Frontier Notebook: Diggers search for answers

It’s back to the ol’ drawing board for the Orediggers.

Montana Tech’s second straight loss sent the Orediggers searching for answers to save a season that started with so much promise.

One of those questions: who will play quarterback? Both senior Brian Schwarzkoph and sophomore transfer Herman Tapley both played in Saturday’s loss to Montana Western.

Tapley completed 5 of 7 passes for 52 yards and a touchdown while splitting time with Schwarzkoph in the first half. Each quarterback got two series before handing the reins over to the other.

Schwarzkoph, though, played the entire second half. Tech coach Chuck Morrell said the team stuck with the “hot hand,” and the Billings West graduate completed 27 of 46 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns. His only interception came during desperation time in the final seconds.

Schwarzkoph was seeing his first action of the season after suffering a quad injury early in training camp. It was his first extensive action at quarterback since injuring his hand in a loss at MSU-Northern late in the 2011 season.

After the game, Morrell wouldn’t commit to who will be quarterback of the Oredigger offense down the road.

“We’ve got to go back and evaluate everything,” the coach said.

Morrell said the Orediggers have got to run the ball more effectively.

“We’ve got to find a way to establish a running game right now,” the coach said. “We’ve got some great players at the running back position, and we’ve got to find a way to get those guys some holes and some lanes to run through.”

One stat that has to be alarming to Montana Tech fans is the number of carries by running back Pat Hansen, who rushed for 2,739 yards and 29 touchdowns in his first two seasons.

In 2013, Hansen has 54 carries for 288 yards and a touchdown. Hansen carried the ball 13 times each of Tech’s last two games, and both have been losses.

The running back averaged 23.6 carries per game as a sophomore and 24.5 as a freshman.

Western running back Sam Rutherford looks to deliver a stiff arm to Tech linebacker Naill Padden Saturday.

‘Montana boy’

If you are wondering where in the Sam Hills Western’ star running back Sam Rutherford came from, you are not alone.

The freshman from Centerville has put up video game numbers in his first three games in the Frontier Conference. Rutherford, who ran for 190 yards and three touchdowns against the Orediggers, is averaging 201 yards per game.

Rutherford has 603 yards and nine touchdowns on 76 carries. He averages 7.9 yards per carry.

His hard-running style was obvious on the Bob Green Field on Saturday. Rutherford rarely went down on first contact even though he played much of the game with a sore knee.

“I try not to go down on contact,” he said. “You’ve just got to keep those legs driving and run hard.”

So how is that Rutherford is such a surprise?

During the 2009 playoffs, Rutherford was one of five players suspended from the Centerville football team for violating a team rule.

The year before, Rutherford ran for four touchdowns in a Centerville playoff win. He ran for 125 yards and two touchdowns in a second-round loss the next week.

Rutherford, though, didn’t play in All-Star games and kind of fell off the Montana radar. So, he went to the University of Mary in North Dakota to play baseball and football.

“I’m a Montana boy,” he said. “I’m not a North Dakota boy.”

With little or no publicity, Rutherford transferred to Western and joined the Bulldogs during the spring. So far, he’s making the most of his second chance, to say the least.

Some firsts

Montana Tech sophomore lineman Levi Cade made a little history Saturday by registering the first Oredigger tackle on Bob Green Field.

Cade tackled Noah Widgins at the Western 11-yard line on the opening kickoff.

Moments later, Zack Kinney scored the first Oredigger touchdown, catching a Tapley pass over the middle for a 28-yard score.

Montana Western defensive back Ben Sulser was the first player ejected on the new turf.

Sulser, a sophomore from Billings Senior, fell victim to the controversial new rule in college football that — in addition to a 15-yard penalty — players are ejected for a hit above the shoulders on a defenseless player. The ejected player is also suspended for the requisite amount of time for the next game, meaning Sulser is suspended for the first half of Saturday’s home game against MSU-Northern.

Sulser was called for a clear helmet-to-helmet hit on Tech receiver Alec Bray on the Oredigger sideline in the third quarter Saturday. Even though there was no way of saying that Sulser’s hit was intentional, the defensive back was ejected from the game. He was escorted to the locker room by a Western assistant coach.

Ground attack

Carroll College turned to the ground to hand Rocky Mountain College its first loss of the season. The Saints racked up 284 yards rushing. That’s nearly twice as many as the 144 passing yards the team put up.

Dustin Rinker ran for 164 yards on 29 carries to handle most of that load. The Saints got 113 yards on nine carries from elusive quarterback Dakota Stonehouse. That includes a 59-yard touchdown run.

Like it did the week before in a win against the Orediggers, the Carroll running game kept the Rocky offense on the bench much of the second half. The Bears did not score after the break.

“Offensively, we controlled the clock in the second half and I think that was the big difference,” Carroll coach Mike Van Diest told The Billings Gazette.

Big plays

The Lights were in long-distant mode Saturday as MSU-Northern beat Dickinson State 49-24 Saturday at Havre’s Blue Pony Stadium.

Northern, which scored 14 points in a win at Dickinson in the first meeting between the Lights and Blue Hawks, scored four touchdowns of 40 yards or more in the win.

The barrage started when Zach McKinley scored on a 51-yard run on Northern’s first possession of the game. It ended when Jake Messerly caught a 40-yard pass from backup quarterback Travis Dean in the fourth quarter.

The game also saw Derek Lear hit Lavorick Williams for a 71-yard score. The biggest play, though, came from the defense when David Arteaga returned a fumble 100 yards for a touchdown.

Fast start

Southern Oregon lost three heartbreakers to open the season. The Raiders fell in the fourth quarter to Rocky and Western. They lost in overtime to Sacramento State.

Saturday, the Raiders avoided crunch time all together.

Austin Dodge threw four of his six touchdown passes in a 27-point second quarter as the Raiders put Eastern Oregon away early in a 73-20 in La Grande.

The Raiders led 41-14 at halftime and 52-20. For good measure, though, Southern Oregon added 21 points in the fourth quarter against their rival.

One of the fourth quarter touchdowns was a 30-yard interception return by Julius Rucker.

Looking ahead

Four Frontier Conference games are on the schedule this Saturday.

Montana Tech celebrates homecoming when Rocky heads to the Mining City. Western is home against Northern, while Carroll and Southern hit the road for long trips.

Carroll plays at Eastern Oregon. Southern Oregon will travel 1,425 miles to Dickinson State.

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