Eastern Oregon wins Copper Game 26-24
By Bruce Sayler
A victory would have capped a perfect night.
A bright sun shining with temperatures in the 60s welcomed one of the largest crowds in Montana Tech football history to Bob Green Field Saturday evening as more than 6,000 filled the bleachers, ringed the field and draped over the railings.
Eastern Oregon, however, won. The Mountaineers nipped the Orediggers 26-24 in a Frontier Conference college football game so exciting it probably ended too soon for everyone. Well, Eastern Oregon probably liked the outcome. (Stats)
Two gangbuster returns by Mark Estes spotlighted the Montana Tech effort, including one that brought the Orediggers off life support and into contention in the waning moments. The 78-yard TD occurred just after Eastern Oregon extended its advantage to 26-17 with just about a minute left to play.
The Mountaineers, after enduring the Estes touchdown runback, was able to run out the clock after covering an Oredigger onside kick.
It was Montana Tech’s first football game in nearly two years, having had the Covid-19 pandemic wipe out last year’s slate. Dubbed the Copper Game, with the Orediggers wearing their copper-colored jerseys, the opening festivities included Bob Green himself, the retired Montana Tech coach and living legend, participating in the coin toss at first-year head coach Kyle Samson’s request.
Then, Samson and his staff and players went to work launching the resumption.
“I’m very proud of our guys, but this wasn’t the way we wanted this to end up,” first-year Oredigger head coach Kyle Samson said on the field after a post-game meeting with the team. “Eastern Oregon is a very good team and you can’t have the number of mistakes we had against a good football team and win.
“We have stuff to clean up.”
Four turnovers – two fumbles and two interceptions – and a couple of crippling red zone penalties dragged down a Montana Tech offense that showed promise.
The defense played well and the special teams were outstanding.
When able to cleanly execute, the Orediggers project promise on the offensive side of the ball, too. Blake Counts ran for 92 yards, with a touchdown, on 10 carries, and Trevor Hoffman, Kiley Caprara and Logan Kennedy combined for 11 catches and 169 yards. Kennedy caught a 10-yard TD ball from quarterback Jet Campbell, who was 14-for-23 for 153 yards in the passing game. He threw the one TD aerial and was picked off twice. Campbell also ate up 28 yards on the ground.
The efforts were nullified by an Eastern Oregon ground game that saw Jordan Eggers run for two touchdowns while gaining 146 yards, quarterback Kai Quinn keep for 75 yards and Victor Rosas gain 29.
The Mountaineers scored only two touchdowns, both by Eggers, and never trailed in the game. Kicker Zachary Cahill made good on all four of his field goal tries and both extra points.
“The guys settled in after some mistakes,” Samson said about his Orediggers. “We got a touchdown called back on a penalty, and that really hurt us.
“There were definitely some positives, too, but we would’ve liked to learn from them with a win.”
The first touchdown was a 37-yard gallop by Eggers after Zak Donato intercepted an Montana Tech pass near midfield.
The Mountaineers took the 7-0 edge into the second quarter and then got 41-yard field goal from Cahill four plays after Quinn busted a 50-yard run.
Campbell’s toss to Kennedy in the end zone put the Orediggers on the scoreboard early in the second quarter. Campbell completed two passes to Caprara and one to Hoffman to flow the drive.
Eastern Oregon answered with its sustained drive, finishing with Eggers scooting into the end zone from 6 yards out and the Mounties had a 17-7 halftime lead.
The Orediggers tried to respond and marched to the Eastern Oregon 27-yard line before giving up the ball on a fumble. Wesley McIlvaine recovered for the Mountaineers.
The Orediggers closed the gap to 17-10 on a 27-yard field goal by Jared Griffith. It came two plays after a Campbell 10-yard scoring pass to Caprara was erased by a holding call.
“We ran the ball well and Blake was great,” Samson said. “Jet passed well and our receivers caught the ball.
“We just had too many mistakes.”
A Cahill 37-yard field goal ended the third-quarter scoring with the Mountaineers owning a 20-10 advantage heading into the last period. A muffed punt the Mountaineers’ Blaine Chavez stationed Cahill for the boot.
Cahill tacked on a 35-yarder early in the fourth quarter after an interception and 31-yard return by Blaine Shaw.
“We were dow n 20-10 and then turned the ball over again,” Samson said. “The guys could’ve (folded), but they didn’t. They kept battling.”
The Orediggers bounced back a long drive that culminated in a 1-yard dive by Counts. Seven minutes remained the the difference had been narrowed to a touchdown, 24-17.
Montana Tech had time.
However, when Cahill boomed a 42-yarder for three more points, chances for the Orediggers seemed dismal.
Estes sparked them again, though, by fielding the ensuing kickoff, dashing to the middle of the alignment, skipping past a couple of blocks, veering left and outsprinting the Mountaineers to the end zone.
Just under a minute was left to be played. Samson called for an onside kick, but Eastern Oregon covered it and was able to milk the remaining ticks off the clock.
The Montana Tech defensive performance was led by Spencer Schock with 12 tackles, including seven solos, and Bridger Johnson with 10, five of which were solo. The defense was unable to force a turnover, but Teddy Croft and Logan Kolodejchuk each had a tackle for loss. Naoki Hunter broke up two passes, and Jordan Washington and Jake Orvis each batted away one.
“I flet like our conditioning level was pretty good,” Samson said. “And, we had a great turnout. I’d like to thank all of the people who came out tonight.”
The parking lots were full by 4:30 for the 6 p.m. kickoff as about a 1,000 fans wandered the stadium and its grounds in anticipation of a long-awaited Montana Tech college football game.
“As a team, I thought our biggest positive,” Samson said, “was our togetherness.”
The Orediggers will now go to work practicing to take on Carroll next Saturday in Helena. Eastern Oregon will play host to Montana Western. 1 comment