Orediggers hit the long road for redemption

Orediggers hit the long road for redemption
Montana Tech players get ready to take the field before their Oct. 9 home game against the College of Idaho. They are, from left Logan Kennedy, Jet Campbell, T.J. Makihele, Zach Trumble and Jaylen Taggart. (Bill Foley photo)

Tech battles Southern Oregon Saturday in Ashland

By Bill Foley

It has been two excruciatingly long weeks for the Montana Tech football team.

The Orediggers snatched a defeat from the jaws of victory when a fumble turned into a College of Idaho touchdown late Oct. 9 on the Bob Green Field. That turned a sure win into a gut-wrenching 28-23 loss.

Never before has a Tech team been so happy to get on a bus for a 14-hour drive. That is what Tech did Thursday. On Saturday, the Orediggers will take on Southern Oregon in a 2 p.m. (Mountain Time) battle at Raider Stadium. (Radio: KBOW, 550 AM, 101.5 FM, kbow550.net or on the KBOW app.)

“In my 15 years of coaching, I don’t think I’ve ever had a game end that way,” said Tech coach Kyle Samson, who underwent surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon less than 48 hours after the loss. “The way it ended was tough. We played really, really well for 55 minutes.”

Even with the lost time for the surgery, the coach said the Orediggers put their time to good use as they prepare for the Raiders.

“Having the bye week was good and bad,” Samson said. “It helped us get some guys back healthy. But we had a bad taste in our mouths.”

The Orediggers should get some of the many injured players that they have been without. The coach, however, did not confirm which players could be returning.

Tech will need to be at least near full strength as it makes its longest trip of the season.

At 3-3, the Raiders are one game out of second place in the Frontier Conference. The Oredigger are 2-4 with both of their wins coming on the road.

Rain is in the forecast for Ashland, which is tucked into the southwest corner of Oregon.

Southern Oregon has been up and down. Its three losses have been lopsided, including a 38-7 loss at Montana Western two weeks ago two of their wins were blowouts.

The Raiders are 2-0 at home.

“They’ve played really good at home,” Samson said. “They’re just like anybody in this league. They can beat anybody. I think we can, too.”

While the teams have not met since Nov. 2, 2019, the Orediggers own a three-game winning streak over the Raiders. That includes a sweep in 2019.

Overall, the Orediggers own an 8-7 edge in the series history.

The Raiders, of course, are solid at quarterback. Matt Struck took over in the second game of the season. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior has completed 51 percent of his passes for 1,429 yards and 11 touchdowns in six games.

Bryce Goggin, a 6-3 sophomore, leads the deep receiving corps. He has 33 catches for 507 yards and four touchdowns.

Junior Avery McCuaig and senior Hykeem Massey give the Raiders a threat in the running game.

“That quarterback, he’s a pretty good player,” Samson said. “They’ve got a couple of really quick running backs.”

The Raider defense is led by Jerome Souers, who was the head coach at Northern Arizona for 21 years. Before heading to NAU, Souers coached at the University of Montana for 12 years. He was the defensive coordinator of the 1995 national champion Grizzly team.

Souers’ defense has racked up 19 sacks on the season. Alejandro Sanchez, a 6-1, 265-pound junior leads the way with seven and a half sacks. Tua Loalagi, a 6-2, 210-pound senior, has four and a half.

“Their defensive line is really good,” Samson said. “Their front four is very physical and very aggressive. They get off the ball really hard.”

Jet Campbell has started every game for the Orediggers. He has completed 52 percent of his passes for 1,295 yards and 11 scores.

Butte High graduate Kiley Caprara leads the team with 25 receptions. He has 325 yards on the season, and is still seeking his first touchdown of the season. Trevor Hoffman, who was slowed by an injury has 21 grabs for a team-best 333 yard.

Landers Smith, Mark Estes, Kyle Torgerson and Logan Kennedy are also weapons for Campbell.

Blake Counts, Tyler Folkes and Kaleb Winterburn have been strong in the running game behind linemen Hunter Spartz, Carson Shuman, Max Anderson, Trey Copeland, Jack Hiller and Tristan Stauffer.

Blake Allred and Cole Wyant led the Orediggers in tackles last time out. Both players go in on eight tackles. Teddy Croft got in on eight, while Naoki Harmer, whose pick 6 looked like it was going to be the play of the game got in on six.

Keyshawn James-Newby registered a sack. He and Logan Kolodejchuk both added a tackle for a loss.

Jordan Washington has two interceptions on the season. Croft, Angel Sanchez III and Spencer Schock and Harmer have one. Harmer leads the team with 10 passes broken up.

Samson said the Orediggers are ready to play.

“The guys have been good,” he said. “We’ve had five or six practices since the bye week. I feel confident. We’ve just got to execute.”

The Orediggers are back at home next Saturday to take on Rocky Mountain College. After a trip to Montana Western on Nov. 6, Tech will close the season at home Nov. 13 against MSU-Northern.

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