Orediggers business as usual as Saints come to town

Montana Tech’s football players have several reasons to be really excited this week.

For one, the Orediggers are coming off one of the most lopsided wins in school history in last Saturday’s 58-14 laugher over MSU-Northern in Havre.

The win, which was Tech’s first in more than a calendar year, put the Orediggers back on the map to start the 2015 season.

With excitement in the air, the Orediggers will play their first game in front of their home crowd for the first time since Nov. 8.

To top things off, the Orediggers opponent for the 1 p.m. game at Alumni Coliseum is No. 4-ranked Carroll College, and the Oredigger-Saint rivalry has long been one of, if not the, best rivalry in the NAIA. (Radio KBOW 550 AM, 101.5 FM, online)

A huge crowd is expected to show up as the Orediggers unveil their gray alternate jerseys. Fans are asked to join them with the color for a “grey out” at the Bob Green Field.

Yet, Oredigger head coach Chuck Morrell said his players have taken a business-as-usually attitude heading into the colossal game.

“They don’t seem to get too high or too low,” Morrell said of his players. “That’s been their m.o. here early in the season. They just have a consistent mind set. They’re ready to work and ready for the challenge.

“Our guys stay pretty even keel,” the coach said. “They’re excited to be playing a home game, and they know that we’re going to have a good crowd.”

That challenge is a big one. The Orediggers have only beaten the Saints once in the last decade, and that was early in Tech’s 2012 Frontier Conference championship run. Carroll is 19-1 against the Orediggers over the last 20 meetings.

Carroll is the defending Frontier Champion, and the Saints beat defending national champion Southern Oregon at home last week.

Senior quarterback Mac Roche leads the Saints to town after passing for 283 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s win. Roche completed 26 of 41 passes, earing Frontier Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Roche was picked off three times, but Morrell said the film showed that two of those we the result of a great play by the Southern Oregon defense.

“Roche, I think he’s arguable the best player in the Frontier, and maybe one of the best quarterbacks in the country,” Morrell said. “It’s hard to make him have a bad day because he’s seen everything. He’s had every defense in the world thrown at him in the last couple of years.”

Even with junior receiver Kyle Griffith out for the season with an injury, the Saints are more focused on passing this season.

The Saints, who are taking the back-by-committee approach to their running game, didn’t have a single rushing touchdown a week ago, but running backs Ryan Walsh and Conner Poulson each caught a touchdown pass.

Walsh led the Saints seven receptions for 77, giving the Saints an added dimension on their offensive attack.

The team still has senior receiver Dylan Simac, who has been a contributor since his freshman year, to go along with emerging freshman tight end Connor Fohn.

As usual, Morrell said, the Saints are strong up front, meaning the Oredigger defensive line could be a key to the game.

“To me that is always the premier matchup in this game,” Morrell said.

Senior receiver David Meis was credited with a team-leading seven tackles for the Orediggers in Havre. He was in on a sack, as was Tyler Gavlak, Luke Benz, Drew Schleeman and Matthew Neylan, according to official stats from the game.

The Oredigger offense comes in after a lights-out performance.

Sophomore quarterback Quinn McQueary completed 20 of 22 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown. His backup, fellow sophomore Dawson Reardon, completed 6 of 8 passes for 70 yards and a score as the Orediggers amassed 622 yards of total offense.

Nolan Saraceni ran for 101 yards and four touchdowns, while Zach Winfield ran nine times for 91 yards and a long TD.

Senior Alec Bray caught nine passes for 110 yards, while classmate Clay Cavendar caught six passes for 47 yard and two scores. Junior college transfer caught four passes, including a long touchdown early in the game.

In all, nine Orediggers ran the ball at least once, and eight Tech players had at least one catch.

Morrell said he wasn’t surprised by the offensive success.

“To be honest, I felt like we were going to be able to score the football,” the coach said. “That’s something we felt confident about coming into the first game. The confidence in the coaching staff was built by the guys in fall camp.”

Repeating those numbers against Carroll might be impossible. Just putting up respectable numbers against the Saints could be a daunting task.

Seniors James Dowgin and Matt Wymore each picked off a pass in Carroll’s win, proving the secondary is a strength of the Carroll team.

“They have their entire secondary returning,” Morrell said. “That’s a group of guys who have played a lot of games together.  We’ve got to win some of those battles out there against a real veteran crew.”

The Orediggers will hit the road next week to take on Eastern Oregon. They next home game is Sept. 26 against the College of Idaho.

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