By Bill Foley
As he leaned on his crutches in the south end zone of the Bob Green Field, Montana Tech head coach Kyle Samson struggled to find the words to tell his football team.
The Orediggers suffered a gut punch when College of Idaho defensive end Keagan McCoy returned a Tech fumble 40 yards for a touchdown to give the Yotes a 28-23 Frontier Conference victory in front of a crowd of 3,246 celebrating Tech’s Hall of Fame Weekend.
The score, which came with 2 minutes, 2 seconds left on the clock. The Oredigger offense tried to rally, but COI’s Dorian Hardin picked off a deep Jet Campbell pass down the sideline to end the game.
“I just told them I love them,” Samson said. “I don’t have any great words to tell them. We played really, really good football for 55 minutes.”
The coach will undergo surgery on Monday to repair a torn Achilles tendon. He suffered the injury celebrating a touchdown in Tech’s win at MSU-Northern last week.
Samson had plenty to celebrate this Saturday, too. At least it looked like he would.
The Orediggers led 20-7 and held a 23-14 edge when Jared Griffith booted a 28-yard field goal with 12:31 left in the game.
The way the Oredigger defense was playing, the kick seemed like it was the game-winner.
Nick Calzaretta scored on a 6-yard pass with 4:31 left to put the lead to 23-21.
The Orediggers needed just one first down to ice the game. One play after losing running back Blake Counts to an injury, however, the Orediggers fumbled on a read-option mix up. McCoy scooped and ran away with the Orediggers’ plans of taking a 3-3 record into the off week.
“I’m proud of their effort,” Samson said. “It has nothing to do with their effort. They played their guts out against a really good team. We’ve got to regroup and get back to work.”
Tech led most of the game. Campbell hit Mark Estes for an 8-yard touchdown pass to cap the Orediggers’ first drive.
After the Yotes tied the game at 7 with a Calzaretta 4-yard run, Tech went back on top when Campbell hit tight end Logan Kennedy for a 17-yard strike.
The day looked like it belonged to the Orediggers when Naoki Harmer picked off a pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown 13 seconds before halftime.
Harmer nearly picked off a pass right before that, but the officials ruled the ball hit the ground. Curiously, the Yotes did not run the clock out, and the Orediggers took advantage.
Ryan Hibbs hit Isaiah Veal for a 34-yard strike with 5:04 left in the third to pull within 20-14.
“They’re a good team,” Samson said of the Yotes. “We just didn’t quite make the plays at the end of the game that we needed to win the game. I’m still proud of our guys. We’ve got two weeks now to get better and go win against Southern Oregon.”
The 2-4 Orediggers will head to Ashland, Oregon for the Oct. 23 game. The 4-2 Yotes will play host to Montana Western the same day.
“I’m still extremely proud to be a Digger,” Samson said. “We’ll find a way to get this thing going.”