The Montana Tech-Carroll College football rivalry on the football field just might be the most heated in the NAIA.
Pound for pound, it’s probably one of the more intense feuds in all of college football.
As far as wins and losses go, however, the rivalry hasn’t been close. The Saints have pretty much owned every season of the 2000s.
Montana Tech hasn’t beaten Carroll college since Oct. 2004. The Saints won the rematch, and every game since — including a playoff game in 2005.
That’s 16 straight Tech-Carroll games won by the No. 2-ranked Saints, who will stroll to town Saturday for a 1 p.m. showdown with the Orediggers at Alumni Coliseum. (KBOW 550 AM. Click here to listen online.)
The Orediggers dropped a 26-23 heartbreaker to Eastern Oregon in their season opener last week. Carroll is coming off a 38-20 loss at Portland State of the Big Sky Conference. The week before, the Saints pounded MSU-Northern 31-6 in Havre.
Running back Chance Demarais left that game with an injury after rushing for 77 yards and a touchdown on just 10 carries. He also caught two passes for 24 yards before injuring a knee.
Word out of Helena, though, is Demarais is OK and Carroll head coach Mike Van Diest had to take the helmet away from the reigning NAIA Player of The Year to keep him on the sideline.
“I’m fully expecting to see vintage Demarais,” Oredigger coach Chuck Morrell said. “I’m sure he’ll line up and play. He’s a hard-nosed tough kid. He’s not going to miss a game for anything in the world.”
The Saints have solid depth in the unlikely event that Demarais doesn’t play. Dustin Rinker ran for more than 1,000 yards as a backup last season.
“There’s obviously a difference between Demarais and Rinker,” Morrell said. “But I honestly feel that if Rinker had more carries he would be able to put up similar numbers. He’s a super physical runner.”
Carroll beat Tech 26-0 in Butte and 28-14 in Helena last year. The teams only play once in the regular season this year. Carroll outrushed Tech 443-103 in those games.
Morrell said slowing down that Carroll running game will be a difficult task, especially with a mobile quarterback in Dakota Stonehouse taking over behind center.
The Saints also boast a massive, experienced offensive line to power that running game.
“Their rushing attack right now is as good as it’s ever been,” Morrell said. “The added dimension of having Stonehouse as their quarterback, it presents you from issues. It helps out their running backs when he’s always a threat to keep the ball. Their running game right now is very advanced.”
The Saints, who lost Butte Central product Matt Ritter to graduation, have some new weapons for Stonehouse, who completed 20 of 34 passes for 223 yards in Portland. He was picked off twice.
Sophomores Jared Mayernik, Nate Hinrichs and Anthony Clarke did some good things last week. So did senior Jared Hunt.
“They’re all cut in the same mold — guys who give extremely good effort,” Morrell said. “They’re guys who you see on film blocking every snap, right up until the whistle.”
Defensively, the Saints, are like always. They’re not flashy; they’re just good.
Senior safety Brian Stroble leads the Saints into battle. Linebacker Sean Blomquist racked up nine tackles last week, while lineman Bryan Graupman registered the team’s lone sack.
Morrell also praised Carroll senior lineman Rhakeem Harris.
“He’s probably one of the best if not the best defensive linemen in the conference,” Morrell said of Harris. “He’s a super physical guy, and they’ve got a very solid line backing corps. They’ve got a number of guys who can make a play for them defensively.”
Offensively, the Orediggers put up some big-time yardage last week. However, the Orediggers turned the ball over five times — seven if you count two times failing on fourth down.
Junior Nick Baker, who won the starting job in camp, threw for nearly 400 yards, taking advantage of some serious offensive weapons.
Speedy newcomers Kevin Moss and Zack Kinney combined for 17 receptions and 254 yards in their Oredigger debuts. Trent Thomas went for almost 100 yards, while Braxton Lucero caught three passes and James Roberts made an acrobatic catch for a touchdown.
“You’ve got six or seven guys out there who can be very consistent, and they’re obviously guys who can make plays with the ball in their hands,” Morrell said. “Over the course of our season it will help out our rushing attack.”
That rushing attack started slow, but Pat Hansen still rushed for 112 yards behind a starting line of Danny Valenzuela, Ben Cook, Keith Mullan, Nick Reily and Alex Havlovic.
Defensively, the Orediggers were solid until a late breakdown led to Eastern Oregon’s game-winning touchdown.
Mike Waldman, Logan Sims and Austin Brinkworth lead that Oredigger defense up front . Shane Lowman, Joe Semansky, Mike Touzinskky and David Meis start to lead a talented linebacker corps.
Nate Kobold, Nate Thompson, Ketwaun Frank and Devonte Craig lead a speedy and savvy secondary.
Morrell said his team is excited at the “opportunity” to play the Saints, who have won six national championships under Van Diest.
“We just look at it as another opportunity for us to come out and showcase our abilities and showcase the development of this really young Tech squad,” the coach said.
Other Frontier Conference games will see Dickinson State at Montana Western, MSU-Northern at Eastern Oregon and Southern Oregon at Rocky Mountain.
The Orediggers hit the road for the first time next week, taking on Montana Western in a 6 p.m. game in Dillon.
Carroll will play its first home game next week against Rocky.