By Bill Foley
The Orediggers weren’t about to let it happen again.
Two weeks after watching the College of Idaho walk off with an overtime victory at Alumni Coliseum, Montana Tech turned back No. 23 Southern Oregon in a 38-31 overtime thriller Saturday afternoon on the Bob Green Field.
“That was déjà vu from C of I, and we said that’s not happening twice,” said Tech senior linebacker Connor Wines, who led an inspired Tech defensive effort with three sacks. “We stepped up and made the plays.”
Nik Amestoy and Brock Beede registered back-to-back sacks in overtime. Then Wines hit Southern Oregon quarterback Wyatt Hutchinson to force an incomplete pass on fourth down to end the game and halt Tech’s three-game losing streak.
“‘Stoy’ and Beede had two huge sacks,” Wines said. “We knew we had to finish, and we knew we were going to.”
The Oredigger finish took some heroics by a pair of redshirt freshmen on the offensive end after Tech nearly snatched defeat from sure victory.
A couple of special teams blunders and clutch plays by the Raiders quickly turned a 24-7 fourth-quarter lead into a 31-24 deficit.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jet Campbell, a former Billings Central Ram, led the Orediggers on a 75-yard drive to tie the game at 31 with 29 seconds on the clock.
“Those are two redshirt freshman that go down and lead your team down the field at the end of the game,” Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “We rep 2-minute drill like crazy. We do it every other day. We’ve done that a thousand times.”
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The drive started with 1:46 on the clock and ended when Campbell hit classmate Trevor Hoffman in the front right corner of the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown pass.
Campbell, a Billings Central product who spent his redshirt season and the first part of this campaign as a receiver, said he was confident the Orediggers would tie the game while Oredigger nation was a wreck with worry.
“We were all pretty cool and collected right before that,” he said. “We all had each other’s backs. We knew we could get the job done, and we drove down and did it.”
With Tyler Padilla during a special team’s disaster earlier in the quarter, true freshman Cody Gagnon booted the crucial extra point.
Southern Oregon won the toss and elected to go on defense first in overtime. Campbell again found Hoffman. This time it was with an absolute dime for a 21-yard touchdown on third and six.
“I like throwing to him,” Campbell said of Hoffman. “He’s a big body and he can go up and get the ball. He’s quick, too.”
Gagnon’s extra point put the Diggers up 38-31, and the defense made it stay.
After an incomplete pass in the end zone, Amestoy, then Beede, then Wines hit Hutchinson to end the game.
The victory, which evened Tech’s record at 4-4, avenged a 44-12 Sept. 14 loss to the Raiders, who were once ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation. It also dropped Southern Oregon, losers of four straight, to 4-4.
“The biggest thing that we talked about was this game was about our culture vs. their culture, and which culture was stronger,” Morrell said. “I told our guys, ‘We’ve just got to keep plugging and hang in there, and if we do, I know that we’ve got the stronger family. We’ve got the stronger brotherhood, and we’d come out on top on the end.’”
That culture was definitely tested in a fourth quarter in which Murphy’s Law seemed to set in for the Orediggers.
Tech jumped out first, scoring when Dion Williams went high in the back corner of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown reception with 4:15 left in the first quarter.
Southern Oregon matched the score when Jordan Suell hauled in a 7-yard strike from Hutchinson a little more than 2 minutes later.
Tech took a 17-7 lead into halftime when Padilla booted a 28-yard field goal and Jed Fike scored on a 1-yard run.
Fike’s score came two plays after Fike, who ran for 165 yards on 26 carries, busted a 28 yard run and one play after Campbell hit Dion Williams for 28 yards to the 1.
Campbell found tight end Tanner Osborne for a 27-yard touchdown with 10:47 left in the third quarter to make it a 24-7 Tech lead.
Osborne outjumped a defender, leaping at the 6-yard line. He landed at the 1 and rolled into the end zone for the score.
Southern Oregon’s Austin May scored on a 4-yard run early in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 24-13. The point after failed following a false start penalty on the Raiders.
Disaster struck for the Orediggers with 5:35 left in the game. A snap sailed high over Padilla’s head, and Southern’s Chase Cole recovered it for a touchdown.
After a delay to tend to Padilla, who was injured while fighting for the ball, the Raiders used a trick play to convert a 2-point conversion to make it a 24-21 game.
Receiver Bronsen Ader took the ball on an end around and threw to Hutchinson for the convers.
Another special teams disaster struck on the kickoff. Tech fielded the kick on the 1-yard line, and only got the ball back to the 2.
Tech turned to Nik Nunez to punt from his own end zone, and Southern Oregon took over on the Tech 45 with 4:44 left.
A little over a minute later, Hutchinson found Khalil Hudson, who tip toed in the back of the end zone, for a touchdown and a 28-24 lead.
Southern’s defense forced a quick three and out, and the Raiders went for the kill. Tech’s defense — and a couple of Tech time outs — got the Orediggers the ball back, but not before Marcus Montano booted a 47-yard field goal to make it 31-24 with 1:46 left.
Then, Campbell’s heroics took over.
Tech’s game-tying drive was aided by 37 yards in Southern Oregon penalties. It also featured a 23-yard pass to Sam McCamley on the sideline to convert a third and 16 from the Southern Oregon 49 yard line.
“There’s a guy whose got about three weeks of quarterback practice under his belt,” Morrell said of Campbell, who was moved to quarterback, his high school position, after injures to fellow redshirt freshmen Tanner Kump and Cole Hauptman. “The thing I like about Jet’s character is his how competitive he is. You can’t really rattle him. He’s very competitive, quietly really confident, and he can make the throws.”
Morrell said throws down the field were just what the Orediggers needed to break out of their offensive funk.
“That’s what our whole season has been missing,” Morrell said. “Today was the first time I thought our offense came out and played with some confidence and some swag. That’s Digger offense right there, and we just hadn’t had that all season. To see our guys come out and do that today was special.”
When asked about Campbell’s future behind center, Morrell joked.
“Well, we’ll let him start again next week,” the coach said. “I do think there’s something (special) there, there’s no doubt about it. He can throw big throws.”
Campbell completed 24 of 38 passes for 266 yards and the four touchdowns. He hit Williams eight times for 122 yards. Hoffman caught six passes for 58 yards, while McCamley, a junior, grabbed five for 53.
The Orediggers sacked Hutchinson seven times. Chance Hansen and Arthur Flynn joined Beede and Amestoy with one. Hansen led the team with nine tackles. He had four tackles for a loss.
James Foot also got in on the on the action for a tackle for a loss.
Demaree Morris broke up three passes, while Justin My, Naoki Harmer and Hansen were credited with one apiece. Tucker Rauthe and Matthew Drake also stood out in the Oredigger secondary.
“Our defense was amazing today. We really held them in check all day,” Morrell said. “The pressure was constant all day. The coverage in the back half was outstanding.”
The Orediggers held the Raiders, who played without injured senior running back Rey Vega, to 169 yards passing, despite the plethora of weapons Southern Oregon brought to town.
“They’re some of the best receivers in the league,” Morrell said of Ader, Suell and Jason Shelley, “and to be able to prevent those guys from making explosive plays down the field all day … My DBs ran miles today.”
Campbell said the Oredigger plan was to give themselves a chance to win.
“We’ve been talking about that all year,” he said. “Some games we’ve just got to get it to the fourth quarter and finish. It took an extra quarter, but it happens like that sometimes.”
The Orediggers will play host to Carroll College next week. They’ll close the season Nov. 10 against Rocky Mountain College in Billings.