By Bruce Sayler
Montana Tech head football coach Kyle Samson is not hoping only for a similar response to competition from his team as it gave in a 26-10 win over Carroll two weeks ago. He said he’s hoping for one from the home crowd, too.
“It was weird having a bye week (last weekend) this early in the season for us,” he said. “So, we went back to work on some fundamentals and got couple guys back who’d been hurt in the EOU (Eastern Oregon University) game.
“Now, we’re itching to get back on the field again. The crowd was awesome against Carroll and we’re looking forward to having that back – that big crowd cheering us on again. It was a great atmosphere.”
A crowd of more than 4,000 – maybe a couple thousand more than — and heavily slanted toward the Orediggers boomed its support two Saturdays ago at Bob Green Field while Montana Tech was improving its season and Frontier Conference record to 2-0.
The win following a 38-3 domination of Eastern Oregon on the road in the season pushed the Orediggers into the rankings in this week’s NAIA poll, rising to the No. 21 slot. Rocky Mountain is 1-1 in both league and overall play, and received votes toward a ranking.
The Orediggers will play host to Rocky Mountain in Saturday’s 1 p.m. game at Bob Green Field. Montana Tech has a three-game winning streak versus the Bears going into the contest.
“Things have been going really well for us,” said Samson, who has a team in the ranked in NAIA’s Top 25 for the first time in his third year, but second season as a college head coach. The 2020 Montana Tech season was wiped out by the Covid-19 epidemic policies.
“The two wins have definitely helped our confidence level,” he said. “But, we still have to have the same mentality. We still need to get better; we definitely haven’t yet arrived. We’re proud to be 2-and-0, but there is definitely a lot more ahead of us. We really have to look at the schedule as one week at a time and can’t get complacent because the Frontier Conference is a great league and every week is another tough week.
“It is an inevitable challenge.”
The coach said the Orediggers are better in the injury department after the week off with some players who were hurt prior to the game with Carroll able to return to action this week.
“It’s a huge boost,” he said. “We were without three starters versus Carroll and some other guys stepped up. I’m really proud of how they stepped up. It was a great win and gave us something good to build off of.”
Such a springboard might come in handy against a good Rocky Mountain team. Chris Stutzriem is in his third year as the Bears’ head coach. Rocky Mountain averages 234 yards a game passing and 170.5 rushing to rank in the middle of the conference in both attack means. The defense has been giving up 15.5 points a game but allowing 351 yards in total offense each tilt.
Key Bears have been multitalented do-everything quarterback Nathan Dick and running back Zaire Wilcox on offense, and defensive backs Brail Lipford and Kaysan Barnett. Montana Tech transfer Andrew Simon, a grad player from Whitehall, lines up at tight end for the Bears.
“Rocky will be a very, very good opponent,” Samson said. “It starts with their quarterback. Nathan Dick is great player. He is somebody we have to be aware of at all times. We have to try to contain him. He will make some plays just because he is a great player. We have to limit them.”
Dick, however, is not listed on the Bears’ two-deep chart this week. George Tribble, a 6-3, 224-pound senior, is No. 1 at the position on the depth list.
“On defense, they are kind of like us in that they have a lot of guys who have played a lot of football,” Samson said. “They’re a veteran unit.”
The Bears were league co-champions with Montana Western last fall and return many standouts from that club. They opened the current season with a 27-10 win at Southern Oregon, then lost 21-18 to No. 17-ranked College of Idaho.
“Rocky is a very good team and very well-coached,” Samson said.
Montana Tech’s early-season success seems gilded in shiny statistics, as provided by Nick Bowsher of Montana Tech sports information. Quarterback Jet Campbell leads the league in passing with 467 yards total, 233.5 in per-game average, a 62-percent completion rate, and a 160.3 QB rating. He has passed for three touchdowns and run for three so far.
Running back Blake Counts is averaging 87.5 yards a game and leads the conference in total yards with 175. Trevor Hoffman and Kyle Torgerson rank second and fourth, respectively, in receiving yards at 95.5 and 77.5 per game. Torgerson averages 17.5 yards a catch and Hoffman averages 15.9.
The Oredigger defense leads the league allowing only 6.5 points a game and 200.5 yards per contest. It is No. 1 in passing defense, giving up only 121.5 yards a game, and third in rushing defense, yielding 79 yards per tilt.
Aric Williams in his first year at the Montana Tech defensive coordinator and the team has given up only a touchdown and field goal so far. The Oredigger defense is ranked nationally in the top 20 in four categories – eighth in average points allowed, eighth in total yards given, 14th in passing yards allowed and 20th in rushing yards allowed.
Linebacker Ben Windauer averages eight tackles a game, third in the Frontier, and is second in tackles-for-loss with three. Defensive backs Jordan Washington and Naoki Harmer have each broken up three passes and Harmer has an interception.
“Going into this game, we’ve done a really good job of taking care of the football so far this year,” Samson said. “And, another goal is to be very solid on special teams.
“There’s good football played across the board in the Frontier Conference. This is a special league – in my opinion, the best in NAIA from top to bottom.”
Probable starters follow;
Rocky Mountain offense – Center, Max Edmisten, 6-1, 274, senior, Idaho Falls, Idaho. Guards – T’Ziaha Quint, 6-1, 284 sophomore, Phoenix, and Alex Hernandez, 6-1, 288, freshman, La Verne, California. Tackles – Stason Makaila, 6-4, 284, senior, Chandler, Arizona, and Imori Heard, 6-4, 290, junior, Chicago. Tight end – Andrew Simon, 6-1, 220, grad, Whitehall. Wide receivers – Deniro Killian Jr., 5-9, 180, sophomore, Oakley, California; Trae Henry, 6-0, 180, senior, Idaho Falls, Idaho; Joseph Dwyer, 5-8, 160, sophomore, Puyallup, Washington; and Donovan Sellgren, 6-0, 180, senior, Arlington, Washington. Running back – Zaire Wilcox, 5-8, 180, sophomore, Lecanto, Florida. Quarterback – George Tribble, 6-3, 224, senior, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Rocky Mountain defense – Linemen – Ethan Hurst, 6-2, 245, sophomore, Santa Margarita, California; Dylan Beridon, 6-2, 280, senior, Chino Hills, California; Weslee Moeai, 6-3, 295, senior, St. George, Utah; and Isaiah Tennell, 6-2, 235, senior, La Puente, California. Linebackers – Shamar Whestone, 6-0, 220, senior, Duarte, California; Nolan McCafferty, 6-0, 230, senior, Sheridan, Wyoming; and Prince Johnson, 6-0, 205, senior, Gilbert, Arizona. Backs – John Waddell, 6-2, 290, sophomore, Livingston; Jack Cline, 6-3, 185, sophomore, Miles City; Brail Lipford, 5-10, 180, sophomore, Gilbert, Arizona; and Kaysan Barnett, 5-9, 178, sophomore, Phoenix.
Rocky Mountan special teams – Kick returner – Jack Waddell, 5-10, 160, freshman, Laurel, and Zaire Wilcox, 5-8, 180, sophomore, Lecanto, Florida; Punt returner – Deniro Killian Jr., 5-9, 180, sophomore, Oakley, California; Long snapper – Vince Bury, 6-0, 195, senior, Tucson, Arizona; Holder – John Butler, 5-9, 184, freshman, Mesa, Arizona; Kicker – Austin Drake, 6-0, 160, freshman, Hamilton; Punter – Wyatt Brusven, 6-0, 170, junior, Shelby.
Montana Tech offense – Linemen – Seif Benjemia, 6-4, 300, sophomore, West Lafayette, Indiana; Carson Shuman, 6-2, 305, junior, Helena; Max Anderson, 6-3, 295, sophomore, Kalispell; Triston Stauffer, 6-2, 292, senior, Damascus, Oregon; and Jack Hiller, 6-5, 285, junior, LaCenter, Washington. Tight end – Logan Kennedy, 6-2, 220, sophomore, Laurel. Wide receivers – Trevor Hoffman, 6-4, 205, senior, Burien, Washington; Kyle Torgerson, 5-10, 170, sophomore, Great Falls; and Wyatt Alexander, 6-2, 190, junior, Whitehall. Running back – Blake Counts, 5-11, 205, junior, Kalispell. Quarterback – Jet Campbell, 6-4, 200, senior, Billings.
Montana Tech defense – Linemen – Keyshawn James-Newby, 6-3, 245, sophomore, Helena; Alaric Greil, 6-3, 255, sophomore, Helena; Gabe Zanetti, 6-1, 275, junior, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; and Zach Trumble, 6-3, 270, junior, Valleyford, Washington. Linebackers – Blake Allred, 5-11, 215, junior, Billings; Cole Wyant, 6-1, 225, sophomore, Rocklin, California; and Ben Windauer, 6-1, 220, junior, Columbia Falls. Backs – Jordan Washington, 5-11, 185, junior, Los Angeles; Brandon Morley, 6-1, 195, junior, Missoula; Jake Orvis, 6-0, 170, senior, Billings; and Naoki Harmer, 5-10, 180, senior, Bellevue, Washington.
Montana Tech special teams – Punter – Andrew Almos, 6-1, 205, sophomore, Great Falls. Kicker – Ryan Lowry, 6-0, 195, sophomore, Pasco, Washington. Punt returner – Kyle Torgerson, 5-10, 170, sophomore, Great Falls. Kick returner – Torgerson, and Jaden McNeil, 5-8, 175, sophomore, Kalispell.
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