Montana Tech’s football team will put its No. 17 ranking on the line Saturday at Herb Klindt Field in Billings.
The Orediggers will be playing their third ranked opponent in four games when they take on No. 22 Rocky Mountain College in a Frontier Conference game at 1 p.m. (KBOW, 550 AM. Click here to listen online.)
They’ll also be playing in their second straight homecoming game. Tech spoiled the ceremony last Saturday in Dillon with a 30-24 double-overtime win over Montana Western.
Morrell said his team wasn’t satisfied after that victory.
“At the end of the game I almost had to cheer or guys up a little bit,” the coach said. “We won, but they were really disappointed with how they performed. From a coaching standpoint, you like to see that. They know a win is a win, and we’ve got to enjoy wins. But I love the recognition from our guys that they know they have to get better for the big picture and the long haul. That’s actually a great thing to see in the growth of a program.”
Morrell also said the Orediggers are trying to not put too much stock in the No. 17 ranking. The team was ranked No. 20 last week, marking its first appearance in the top 25 in five years.
“The thing is you’ve got to win to stay in,” Morrell said of the top 25. “It’s like your GPA. It’s hard to make your GPA go up, but it’s easy to make it go down. You’ve got to fight your butts off to stay in there.”
Rocky Mountain fell three spots to No. 22 this week after a strong showing in a loss at Carroll College.
“They played them super physical,” Morrell said of the Bears’ performance in a 19-6 loss in Helena. “I really feel like after seeing them on film that they’re at the top end of the Frontier Conference with the combination of their players and how they’re being coached right now. I think they’re very dangerous.”
Rocky is 3-1 overall and 2-1 in league play. Tech, which doesn’t play a non-conference game this season, is 2-1.
Sophomore quarterback Bryce Baker leads the Bears. Despite being held to 99 yards at Carroll, Baker leads the Frontier in total passing years with 1,037. He’s thrown for 10 touchdowns and three interceptions.
“Their quarterback is playing very well right now,” Morrell said. “He’s really matured. He’s doing a great job distributing the ball. They’re playing up-tempo, fast-paced offense, and boy they can score in a heartbeat.
“They’re very dangerous on offense,” the coach said. “Some of the success that Carroll had against them last weekend was keeping them on the sidelines.”
The Bears have the league’s leading receiver and No. 2 rusher.
Sophorome Andre McCollouch has hauled in 29 receptions so for. Bo Descheemacker, Ryan Toner and Cole Cattelan are all in the top 11 in the Frontier in receptions.
“McCollouch is an extremely explosive player. Every time he touches the ball, he’s got the ability to take it to the shop,” Morrell said. “They’ve got four guys who have more than 15 catches on the year. At this point in the season , that’s a lot.”
Junior Mickey Payne averages 5.3 yards per carry. Sophomore Ben Ray averages 5.0 yards per rush.
“Both of their running backs are just well-built, solid guys who run down hill,” Morrell said. “They can punish you by running the ball, too.”
The Bears, who are big on both sides on the line of scrimmage, have a hit-you-in-the-mouth defense.
Linebacker Jake Barit leads the team with 8.7 tackles per game. Travis Bertelsen and Eric Buer both have two interceptions.
“Defensively they’re playing very well right now,” Morrell said.
The Oredigger defense is also playing well. An interception by Joe Mitzel led to Tech’s game-winning touchdown in overtime last week.
Senior safety Nathan Kobold leads the team and is ranked third in the Frontier with 10.3 tackles per game.
Linebackers Joe Semansky and Mike Touzinsky both average 8.3 takedowns.
Offensively, the Orediggers are also rolling.
Junior quarterback Nick Baker averages a league-best 291 yards passing per game. Senior receiver Trent Thomas is tied for second with 19 receptions, one ahead of junior teammate Zack Kinney.
Kevin Moss and James Roberts have also given the Orediggers options in the passing game. Roberts joined Thomas with two TD receptions last week, including the game-winner.
“James hasn’t been a big focal point of our offense,” Morrell said. “But it also proves that within the framework of our offense if you want to try to focus on Zack or you want to focus on Kevin or Trent , we still have that fourth guy who can potentially make some big plays.”
Though he was pretty much held in check by a defense clearly keying on him, sophomore running back Pat Hansen averages 96.3 yards per game behind linemen Alex Havlovick, Gage McCann, Mack Ferko, Keith Mullan, Nicholas Riley, David Tapia-Padron and Daniel Valenzuela.
“Defensively I think it’s really hard,” Morrell said of facing the Oredigger offense. “You have to pick your poison. You can’t focus on five guys at once.”
The Bears and Orediggers split last year, with each team winning at home.
The Orediggers return home next week for a homecoming game against Southern Oregon.