Orediggers look to spoil Western homecoming

The Orediggers are ready for an onslaught.

One week after stopping a 16-game losing streak to Carroll College, the Montana Tech football faces another arch rival Saturday in Dillon.

The town will be rocking as Montana Western celebrates homecoming while taking on the Orediggers in the Frontier Conference battle that kicks off at 6 p.m. at Vigilante Field. (KBOW, 555 AM. Click here to listen online.)

“This is such a huge rivalry,” Montana Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “We’re really challenging our kids for the onslaught they’re going to come at us with in all three phases of the game. It’s going to be a super-intense game.”

The Orediggers are coming off a game that would also have to be classified as “super intense.” They beat Carroll College 37-20 at Alumni Coliseum to improve to 1-1 on the season.

That win vaulted the Orediggers to the No. 20 ranking in the NAIA national poll. While happy to receive the highest ranking since Tech was ranked No. 20 in November 2007, Morrell downplayed the importance of that number.

“The ranking can be very, extremely short lived,” Morrell said. “Being ranked is not our end goal. Beating Carroll is not our end goal. We’ve got some long-term goals. You’ve got to go back to work and refocus or else all that stuff that happened last week can become irrelevant really rapidly. You could say that every single week that you play.”

While it didn’t get them a whole lot of national attention, the Bulldogs are also coming off a big win. Western beat Frontier Conference newcomer Dickinson State 28-13 last week in Dillon to also improve to 1-1.

All of Tech and Western’s games in 2012 are Frontier Conference contests. The week before, the Bulldogs fell 54-21 to Southern Oregon in Medford, Ore.

Last week, true freshman Kennedy Bradley step in for injured quarterback Jeff Logan and led an efficient Bulldog offense. Bradley completed 23 of 40 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns.

Morrell said Bradley is an impressive quarterback.

“He’s not hanging onto the ball for a really long time. He’s getting it out to their playmakers,” Morrell said. “For a young guy at the quarterback position, he’s doing a nice job.”

Bradley hooked up with Rashad Peniston and Keenan Hoohuli  for TD strikes of 32 yards. He found Tyrell Bruan for a 17-yard score.

“They have a number of offensive weapons who can make some big plays for them,” Morrell said. “Rashad Peniston, he’s one of the more talented receivers in this conference. He’s certainly a guy who could be a problem.”

Braun is also a potential problem. The freshman ran for 95 yard on 18 carries last week. He’s averaging 101 yards per game on the young season.

“They really challenge you offensively with a lot of shifting moving, screen packages and throwing down field,” Morrell said of the Bulldogs. “They present a lot of challenges for you. We need to play a very disciplined game in order to be successful.”

The Orediggers and Bulldogs split last season, with the game in Dillon turning into a nightmare for Tech in the second half. Western killed the Orediggers with their screen game and scored 42 points after halftime for a 55-16 win.

“We went down their last year and couldn’t put a full game together,” Morrell said. “We played OK for a little bit, then it got away from us in the second half. We talked a lot about that, about how you’ve got to be consistent for four quarters to be successful in the conference.”

The Oredigger defense has been solid through two weeks. Last week, Tech completely took away Chance Demarais, the reigning NAIA Player of the Year.

“The Biggest thing we’ve been doing is our guys are playing with a high motor speed on every snap,” Morrell said, adding the defense is more fundamentally sound and more athletic in Year 2 of his reign. “That allows those guys to cut loose and make those plays.”

Linebacker Mike Touzinsky and defensive lineman Jacob Workman each had a monster game last week. Mike Waldman and Logan Sims also stood out on the defensive line, while David Meis made several plays at lineback.

The defensive player of the game against the Saints was Nathan Kobold, a safety. Along with athletic corners Ketwuan Frank and Devonte Craig and playmaking safety Nate Thompson, the Orediggers have a secondary ready for anything.

Offensively, Pat Hansen picked up right where he left off during his stellar freshman year. Hansen has 233 yards and five touchdowns on the ground through two games. He averages 5.8 yards per carry behind an offensive line that has seen Alex Havlovick, Gage McCann, Mack Ferko, Keith Mullan, Nicholas Riley, David Tapia-Padron and Daniel Valenzuela do some good things.

Starting quarterback Nick Baker took every snap last week.  He has taken advantage of the best talent and speed the Orediggers have had at receiver in recent years.

Kevin Moss, Zack Kinney, Trent Thomas, Craig Halko and James Roberts have helped the Baker pass for 599 yards and three touchdowns in two games.

Morrell praised the quarterback, who shook off five picks early on.

“His operation mode is the same no matter if we’re ahead, behind, practice, tight game,” Morrell said of Baker, who was nearly perfect in the fourth quarter last week. “He is very well-balanced in his approach. I think that helps him out during the course of the game. He doesn’t let his mistakes rattle him, which is a real key in the development of quarterback play. I think that’s one of his biggest attributes. We really feel that he can play better. He’s going to continue to get better as the season progresses.”

The Orediggers hit the road again next Saturday for yet another homecoming against Rocky Mountain College in Billings.