Ever-adjusting Orediggers head to Rocky Mountain

The Orediggers are hoping they can count on Plan A Saturday when the Orediggers take on Rocky Mountain College at 1 p.m. at Herb Klindt Field in Billings. (Radio: KBOW 550 AM, 101.5 FM, online)

Or Plan B. Or maybe even Plan C.

Last time out, the No. 17 Orediggers had to go down even further than that to beat the College of Idaho with quarterbacks Quinn McQueary and Dawson Reardon both out with an injury.

“You’ve got Plan A, Plan B and Plan C,” Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “Then you have Plan D, the disaster plan. You better have a Plan D and be ready to use it.”

Morrell didn’t say if McQueary or Reardon will be available Saturday when the Battlin’ Bears celebrate homecoming.

If both can’t go, the Orediggers have several back up options. Those options include running “wildcat” plays with receiver Clay Cavender or running back Nolan Saraceni. They could also turn to former quarterback and now tight end Andrew Loudenback.

That’s what the Orediggers did last time out, when they beat the College of Idaho 29-21 two weeks ago at Alumni Coliseum.

To see exactly who is lining up behind center on Saturday, though, you’ll have to stay tuned. The Orediggers closed their practice to the media this week.

The 3-1 Orediggers also had to switch things up on the offensive line.

Senior left tackle Tyler Denny missed the game because his first child was born the night before. That meant Jack Hape moved from guard to tackle. Also, true freshman Matt Murphy got the emergency start at center.

“That shows the camaraderie with that group of guys,” Morrell said. “That they can make that kind of adjustment says a lot about them.”

The Orediggers also put up some big numbers after making those adjustments. The team ran for 294 yards on the day, with Saraceni running 31 times for 179 yards.

The junior running back is ranked seventh in the NAIA with 580 yards rushing through four games. He is averaging 7.5 yards per carry and tied for eighth in the nation with eight touchdowns.

“He has stepped it up a notch,” Morrell said of the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Saraceni. “He is relentless on the field. He just won’t go down.”

Zach Winfield and Cavender have also run for touchdowns for the Orediggers, who will be facing a Rocky defense which has a tradition of being nasty.

“They are one of the most physical defensive line/linebacker combinations in the conference,” Morrell said. “Their front guys are super physical.”

On offense, Rocky has come into its own since its turnover-laden 49-6 loss to Montana Western on Sept. 5.

Since then, the Bears (3-2 overall and 2-2 in the Frontier Conference) beat MSU-Northern 46-0, lost 42-36 in the final seconds at Carroll College and went on the road to beat Eastern Oregon 36-35 in double overtime.

Junior quarterback Chase White is completing 64 percent of his passes while running Rocky’s up-tempo offense. He is averaging 263.2 yards per game. He has thrown eight TDs compared to three interceptions.

Rocky receiver Andre McCullouch is ranked No. 3 in the NAIA with 7.4 receptions per game. He has chalked up 531 yards and four touchdowns on 37 receptions.

Oredigger fans remember McCulloch well. Last year he caught 12 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns at Alumni Coliseum as the Bears came back from a 36-7 halftime deficit to beat the Orediggers 45-39 in overtime.

“He pretty much single-handedly brought them back and won them the game,” Morrell said.

The Oredigger defense has been stout. Tech is ranked No. 18 in the nation with 18.0 points per game surrendered.

Morrell pointed to the development of a deep defensive line as a key to his team’s defensive success.

Tyler Gavlak (33 tackles), David Meis and Rial Gunlikson (22) lead the Orediggers in tackling. Jacob Crawford, Xavier Marsden, Reid Siderius, DeAngelo Bell and Luke Benz heave each picked off a pass.

Saturday’s game will have a huge impact on the Frontier Conference standings.

Tech is tied with Carroll College, Southern Oregon and Montana Western at 3-1. The Bears, who were pronounced dead by many after the blowout loss to the Bulldogs, are just a game out.

With only three at-large bids up for grabs for the playoffs this year, the Frontier Conference will be lucky to get more than one team into the post season.

A loss would all but eliminate the Bears. It might be equally crippling to the Orediggers.

That explains why the Orediggers are prepared from Plans A through D as they head to Billings.

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