BILLINGS — Montana Tech’s football team gave Kyle Samson his first win as a head coach Saturday afternoon on the Herb Klindt Field.
The Orediggers, though, had to survive a Nathan Dick Houdini act to pull it off.
Tech jumped out to a 31-7 lead and held on for a thrilling 31-29 Frontier Conference victory over the No. 24 Battlin’ Bears. (Stats)
“It was a lot of fun,” Samson said of the victory, which came 604 days after he was introduced as Tech’s 31st head coach on Jan. 22, 2020. “I’m super proud of our guys and our coaching staff. We’ve been through a lot the last couple of years.”
The Orediggers, of course, did not play in 2020 or the spring of 2021 because of the pandemic. Tech then lost its first two games of this season, falling at home to Eastern Oregon and on the road to Carroll College.
Tech never had a lead in its first two games. On Saturday, the Orediggers never trailed.
“I’m really, really proud of our guys and the way they started the game,” Samson said. “I’m extremely proud of our quarterback. Jet (Campbell) played a great game.”
After a Jared Griffith 22-yard field goal gave the Orediggers their first lead of the season, a 3-0 late in the first quarter, Campbell hooked up with a Logan Kennedy for a 20-yard touchdown and a 10-0 lead with 8 minutes, 11 seconds left in the second quarter.
Dick, the Rocky quarterback who transferred from the University of Montana, found Donavan Sellgren for a quick answer and a 45-yard touchdown. That cut the lead to 10-7 with 6:56 to play before halftime.
Mark Estes ran for a 14-yard score, and Campbell hit Kyle Torgerson for a 13-yard touchdown 24 seconds before halftime. That allowed Tech to take a 24-7 edge into the locker room.
Campbell made it a 31-7 game with a 3-yard touchdown run early in the third.
While the big-and-boisterous Oredigger contingent was ready for a rout, the Battlin’ Bears had other ideas.
Dawson Schick ran for two yards, and Dick hit Trae Henry for a 2-point conversion to cut the lead to 31-16.
Then, in the final minute of the third quarter, Dick found Gabriel Bryan for a 29-yard strike. The 2-point pass to Lucus Overton made it a 31-23 game.
The Oredigger defense appeared to put the game away a couple of times in the fourth quarter. Rocky, though, did not go away.
After a drive was extended by a penalty for illegal hands to the face, Dick hit Joseph Dwyer for a 14-yard touchdown with 4 seconds remaining.
Dick, though, was tripped up and the 2-point conversion failed.
“When they scored, I was so proud of our defense,” Samson said. “They knew they had to hold them on the two-point conversion. What a way to end the game.”
Rocky’s onside kick attempt went out of bounds, and the Orediggers took over for one final snap in victory formation.
“It was nice to take a knee on their field,” Samson said. “That was a great feeling.”
Samson said the Oredigger crowd played a factor in the game. He said every key third or fourth down came with a ton of crowd noise. A lot of that, Samson said, was Digger Nation.
“The support we had was incredible,” Samson said. “That was pretty cool. Big shoutout to our fans.”
Campbell completed 13 of 29 passes for 182 yards in the win. Kennedy and Torgerson each grabbed three passes. Estes, Blake Counts and Trevor Hoffman each caught two.
Counts rebounded from an injury to run for 25 yards on 21 carries. Campbell scrambled for 40.
Teddy Croft picked off a pass, and Jake Orvis led the team with eight total tackles. Naoki Harmer and Croft each go in on two, and Blake Allred and Cole Wyant got in on five. Harmer broke up three passes.
Samson credited Andrew Almos for flipping the field position with some big punts. That included a 47-yard boot.
“All three phases of the game played great today,” Samson said. “We didn’t have a turnover on offense, which was huge. Defense got us one.”
Dick passed for 350 yards in the loss.
“He’s a really good player,” Samson said of the Billings Senior product. “He’s a really good competitor.”
The Orediggers (1-2) are back at home next Saturday to take on Montana Western. Tech will be celebrating Homecoming.
Rocky (2-1) will come to Butte for an Oct. 30 rematch.