Orediggers head to improved Northern seeking end-of-season win

Orediggers head to improved Northern seeking end-of-season win

By Bruce Sayler

The end of the season is going to be treated like an encore performance for a good football year, Montana Tech head football coach Kyle Samson said.

The Orediggers are on the road for a snowy, windy trip and a wintery Frontier Conference game, heading to Havre for Saturday’s noon finale against winless Montana State-Northern.

Montana Tech, 6-3, was bounced from the NAIA national Top 25 by last week’s home loss to Montana Western, so even a victory on Saturday would not likely be enough to attract a playoffs invitation.

Consequently, the Orediggers are playing for themselves, especially the team’s seniors and the chance to end on a winning note, Samson said.

“The goal is to be 7-and-3,” Samson said. “This program hasn’t had seven wins since 2016. So, it would be a big accomplishment. The team talk is about finishing strong – be a winner as we head into the offseason.”

It will be the second game between the two teams this year. Montana Tech mauled the Lights 73-0 in their earlier meeting, played on Bob Green Field. The Orediggers used more than 80 players in the game while just about draining the depth chart.

“It’s going to be really cold in Havre,” said Samson, himself a former MSU-Northern quarterback. “(The Lights), though, have really improved. They’re getting better every single week. The coaches are doing a really good job.

“We’re excited about the opportunity this week. We have to put together a really good gameplan.”

The improvement in 0-9 Montana State-Northern showed in the Lights nearly knocking off conference contender Rocky Mountain last week, losing only by 9-0 to the Bears. Former Northern Arizona head coach Jerome Souers, also a former University of Montana defensive coordinator, is in his first year helming the MSU-Northern program.

“They’re doing a couple of things different, defensively and offensively, from what they did here,” Samson said. “But, they’re just improving what they do. They’re doing a better job executing and doing things well. Jerome is a tremendous coach.”

Samson said Montana Tech’s injury situation has improved slightly this week with no players lost to the medical list as a result of last week’s play. He said a couple players who haven’t played or played slightly might return to action. One spot remains day-to-day.

“We’re still a little banged up,” he said. “But the kids were actually having a lot of fun this week practicing in the snow and cold.”

Both teams have utilized two quarterbacks over this season. Montana State-Northern has the seventh- and eighth-best passers in the league, according to recent statistics. Kaymen Cureton has thrown for 341 yards and Branden Medina for 225. Blake Thelen, Montana Tech’s starter since an injury to Jet Campbell in the third game, ranks third in the conference with 1,333 yards.

Montana Tech running back Blake Counts is the Frontier’s leading rusher with an average of 89.2 yards per game. The Lights’ leading ballcarrier is Mason Dionne with 142 yards for the season.

Another Oredigger weapon has been running back Kaleb Winterburn, mentioned in the rankings as both a rusher and a passer. He operates as the wildcat QB in addition to spelling Counts at running back.

Montana Tech career touchdown receptions record-holder Trevor Hoffman is No. 2 this year among league receivers with an average 79.2 yards per game. Fellow wideouts Kyle Torgerson and Wyatt Alexander both rank in the top 15 in the conference. Devin Shelton leads the Lights and ranks 23rd in the Frontier.

Linebacker Ben Windauer is the Orediggers’ leading tackler and ranks seventh in the league. Defensive back Naoki Harmer, who has been particularly outstanding the last month, is ninth. Sacks leader Keyshawn James-Newby is 13th in tackles in the conference. He has been a star at defensive end for Montana Tech.

Defense has been a strength in recent games for Montana State-Northern. The Lights have four of the top 10 tacklers in the conference in linebacker Dylan Wampler, ranked second; safety Hunter Riley, ranked third; linebacker Lucas Thacker, ranked sixth; and linebacker Johkyreian Shealey, ranked eighth.

“It will be an emotional game, knowing it is the last game of the season and the last game for our seniors,” Samson said. “There will be memories. We had a tough game last week, but the players have worked hard this week and I’m proud of them for that.”

Preventing a serious upset bid by Montana State-Northern will require cohesiveness in the Montana Tech units, the coach added.

“We’re just making sure we do a good job communicating on both sides of the football,” he said. “We’ll have to communicate really well because (the Lights) do a few different things on both sides of the ball.”

Samson said he heads into the game with a feeling of thankfulness.

“I’d like to thank my staff and the players for their efforts this season,” he said. “And, I’d like to thank the fans of Butte. We’ve had a heck of a season of support.

“Now, we have more opportunity to play and coach the game we love.”

Probable starters:

Montana Tech Offense

Linemen – Seif Benjemia, 6-4, 300, sophomore, West Lafayette, Indiana; Carson Shuman, 6-2, 305, junior, Helena; Max Anderson, 6-3, 295, sophomore, Kalispell; Triston Stauffer, 6-2, 292, senior, Damascus, Oregon; and Jack Hiller, 6-5, 285, junior, LaCenter, Washington. Tight end – Logan Kennedy, 6-2, 220, sophomore, Laurel. Wide receivers – Trevor Hoffman, 6-4, 205, senior, Burien, Washington; Kyle Torgerson, 5-10, 170, sophomore, Great Falls; and Wyatt Alexander, 6-2, 190, junior, Whitehall. Running back – Blake Counts, 5-11, 205, junior, Kalispell. Quarterback – Blake Thelen, 6-3, 205, sophomore, Great Falls.

Montana Tech Defense

Linemen – Keyshawn James-Newby, 6-3, 245, sophomore, Helena; Alaric Greil, 6-3, 255, sophomore, Helena; Gabe Zanetti, 6-1, 275, junior, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; and Zach Trumble, 6-3, 270, junior, Valleyford, Washington. Linebackers – Blake Allred, 5-11, 215, junior, Billings; Cole Wyant, 6-1, 225, sophomore, Rocklin, California; and Ben Windauer, 6-1, 220, junior, Columbia Falls. Backs – Jordan Washington, 5-11, 185, junior, Los Angeles; Brandon Morley, 6-1, 195, junior, Missoula; Jake Orvis, 6-0, 170, senior, Billings; and Naoki Harmer, 5-10, 180, senior, Bellevue, Washington.

Montana Tech Specialists

Punter Andrew Almos, 6-1, 205, sophomore, Great Falls. Kicker – Ryan Lowry, 6-0, 195, sophomore, Paco, Washington. Punt returner – Kyle Torgerson, 5-10, 170, sophomore, Great Falls. Kick returners – Kyle Torgerson, 5-10, 170, sophomore, Great Falls, and Jaden MacNeil, 5-8, 175, sophomore, Kalispell.

Montana State-Northern Offense

Center – Spencer Kolody, 6-4, 300, senior, Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan. Guards – Silvestre Rodrigvez, 6-2, 290, freshman, Bigfork, and Brandon Rose, 6-4, 290, junior, Porterville, California. Tackles – Caden Woods, 6-2, 245, junior, Chester, and Jesus Raygoza, 6-4, 298, junior, Moses Lake, Washington. Receivers – TaVarius George, 6-3, 205, sophomore, Seattle; Levi Keltner, 6-6, 215, senior, Anacortes, Washington; Luke Triplett, 6-2, 205, sophomore, Orangevale, California; and Cannan Smith, 5-7, 180, sophomore, Eureka. Running back – Mason Dionne, 6-0, 215, freshman, Havre. Quarterback – Brenden Medina, 6-2, 205, senior, Santa Rosa, California.

Montana State-Northern Defense

Nose – Liam Laws, 5-11, 255, sophomore, Highwood. Tackle – Brant Seewald, 6-2, 205, freshman, Cut Bank. Ends – Colter Szymoniak, 6-0, 240, junior, Eureka, and Zavier Baldwin, 6-2, 250, junior, Kirkland, Washington. Linebackers – Joel Hadley II, 5-11, 195, sophomore, Lake Wales, Florida; Dylan Wampler, 6-1, 244, junior, Peoria, Arizona; and Johkyreian Shealey, 5-9, 188, sophomore, Moultrie, Georgia. Cornerbacks – Trayvion Rainey, 5-9, 175, sophomore, Las Vegas, and Aidan Hoyt, 6-0, 163, junior, Camas, Washington. Safeties – Hunter Riley, 5-11, 190, junior, Bakersfield, California, and Joshua Rose, 6-0, 175, junior, Las Vegas.

MSU-Northern Special Teams

Kicker – Kaden Nelson, 5-10, 200, freshman, Polson. Punter – Hunter Riley, 5-11, 190, junior, Bakersfield, California. Long snapper – Titus Pulliam, 6-4, 220, junior, Mesa, Arizona.


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