A lot has been made of the weapons Montana Tech’s football team has on offense and defense.
One “weapon” many have overlooked is sophomore kicker Matt Berg, who could have as much or more impact on the Orediggers this season anyone.
“He’s been much improved, and that’s been a big deal for us,” Tech coach Chuck Morrell of Berg, who is in his second year handling kicking duties for the Orediggers. “That’s really helped us out.”
If you don’t think the kicker can be that important, think back to Morrell’s first year in town in 2011.
The Orediggers lost the field position battle on almost every game because they didn’t have a viable option on kickoffs. The recruit Morrell brought into town came to camp with a broken foot, and senior linebacker Kevin Schey ended up kicking off.
For the most part, Tech was lucky if the kickoffs went inside the 25-yard line in the air.
“My first year we definitely struggled in the kicking game,” Morrell said with a laugh. “I love Kevin Schey, but he’s our starting middle linebacker and he’s handling kickoff duties. That sounds like a high school deal right there.”
Berg, who excelled at kicker and quarterback at Butte High, was at the University of Montana redshirting for the Grizzlies that year, the Orediggers went 3-8. Tech was probably literally 10 plays away from 7-4.
Berg transferred to his hometown school after the first semester, and the Oredigger special teams improved drastically last year. Tech went 8-2, winning the Frontier Conference title.
One game into the season, and the kickoffs have improved even more this season, Morrell said.
“I don’t know if we had one touchback the entire season last year,” the coach said. “He had some deep kickoffs and had one in the end zone (at Eastern Oregon). He has become a much bigger weapon for us.”
Heading to Helena for a showdown with Carroll College this week, Morrell said the importance of getting touchbacks on kickoffs cannot be overstated.
“I would love us to put the ball in the end zone every time,” Morrell said. “If it’s a return situation, it becomes another defensive snap. If you look at last year, we had 40 kickoffs. That’s 40 extra defensive snaps that you’ve got to play throughout the season.”
That a new rule in college football took effect last year that puts the ball on the 25-yard line instead of the 20 on touchbacks after kickoffs doesn’t change Morrell’s mind on this issue.
“Put the offensive on the 25-yard line and we’ll go from there,” Morrell said. “We’ll take that every time. Carroll has a good offense and we’ve got to make them earn it. We can’t just give them field position.”
Morrell said the Orediggers pushed Berg to improve over last year when he was a reliable kicker.
“Matt has put in a lot of extra work,” Morrell said. “We really kind of got after him in the offseason to take his game to another level, and you can see a lot of confidence out there. We feel like his ranger has extended significantly. His accuracy is better.”
Berg was also in on the quarterback battle during training camp before the team named Herman Tapley the starter. Berg saw enough snaps at practice that some people associated with the team thought he might get the job.
“I was getting a lot of reps,” Berg said. “Then they told me to just focus on kicking.”
While he focuses on kicking at practice, his kicks have been booming and, for the most part, right down the middle. He said he feels comfortable attempting field goals of around 50 yards, and the big situations don’t seem to bother him. Butte High fans can tell you that.
“Matt’s great under pressure,” Morrell said. “The great thing about Matt is he doesn’t get rattled. He’s the same guy 365 days a year.”