Kickoff is 1 p.m. Saturday at Vigilante Field
By Bill Foley
It is almost like a mulligan for the Montana Tech football team.
The Orediggers will head to Dillon Saturday for a 1 p.m. Frontier Conference showdown with Montana Western on the grass of Vigilante Field. (Radio: KBOW, 550 AM, 101.5 FM, kbow550.net or on the KBOW app.)
The Bulldogs came to Butte on Sept. 25 and beat up on the Orediggers for a 45-21 victory on the Bob Green Field. That rout put a serious damper on Tech’s homecoming celebration.
“We know we didn’t play very well last time, and we didn’t have a very good showing,” Tech coach Kyle Samson said. “So, we get a chance to go play them again. I think that’s exciting for our kids.
“A lot of times you don’t get that opportunity during the season. You usually have to wait until next year.”
While they are technically still in the hunt to share the Frontier Conference crown, the 4-4 Orediggers know that they are playing for pride as they aim for their third straight win.
At 5-3 in conference (6-3 overall), Montana Western is one game behind the College of Idaho and Rocky Mountain College in the race for the Frontier Crown.
The No. 25 Bulldogs still harbor playoff hopes heading into the final two weeks.
The Orediggers also know will make the short drive to Dillon when they are playing their best football.
After going to Southern Oregon and routing the Raiders 34-14, Tech knocked off then-No. 13 Rocky 21-17 in Butte.
“I just think we’re a lot better football team that we were in Week 4,” Samson said.
Western is coming off a 63-7 win over MSU-Northern in Havre. That lopsided victory helped propel the Bulldogs into the NAIA Top 25 poll.
In the win, the Bulldogs held the Lights to minus 2 yards rushing. Junior quarterback Jon Jund passed for five touchdowns — three to senior receiver Nate Simkins.
The Oredigger defense contained Rocky quarterback Nathan Dick last week. They will have to do the same this week to pull off a win in Dillon.
“Jund can run it,” Samson said of Jund. “He’s athletic as heck, but he’s really a guy who can throw the ball down field. He’s got some touch, and he’s really accurate.”
Simkins, a former Dillon Beaver, will go down as one of Western’s very best receivers.
His three touchdown catches matched a school record. He accomplished the feet five times in his career.
Simkins’ 32 career touchdowns is a school record.
“He’s a stud,” Samson said of the Western receiver. “He shows up and does his job. He works hard. They’ve got a couple of good running backs, and they’re tough on defense. It’s going to be a battle, but I feel good with where we’re at.”
Reese Neville ran for 102 yards to lead a Western rushing attack that racked up 216 yards the first time against Tech. Colten McPhee ran for 67 yards. Both scored a touchdown.
Samson said the Orediggers must not let that happen this time, and he said he is confident they will not. Tech’s defensive, he said, is coming off its best game of the season.
Jordan Washington registered eight total tackles and an interception to lead the Tech defense. Naoki Harmer and an inspired Logan Kolodejchuk each got in on Seven, and Jake Orvis notched six.
Orivs and Angel Sanchez III forced a fumble, and Spencer Shock and Sanchez each recovered one. Blake Allred, Zach Trumble, Keyshawn James-Newby, Teddy Croft, Cole Wyant, Bridger Johnson, Zeek Fromel, T.J. Makihele and Esai Longoria were among the many defensive standouts for the Oredigger defense.
Junior quarterback Jet Campbell passed for 316 yards last week. He also ran for two touchdowns.
Samson said his quarterback is playing his best over the last few weeks. He said Campbell bounced back from his struggles against the Bulldogs in Round 1.
“He just had probably his worst game against Western. We had some guys get wide open, and just flat out we missed them,” Samson said. “He’s taken some tremendous strides since that game. He’s played really well the last four games for us.
“He’s doing such a better job of sitting in the pocket and not getting happy feet. He’s very comfortable in there. Our O line is doing a great job making him feel comfortable in there.”
The offensive line of Hunter Spartz, Carson Shuman, Max Anderson, Tristan Stauffer, Jack Hiller and Trey Copeland have helped the Orediggers really start to gel offensively, Samson said.
“They did a great job against Rocky,” the coach said. “They played really well against Rocky. Sparks really had a good game. We protected Jet. He was able to sit there, and were able to pick them apart.”
Blake Counts returned to lead the Oredigger rushing attack after a week off with an injury. Kaleb Winterburn also appears to be back at full strength after battling an early-season injury.
Samson said the Tech offense has finally found the balance between the run and the pass that it has hoped for. He also praised his weapons in the passing game — Logan Kennedy, Trevor Hoffman, Kyle Torgerson, Mark Estes and Kiley Caprara.
“Everybody is always going to be looking to double team Trevor, and he still got some good plays,” Samson said. “But we feel like we’ve got some really good options to surround him.”
Tech’s offense will have to be at its best against the Western defense, which is its typical salty self. Senior linebacker Joe Caicedo leads the team with 68 total tackles, and freshman defensive back Braden Swank adds 53.
Senior linebacker Kyle Schulte, a Butte Central graduate, has 47 tackles on the season, one moe than Dillon junior defensive back Carson Hritsco.
He seems to always play his best against his hometown team, and this will be the last time he plays Tech in his outstanding career.
“We know it’s a big challenge,” Samson said. “They’re a really good football team.”
Samson said the Orediggers must improve on special teams, too. While he did not go into specifics, he said that phase of the game was not good enough last week.
“We’ve been pretty solid all year, and we didn’t have a very good game special teams wise,” the coach said. “We’ve got to improve. That’s one place we’re trying to hammer our guys this week is really getting back to being a lot more consistent in special teams. That can hurt us in close games. It almost did.”
Montana Tech will close the season next Saturday at home against MSU-Northern. Western will play host to Rocky.