By Bruce Sayler
The Montana Tech football staff has been busy putting the pieces back together after the Orediggers fell from the unbeaten ranks last weekend.
Montana Tech lost 28-20 to Rocky Mountain and now faces 17th-ranked Montana Western, always a tough opponent in this neighborhood rivalry. The Orediggers are hoping the glue holds but are also confident in their bond.
“It’s a big week,” Montana Tech head coach Kyle Samson said. “I thought our kids did a really good job of getting focused this week. They came back with good attitudes after a loss. We’ve been putting last week behind us and looking forward to this week.”
Montana Tech goes into the 1 p.m. Saturday game at Vigilante Field in Dillon with a 2-1 record, both in Frontier Conference and overall play. Montana Western is 2-1 in league play, 3-1 for the season, bouncing back from a season-opening loss to Carroll to reel off three straight wins over Eastern Oregon, Dickinson State (non-conference) and Montana State-Northern.
“They’re physical and have a lot of veterans who have played a lot of football,” Samson said about the Bulldogs. “Their quarterback, (Jon) Jund, is a four-year starter and a really good player. They have a good interior line and are a well-coached team. Coach (Ryan) Nourse does a good job.”
Montana Western topped the Orediggers 45-21 last year in the only game they met. Oredigger quarterback Jet Campbell passed for a touchdown and 282 yards, and Jund passed for 381 yards with four TDs, according to information provided by Nick Bowsher of Montana Tech Sports Information.
The Bulldogs were co-champions of the Frontier last year and will be trying to keep the Orediggers from winning in Dillon for the first time since 2012.
This year, Montana Tech is averaging 402.3 yards a game on offense to rank second in the league, and is fourth in scoring at 28 points a game. The Orediggers lead the conference in passing at 250.7 yards per game and are fifth in rushing at 151.7. The team’s defense is second in the Frontier, giving up 234 yards a game and leads in passing defense, yielding 130.7 yards a game. Montana Tech allows 103.3 yards rushing per contest.
The Bulldogs’ numbers include averaging 384.4 yards a game on offense for fourth in the league, and 31 points a game for second in scoring average. They are fifth in passing at 197.3 yards per game and second in rushing at 187.5. The Bulldogs lead in defense, yielding 208.3 yards a game, only 43.7 on the ground.
“They’ll be a big challenge on their home field,” Samson said. “But, it should be a great atmosphere and a lot of people usually travel from Butte to be there. Our guys are excited and it is supposed be a nice day (in weather).
“This is a really good test for our guys.”
The Montana Western defense features ends James Aragon and Reece Artz on the pass rush. Offensively, Jund has thrown for a league-leading seven touchdowns and averages 190 passing yards per game. His top receiver has been freshman Dylan Shipley with 17 catches, five for touchdowns. The five receiving TDs lead the conference. Reese Neville is the team’s leading rusher, averaging 73.8 yards a game.
Montana Tech suffered five turnovers in the loss to Rocky Mountain, the Orediggers’ first turnovers of the year. The last one, a diving interception at the Bears’ 4-yard line late in the game blunted Montana Tech’s comeback attempts.
The Orediggers’ Frontier Conference-leading defense at allowing 130.7 yards and 13.7 points a game.
Offensively, Montana Tech receiver Trevor Hoffman leads the Frontier in receptions with 20 for 259 yards but has not caught one for a TD yet this year. The two-time All-Conference selection averages 86.3 yards receiving, No. 1 in the league.
Defensive lineman Zach Trumble had six tackles and a pass knockdown against Rocky Mountain and has 15 tackles for the season. He has a sack and 3 ½ tackles for loss of yardage. Montana Tech’s secondary was led by Naoki Harmer with nine tackles. He nearly picked off a pass, too. Angel Sanchez III broke up two passes and collected seven tackles. Brandon Morley had seven tackles, Jordan Washington made four stops and broke up a pass, and Jake Orvis forced fumble. The Orediggers did not recover it, though. Orvis also had five tackles. The Montana Tech secondary has broken up 15 passes this season. It has three interceptions.
“We’re pretty healthy,” Samson said. “We have the normal mid-season bumps and bruises, but we’re in pretty good shape. We’re responding to adversity and I’m excited to see the guys do that.
“We have to take care of the football. We had been doing that, then, last week, all went wrong. Last week, we just dug ourselves too much of a hole.”
Any edge can be a big edge in the Frontier Conference competition, the coach agreed.
“There are so many good teams in this league,” he said. “This should be a really good match up. We know Western is a really good football team, but we feel we are, too.”
Listed as starters for the game are:
Montana Tech Offense
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. 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. Running back – Blake Counts, 5-11, 205, junior, Kalispell. Quarterback – Jet Campbell, 6-3, 205, senior, Billings.
Montana Tech Defense
Linemen – Keyshawn James-Newby, 6-4, 245, sophomore, Helena; Alaric Greil, 6-3, 255, sophomore, Helena; Gabe Zanetti, 6-1, 275, junior, Couer 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; and kicker returners – Torgerson, and Jaden MacNeill, 5-8, 175 sophomore, Kalispell.
Montana Western Offense
Quarterback – Jon Jund, 6-0, 200, senior, Spring Creek, Nevada. Running back – Reese Neville, 6-0, 205, senior, Yerington, Nevada. Wide receivers – Trey Mounts, 5-9, 170, senior, Belgrade; Blake Sentman, 6-1, 210, senior, Drain, Oregon; and Isaiah Thomas, 6-0, 170, sophomore, Blackfoot, Idaho. Tight end – Nate Masterson, 6-0, 230, junior, St. Maries, Idaho. Tackles – Noah Danielson, 6-4, 275, senior, Vaughn, and Keith Kippenahn, 6-4, 284, sophomore, Deer Lodge. Guards – Sam Potoczny, 6-2, 280, junior, Great Falls, and Luke Kaniho, 6-1, 265, sophomore, Kamuela, Hawaii. Center – Marcus Lombard, 6-1, 290, sophomore, Laie, Hawaii.
Montana Western Defense
Ends – Bryer Monson, 6-1, 240, senior, Buhl, Idaho, and Reece Artz, 6-3, 260, junior, Battle Mountain, Nevada. Nose tackle – Tanner Harrell, 6-1, 282, junior, Shepherd. Linebackers – Hirkley Latu, 6-4, 240, senior, Kahuku, Hawaii; Braden Smith, 6-3, 230, junior, Whitehall; Kameron Rauser, 6-0, 220, junior, Townsend; and Jaden Amasiu, 5-11, 185, junior, Kailua, Hawaii. Cornerbacks – Latrell McCutcheon, 6-1, 185, senior, Bozeman, and Braden Swank, 5-11, 170, sophomore, Tahoma, Washington. Safeties – Cody Whalen, 6-1, 191, freshman, Tumwater, Washington, and Gus Hanson, 6-1, 180, senior, Helena.
Montana Western Special Teams
Kicker – John Mears, 5-9, 180, sophomore, Belgrade. Holder – Peyton Broenneke, 6-3, 205, junior, Moscow, Idaho. Punter – Bridger Polk, 5-8, 210, freshman, Great Falls. Long snapper – Jordan Jones, 6-2, 190, freshman, Bozeman. Punt returner – Isaiah Thomas, 6-0, 170, sophomore, Blackfoot, Idaho. Kick returners – Reese Neville, 6-0, 205, senior, Yerington, Nevada, and Colten McPhee, 5-10, 195, sophomore, Columbia Falls.