Orediggers hit road to battle banged-up Bears

By Bill Foley

Montana Tech football coach Chuck Morrell says he is expecting to see Rocky Mountain College quarterback Chase White play Saturday when the Orediggers take on the Battlin’ Bears on the Herb Klindt Field.

That might be news to the Bears.

White missed last week’s 28-14 loss to Carroll College in Helena. Redshirt sophomore Jacob Bakken filled in at quarterback, but whispers out of Billings are that Bakken was injured and is not available Saturday.

Other quarterbacks on the Rocky roster include senior Cody Tilley, sophomore Brady Pickering and freshman Jess Ray.

The Orediggers, though, are focusing on White, a redshirt senior with tons of experience.

“We’re fully expecting to see him,” Morrell said.

Since the NAIA doesn’t require injury reports like in the NFL, we’ll find out when the game kicks off at 1 p.m. (Radio: KBOW 550 AM, 101.5 FM or online. TV: ABC-FOX)

Either way, the Orediggers are getting ready for a different version of White than they saw in Tech’s 48-12 beating of the Bears. Sept. 17 in Butte.

“They’ve moved to a lot more spread concepts,” Morrell said. “Early in the year they had a lot of heavy formations. Now they’ve worked to spread it out more. That leans to Chace’s skill set. That’s kind of the system he grew up in.”

No. 7-ranked Tech is looking for its seventh straight victory. The Orediggers (6-1) stormed back with vengeance from their season-opening loss at Carroll College.

That streak includes the blowout win over Rocky in a game that was played with a stiff southern breeze blowing at Alumni Coliseum. The Orediggers used the wind to their advantage and scored 24 first-quarter points, sucking the life out of the Bears early.

“I don’t think we could have played a better first quarter than we did that day,” said Morrell, who called three straight time outs to set up a final score in that frame. “Things stacked up in our favor in a hurry, and we took advantage of them. That’s certainly not something that you’re expecting.”

Morrell said he is expecting a dog fight from the Bears, who are 2-1 at home this season. At 4-3 in conference (4-4 overall), Rocky needs a win to hang on to hopes of a Frontier Conference title.

“We’re anticipating a close contest and that we’re going to get their absolute best effort,” Morrell said. “They’ve been playing very well at home, and we’re excited to go over there.”

The Orediggers are coming off last week’s 63-16 win over MSU-Northern in Havre. Incredibly, the game was probably not as close as the score might indicate. Tech led 56-10 at halftime.

Nolan Saraceni, Quinn McQueary and Dion Williams put up very big numbers in the win.

After a review of the film, Saraceni, Tech’s superstar senior running back, ran for 219 yards and five touchdowns on 17 carries. Only a couple of those carries came in the second half.

Saraceni leads the Frontier with 889 yards, despite an early-season injury that limited him to seven carries in back-to-back games.

McQueary, a junior, completed 21 of 24 passes for 414 yards and two touchdowns.

“Quinn was able to get comfortable in the pocket, and our receivers were able to get open,” Morrell said.

Williams, a sophomore, continued his breakout season with four receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown. He also threw a TD to senior receiver Mitchell Keeton, who caught five passes for 91 yards.

Keeton leads the Orediggers with 30 receptions. He racked up 540 yards and 30 four touchdowns. Williams has 23 catches for 518 yards and five touchdowns. He has 16 catches for 367 yards and three touchdowns over the last three games.

Sean Sullivan has 20 catches, while Carlsos Martinez has 18 and Zach Bunney has 17.

The heart of the Oredigger offense is an offensive line that has had the same five starters all seven games.

Ryan Stemple, Jalen Whitley, Jack Hape, Trevor Hopf and Kellen Davis have given the Orediggers stability and strength up front.

“People from the outside probably don’t realize how much communication goes on with the offensive line,” Morrell said. “Any time you have continuity with those guys, it’s certainly a huge asset. The guys start to really get used to each other and comfortable with each other.”

Morrell said that line will be tested by the Bears, who boast a solid front seven that likes to turn up the heat.

“Defensively they bring a lot of different looks that you’ve got to be able to deal with,” he said. “Rocky is more aggressive. I think they’re No. 2 in the league in getting sacks. Protecting the quarterback is a huge point of emphasis for us this week.”

Led by senior defensive lineman Seth Swandal’s five sacks, the Bears have gotten to the quarterback 25 times this season.

The Orediggers lead the league with 29 quarterback take downs. Senior defensive lineman Luke Benz leads the team with 7.5 sacks. Other Orediggers making major cases for post-season honors are sophomore linebacker Nic Amestoy and senior safety Gunnar Kayser.

Amestoy leads the team with 51 tackles and 11 tackles for a loss. Kayser registered 41 tackles and four interceptions so far.

Talented cornerbacks Andre Brown and Anthony Nelson follow Kayser with 38 and 31 tackles, while Drew Schleeman registered 30 takedowns. Zach Hulse adds 27 tackles for Tech, which has 24 from Rial Gunlikson and Connor Wines, and 22 from Joey Orrino.

Morrell said the Oredigger offense, which leads the Frontier in almost every category, has benefitted from the play of the Oredigger offense.

“Our defense has been on point, but we’ve also had a tremendous assist form our offense,” Morrell said. “We’ve been finding ourselves playing with a lead. From a schematic standpoint, that allows you to get after it.”

Other than the final second at Carroll, the Orediggers have not trailed all season. Last week, thanks to a fumble on a kickoff forced by Clay Dean, the Orediggers led 14-0 before Northern even ran an offensive snap.

“Our defense is playing well,” Morrell said, “but that’s a result of us playing good team football.”

While the game is clearly a must win for the Bears, it is pretty big for the Orediggers, too.

Tech can wrap up the Frontier Conference title and a berth in the NAIA playoffs with a win Saturday followed by a win over the College of Idaho next week in Butte.

With the No. 7 ranking, the Orediggers also control their own destiny as far as hosting at least one playoff game.

“It’s a big game for us,” Morrell said. “That’s our primary focus.”

Morrell added that his team can’t worry about anything other than the Battlin’ Bears.

“Being in that position right now is a big-time positive for us,” the coach said. “But if you get caught up in looking ahead you can get tripped up by what’s in front of you.”