Oredigger face ‘critical game’ as Coyotes come to town

The mood has changed a bit on the Montana Tech campus after the football team’s loss at Eastern Oregon last Saturday.

The objective, though, remains the same. The Orediggers need a win as the College of Idaho comes to town for a 1 p.m. game Saturday at Alumni Coliseum. (Radio: 550 AM, 101.5 FM or online)

The No. 21-ranked Orediggers will be celebrating homecoming.

“This is a critical game,” Tech coach Chuck Morrell said as his 2-1 Orediggers get ready for the Coyotes. “We’re in a position where we control our own fate right now.”

That Oredigger fate is also apparently in the hands of sophomore quarterback Dawson Reardon. The Helena High product will get the start because Montana State transfer Quinn McQueary was knocked out of last week’s game with an apparent shoulder injury.

Morrell doesn’t talk about injuries. He said he expects McQueary, who directed wins over MSU-Northern and Carroll College, back this season. In fact, he said he hasn’t ruled him out for Saturday just yet.

“We’re going to be waiting and seeing, but right now our play is to go with Dawson,” Morrell said.

Reardon, who narrowly lost out to McQueary in the quarterback competition that carried from spring drills through the summer, completed just 5 of 19 passes for 103 yards in place of McQueary last week. He was picked off once.

“He was a little bit rusty when came in on Saturday,” Morrell said of his quarterback. “He’s had a great week of practice, and he’s pretty locked in. He’ll have to have a big impact on the game for us to win.”

It’s no secret that the Orediggers will also go with a heavy dose of Nolan Saraceni. The junior leads the Frontier Conference with 401 yards rushing through three games. That includes 198 yards and three touchdowns last week.

Saraceni is averaging a PlayStation-like 8.7 yards per carry. Keeping that average high will be key for the Orediggers to ease some of the pressure from a Coyotes defense that likes to bring the heat.

Zach Winfield and Nolan Saraceni will also get carries.

Morrell said COI has toned down the defensive pressure that saw them “bring the house” nearly every play a year ago. Still, the Coyotes love to blitz.

That could also create opportunities for receivers like Alec Bray, Clay Cavender and Chris Lachance to connect for some deep balls.

Bray leads the team with 16 receptions for 217 yards. Cavender and Lachance both have eight.

On the other side of the ball, the Orediggers have to be ready for senior quarterback Teejay Gordon.

Gordon has run for 248 yards and a touchdown in four games. He’s also completed 59 percent of his passes for 840 yards and six touchdowns. He threw six picks.

“He’s ridiculous,” Morrell said. “He’s probably the best athlete in the conference. He runs pretty well, and throws a really nice deep ball. On third down he can just take off and run past anybody. He’s a big-time player.”

The Coyotes have also used J.J. Hyde as a wildcat quarterback. However, he left last week’s game with an injury.

Speedy Austin Diffey and senior tight end Marcus Lenhardt are the top targets for Gordon. Diffey has hauled in 13 passes for 149 yards, while Lenhardt caught 12 for 182 yards and two scores.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Lenhardt is a concern, Morrell said.

“He’s a big-time receiving threat,” the coach said. “He’s a line up everywhere type of guy. He lines up at receiver as much as he does at tight end.”

Morrell said the Coyotes will use a lot of players.

“They’re using three different running backs,” Morrell said. “They’re using 10 different receivers. They’re just rotating guys through there. They’ve got some fresh guys on the field.”

Tyler Gavlak and David Meis lead the Orediggers in tackles, each with 24. Rail Gunlikson has 18, while Gunnar Kayser has 16 and Jacob Crawford has nine.

Four Orediggers — Crawford, DeAngelo Bell, Luke Benz and Zavier Marsden — have interceptions on the season.

Morrell said special teams will be key for the Orediggers. Tech struggled in that department last week, giving up big returns and a blocked field goal.

“As good as our special teams were against Carroll, we were equally that bad last week,” Morrell said.

The Coyotes have lost three straight after opening with a 40-28 home win over Eastern Oregon

COI fell 32-31 at home to Pacific University in a non-conference game. They then lost 24-20 at Montana Western and 42-27 at home last week to defending NAIA national champion Southern Oregon.

Of course, Oredigger fans remember the Coyotes, who started playing football for the first time since the 1970s last season, beating the Orediggers 41-25 last season in Caldwell, Idaho.

“Their team plays with a whole lot of energy,” Morrell said, adding he is expecting a large contingent of fans on Saturday. “Their guys are really fired up. They’re really aggressive. Trying to keep the momentum away from them is pretty crucial.”

Morrell said the Orediggers are still taking their business-as-usual approach as they look forward to getting back on the field.

“Obviously they’re disappointed in the loss last Saturday,” the coach said. “The focus this week has been defending our home field. It’s tough to win on the road, so you’ve got to hold court.

“They guys are excited to play in front of their home crowd. They know they didn’t play their best last week.”

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