Perhaps the NAIA’s best kept secret will come to town Saturday.
Southern Oregon, a team that averages 43 points and nearly 600 yards of offense per game, will be the opponent as No. 16 Montana Tech celebrates Homecoming at Alumni Coliseum.
Kickoff is at 1 p.m. (KBOW, 550 AM. Click here to listen online.)
The Orediggers (3-1) ride a three-game winning streak into the game. Southern Oregon is 2-1, and the Red Raiders didn’t even receive a vote in the Top 25 poll. That is something that is puzzling to Tech head coach Chuck Morrell.
“I’m not sure why they’re not well known. They have the No. 1 offense in the nation. Maybe it’s because they’re out on the coast and nobody has seen them play,” Morrell said. “They are by far the most explosive offense in the Frontier, and obviously their numbers are speaking nationally. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us. I think they’re our toughest opponent to date.”
That says a lot since the Orediggers played three nationally-ranked teams in their first four games.
After falling to Eastern Oregon in the opener, the Orediggers beat Carroll College, Montana Western and Rocky Mountain College. All but Western were ranked at the time.
The Orediggers beat Southern Oregon in a 50-47 double-overtime classic in last year’s season opener. Pat Hansen scored a school-record five touchdowns, including a 25-yard game-winner in the second extra frame in the win that ushered in the Morrell era at Tech.
“This one might match it,” Morrell said of last year’s crazy opener.
Offensively, the Raiders seem to have it all. Sophomore quarterback Austin Dodge averages 336 yards passing. He’s completed 61 percent of his passes and thrown eight touchdowns and two interceptions.
Dodge has some serious weapons on his side, too.
Through three games, Cole McKenzie, a 6-foot-2 senior, has caught 25 passes for 435 yards and three touchdowns.
Seniors Patrick Donahue and Mike Olson, who combined for 27 receptions, each have a pair of touchdowns. Senior running back Manny Barrigan averages a league-best 104.3 yards per game.
“They have three receivers that are top of the league, speed-wise. They are super fast,” Morrell said. “They’ve got a super-dynamic running back and their quarterback is playing extremely well. They’re rolling up 600 yards of offense a game. I don’t think you could ever have a lead that you would feel comfortable with against them. ”
So far, the Oredigger defense has been up to the challenge in 2012. The unit kept normally high-powered Rocky out of the end zone in last week’s 24-6 win in Billings. The Oredigger defense actually outscored the offense in the victory with Ketwaun Frank and Nate Thompson each turning in a pick-6.
Morrell said keeping up with the Red Raider attack won’t be easy. He said they try to run a play about every 10 seconds.
“No. 1, you’ve got to be able to deal with their tempo. People make mistakes because they’re trying to keep up with their tempo,” Morrell said. “No. 2, you’ve got play really smart football. They have so many completions right now of 40 yards or more. They have the guys with the ability to go up and get the football. You’ve got to be in position, but you’ve got to be in position for a long time going clear down the field. That’s a very challenge thing to do.
“We’ve got to not only play fast, we’ve got to be able to execute while matching their tempo.”
Sophomore linebacker Mike Touzinsky, the reigning Frontier Conference Defensive Player of the Week, leads the Oredigger defense. He’s No. 4 in the conference with nearly 10 tackles per game. Senior safety Nathan Kobold is ranked No. 7 almost nine.
Tech’s defense is led up front by defensive linemen Jacob Workman and Mike Waldman, a duo that his having a break-out season for the Orediggers. Senior linebacker Joe Semansky is thriving after battling injuries last season.
Offensively, the Orediggers have some weapons, too. How many will play, though, is up in the air.
Receivers Kevin Moss and Trent Thomas are “banged up,” and Morrell said whether or not they’ll play will be a “game-time decision.” Moss didn’t play at Rocky, while Thomas left that game early with an injury.
If those receivers can’t go, that takes a big chunk of Tech’s offense away.
Tech still has a big-time weapon in Zack Kinney, who has 26 receptions for 346 yards and a touchdown. James Roberts, who is 6-5, caught two touchdowns against Montana Western two weeks ago.
Hansen averages 4.4 yards per carry and 84.0 yards per game behind a line made up of Mack Ferko, Alex Havlovick, Gage McCann, Keith Mullan, Nicholas Riley, David Tapia-Padron and Daniel Valenzuela.
The Orediggers are ready to face a defense that Morrell says is solid.
Linebacker Kalii Robinson is ranked No. 2 in the conference with 12.7 tackles per game.
“In two of their three games defensively they played well. They had some mistakes against Rocky that allowed Rocky to win the game, buts it the kind of things that I’m sure they cleaned up”
Saturday’s game will be the last for the Orediggers in nearly a month.
Next week, the Orediggers take their first long road trip of the season to play Dickinson State. Following a week off, Tech heads to La Grande, Ore., to take on Eastern Oregon.
Tech’s next home game is Oct. 27 when the Orediggers play host to MSU-Northern.
In other Frontier games Saturday, Montana Western plays at Eastern Oregon, Rocky plays at Northern and Carroll College hits the road to take on Dickinson.
At 3-1 in conference, Carroll leads the Frontier Conference East Division. The Saints are one game better than 2-2 Rocky.
The Orediggers lead the West Division, holding a half-game advantage over the Oregon schools.