Orediggers bounce back, smash Lights 35-10

Saturday’s victory seemed like a very long time coming for the Montana Tech football team.

Quinn McQueary passed for three touchdowns and ran for another Saturday, and the Orediggers beat MSU-Northern 35-10 in a Frontier Conference game on the Bob Green Field. Stats

The lopsided win came one week after the Orediggers lost a heartbreaker at Carroll College. It was a loss Tech coach Chuck Morrell said was the most difficult in his six years at Montana Tech.

“It was only seven days, but it felt like about 300 of them,” Morrell said. “It’s so difficult when you’re coming off such an emotional roller coaster to get yourself going again. I’m proud of the guys for really bouncing back.”

Tech bounced back very quickly.

Before 5 minutes ticked off the game clock, McQueary hit Mitchell Keaton for a pair of touchdown passes.

The first score came when McQueary found Keaton over the middle for a 16-yard score. The second score was set up by defensive back Anthony Nelson.

Nelson came in untouched and blocked a punt after the Orediggers forced a three and out. Tech recovered at the Northern 8 yard line.

Two plays later, and Keaton was in the end zone for his second TD reception.

“Mitch is a gritty guy, and he likes to go get the ball,” McQueary said of Keaton, a 6-fot-3, 215-pound senior. “He ain’t afraid of anything. So I love throwing to Mitch, and I know all our receivers had a great day today.”

Nelson deflected credit for the block.

“The coaches did a good job putting us in position,” the senior said. “We watched a lot of film and schemed up how to block it. I had a free pass. I didn’t think it would be that easy, but we got it. It was nice that we got that early in the game to set the tone.”

Thoughts of the Orediggers rolling along from there, however, were quickly ended by the Lights, who drove 75 yards to cut the Oredigger lead in half. Jess Krahn hit fullback Wyatt McKinlay for a 4-yard touchdown to cap the 10-play drive.

“I thought we were going to roll after that,” McQueary said. “We just kind of hit a few road blocks.”

The game stayed at 14-7 through halftime, and the Lights out gained Tech 163-123 in the first half. Senior running back Zach McKinley ran for 102 yards on 11 carries before the break.

“We jumped out to a fast lead, and then we relaxed for just a second,” Morrell said. “Give credit to Norther. They came fighting right back.”

Things turned around in a big way in the second half. Again, it was special teams that led the way for the Orediggers.

Sophomore Levi Lynde returned a punt 50 yards to set up a 16-yard touchdown pass from McQueary to Zach Bunney, who pulled a couple would-be tacklers into the end zone with him.

“It think that’s a strength of our team right now,” Morrell said of special teams play. “We’ve got a bunch of young guys who aren’t in the depth chart yet because we’re a veteran team, and they’re playing with some fire and some passion. They can make some plays.

“We got the block and the big return, and those helped us put a lot of points on the board,” Morrell said. “That was a big net positive.”

Tech made it 28-7 when senior defensive back Gunnar Kayser returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown.

That score came one series after Kayser, a converted receiver, nearly had another pick-6.

“I give Gunnar credit,” Morrell said. “He had one right in his hands. He came back, and that’s two games in a row where he’s made a big-time explosive play.”

McQueary made it 35-7 when he scrambled and leaped into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. That score came three plays after McQueary avoided a rush and hit Keaton for a 55-yard reception.

Northern capped the scoring with a Tommy Langley 34-yard field goal that followed a Tech fumble.

The Orediggers ended up out gaining Northern 321-261. Tech held McGinley to five yards on 11 carries in the second half.

“McKinley is a strong man,” Nelson said of the 5-10 running back who is generously listed at 205 pounds. “I probably missed a couple tackles on him. He’s strong and I have a lot of respect for him.”

McQueary praised the Oredigger defense for buying time for the Orediggers to recapture their mojo.

“Our defense held their ground of us the whole game and kept giving us possessions,” the quarterback said. “We looked a lot better in the second half. We blocked a lot better, I made some better reads, we ran the ball harder.”

Of course, the Northern defense, which is led upfront by Tyler Craig, deserves tons of credit for slowing down the Orediggers.

“They’re one of the best defensive fronts in the league,” McQueary said. “I’ve got to give them a lot credit for what they do up there. But we came out and finally played some smash-mouth football in the second half.”

On a day when star running back Nolan Saraceni was held to 33 yards on seven carries, McQueary completed 19 of 30 passes for 245 yards. He was picked off once.

The large margin of victory led to the college debut of freshman Danny Peoples, a Butte Central graduate. Peoples completed his only pass for eight yards.

Keaton hauled in six passes for 100 yards, while Carlos Martinez caught four passes for 50 yards. In all, 10 Orediggers caught a pass.

Sophomore linebacker Nic Amestoy was credited with three and a half tackles for a loss. He also was a force for the Orediggers on special teams.

Amestoy, Zach Hulse, Tyler Sanders, Connor Wines and James Foote were credited for being in on a sack. Butte High graduate batted down a pass, while Gayser and Anthony Brown joined Amestoy atop the Oredigger tackles chart.

After the game, the Orediggers were all smiles. It was a night-and-day difference from the same time a week ago.

“It was big,” Nelson said. “It was a disappointment last week. Our coaches preach one week at a time. Our goal was to go 1-0 this week, and that’s what we did.”

The Orediggers will try to go 1-0 again next week when Rocky Mountain College comes to town. Coach Jason Petrino’s Battlin’ Bears beat Carroll College 21-20 on Saturday.