his players for moving on from the loss to Carroll.

“I’m really proud of our guys coming out of a though loss last week,” Morrell said. “The way we practiced this week has really proven to me that the culture in our program is right. Guys are throwing down. They come out and they practice their tails off every day.

“If guys are coming out and competing, you’ll have a chance to win every single week.”

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