Last time these two teams met, it was a double-overtime classic.
Montana Tech coach Chuck Morrell said to expect another thriller Saturday when his Orediggers take on Montana Western in a Frontier Conference football game at 1 p.m. at Alumni Coliseum. (KBOW 550 AM. Click here to listen online.)
The Orediggers spoiled Western’s homecoming on Sept. 15, winning 30-24 in a classic at Vigilante Field. The Bulldogs (3-5), who haven’t knocked off the Orediggers in Butte since 2003, would like to return the favor Saturday.
Tech isn’t celebrating homecoming. The stakes are much higher.
The Orediggers (7-1) can basically clinch the Frontier Conference title with a Senior Day victory.
“This is a game that certainly can make a big statement on their entire season,” Montana Tech coach Chuck Morrell said.
Of course, this game is one that doesn’t need any fuel added to the fire.
“You’ve got kids on both sides who know each other, who went to high school with each other, who played together and against each other,” Morrell said. “So I expect the competition level to be through the roof. Obviously, it’s a good deal for us to be playing them at home.”
The Bulldogs are a resilient bunch who pose a major threat to the Orediggers.
Western showed its bounce-back potential last week. One week after losing 76-29 at home to Southern Oregon, the Bulldogs responded with a 23-20 win over Rocky Mountain College.
“We’re going to have to work to match their energy level each and every snap,” Morrell said.
Western, which trails only Tech in the conference with 17 forced turnovers, found a way to win despite being outgained 401-278 against Rocky.
“Last week they played that complete game,” Morrell said, pointing to Western’s defense and Josh Lords’ 78-yard punt return.
Senior quarterback Jeff Logan completed just 10 of 27 passes for 98 yards last week. He’s completed 53 percent of his passes for 1,274 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s thrown three interceptions.
The Orediggers, though, don’t need to look at the stat sheet to know how dangerous Logan can be.
The quarterback passed for 219 yards and a pair of touchdowns in that Sept. 15 game as the Bulldogs came back from two 10-point deficits to force extra time. He threw well on the run and scrambled for 52 yards on 14 carries.
“That was probably the thing that hurt us the most,” Morrell said. “Logan played a tremendous game for them. He was running, he was out of the pocket. He made some big runs late in the game. He’s a heck of a football player.”
Rashad Peniston is Logan’s best weapon. He leads the Bulldogs with 42 receptions and three touchdowns.
The Orediggers held Peniston to just two catches in Round 1. One of those catches, however, went for 51 yards.
Dylan Kramer leads Western’s rushing attack. He’s gained 542 yards on 148 carries, scoring four touchdowns.
The Oredigger defense has been humming.
Jacob Workman, Logan Sims and Mike Waldman have set the tone up front in front of linebackers Mike Touzinsky, David Meis and Joe Semansky.
Semansky leads the Orediggers and is ranked No. 5 in the conference with 8.7 tackles per game. Touzinsky is right behind him at 8.5.
Safeties Nate Kobold and Nate Thompson both have four interceptions, while corner back Ketwaun Frank leads the league in passes broken up.
“We’re getting consistent play from front to back, defensively,” Morrell said. “The one thing that is very much improved for us throughout the season is working to pressure the quarterback. In this league it’s always difficult to sack the quarterback. Everybody is in a spread offense, and they’re all getting rid of the ball really quickly. The thing you work on is moving guys off their spot and changing the dynamic of things within the pocket. Our front guys have steadily improved on that.”
Workman leads the league with eight sacks. He had three in last week’s 21-13 win over MSU Northern. Waldman has four and a half sacks, while Touzinsky has 4 and linebacker Niall Padden has three.
Morrell said he’d like to see a stronger finish from his offense. The last two weeks, the Orediggers built big leads and had to rely on their defense to hold it.
“Our offense comes out with a great edge,” Morrell said. “I look for our offense to come out and maintain that edge into the second half.”
Nick Baker has completed 70 percent of his passes for 2,112 yards. He’s thrown 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Baker has some big weapons at his disposal. Zack Kinney leads the team with 48 receptions and four touchdowns. Trent Thomas is right behind with 46 catches. He also has four scores.
Alex Bray, Craig Halko, Brandon Moss, and James Roberts are also weapons in the passing game.
Pat Hansen is No. 2 in the league with 821 rushing yards. Hansen, who has 10 rushing touchdowns, also caught 35 passes for 206 yards.
“Any one of our offensive guys can put points on the board,” Morrell said. “I know we have enough weapons to continue to drive the ball and put points on the board. I’m challenging those guys to continue to push the ball down the field and continue to make some big plays as the game progresses.”
Morrell said field conditions could have played a factor in Tech’s offensive slowdown in the second half last week. By halftime, the field was a muddy mess between the numbers. Even though the Tech grounds crew has put in extra time to fix it, those field conditions could be similar Saturday.
“The field really challenged both offenses last week,” Morrell said. “You watch on film, any given snap there’s a half dozen guys on the ground trying to fight to get up. It was very difficult to get a good push or make a good break last week. That’s part of playing in this region, this time of year.”
Saturday is Tech’s last scheduled game on grass at Alumni, though home games in the playoffs are within their grasp.
The Orediggers will have an artificial turf installed before next year’s home opener.
Before the game, Tech will honor its seniors and their parents.
The game is the last regular season home game for seniors Frank, Thomas, Kobold, Semansky, Halko linebacker Shane Lowman and offensive linemen Keith Mullan and David Tapia-Padron.