Orediggers making strides on both sides of the ball

Montana State transfer Quinn McQueary lofted a ball into the back corner of the end zone during scrimmage time at the end of Montana Tech’s Friday afternoon football practice at Alumni Coliseum.

The sophomore quarterback put the ball where only his receiver — sophomore Sean Sullivan — could get it.

Sullivan went up high for a touchdown reception that sent the Oredigger offense into a tizzy to highlight a practice session that was best described as intense.

“Guys are just playing with energy and confidence,” Tech fifth-year head coach Chuck Morrell said of the Oredigger offense is entering Year 2 under coordinator Pete Sterbik. “You saw Sean Sullivan with as good a catch as I’ve seen since I’ve been running around here.”

Sullivan, a Red Lodge product, is one of several guys Morrell said he is excited about as the Orediggers wrapped up their second week of spring drills.

“He played a little bit last year, and now he’s got the confidence to go out and make a big play in the scheme,” Morrell said of Sullivan. “That’s certainly good to see.”

Dawson Reardon looks for a receiver while chased by Jess Stenzel.
Dawson Reardon looks for a receiver while chased by Jess Stenzel.

While all eyes from Oredigger Nation are likely on the two potential starting quarterbacks — McQueary or fellow sophomore Dawson Reardon — Morrell seems more focused on the players surrounding his signal callers.

“Both those guys are doing a great job competing right now,” Morrell said of his quarterbacks. “I’ve seen both make some phenomenal plays.

Morrell pointed to receivers like junior Carlos Martinez and senior Clay Cavender.

“If a receiver is making plays you’re life gets better in a hurry,” Morrell said. “When you see guys like Carlos Martinez and Clay Cavender out here running around making big catches, that just makes us more dangerous.”

Another potential weapon is junior Andrew Loudenback, the starting quarterback at the beginning of last season. Loudenback is making the transition to tight end, and he is turning some heads in the process.

“Andrew is a tough customer. He is a physical guy,” Morrell said. “We felt like a weakness for us potentially a year ago was overall tight end play. We’re going to be a tight end based offense.”

Morrell said Loudenback showed he is a team-first guy by quickly agreeing to make the move to fill a hole for the Orediggers.

“It was a big task to ask him to make that transition, and I’ve been very impressed with him so far,” Morrell said. “He’s been physical and he’s got great hands. We find out that he’s great at catching the football. That’s another quarterback’s best friend if a tight end can be involved in the passing game.”

The Orediggers likely won’t make a decision as to who the starting quarterback will be until camp begins in August. Morrell said the Orediggers will be prepared to use McQueary and Reardon.

“I know we’ve got a couple of good ones,” the coach said. “Every single year since I got here, whoever our second guy is has had to come in and play. You’re only going to be as good as your next guy up.”

Both quarterbacks showed off some running ability. McQueary showed that he is “dangerous” once he gets into the open field. Reardon executed a perfect play fake and scored on a short run.

“It’s a good combination. We’ve got some quality backs in the backfield with our quarterbacks. It really sets those guys up nice,” Morrell said. “You’ve got a speed threat in a guy like Nolan (Saraceni) back there with quarterbacks who can move. That’s a big advantage for us.”

The Oredigger defense is also looking good. Morrell said having so many young players hit the field last year will turn into a positive for the Orediggers.

“Think about the value of the learning experience that those guys got in that game,” Morrell said, pointing to the Orediggers competing with eventual NAIA national champion Southern Oregon in the regular-season finale. “They know they can compete for a little while. Now can we finish it out? Can we compete for the whole game?”

Redshirt freshman Will Davey made the defensive play of the scrimmage portion of practice when he went up high on the sideline to pick off a pass.

Senior linebacker Tyler Gavlak picked up a fumbled handoff and returned it for a touchdown.

Oredigger linebacker Tyler Gavlak scoops up a fumble before heading to the end zone.
Oredigger linebacker Tyler Gavlak scoops up a fumble before heading to the end zone.

Morrell said having secondary players getting their hands on the football is something the team is working on during the spring.

“That’s been a big focus for us,” the coach said. “DeAngelo Bell (a senior) from a defensive standpoint has a good spring practice session for us. He’s been pretty solid. Some of our other young safeties — guys who got thrown into the fire a year ago — I’m really seeing some maturity and growth out of those guys.”

The Orediggers will have Saturday off. The team will hit the practice field again on Monday. From then through the Green and White Game on April 25, the Orediggers will practice, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

“We’re going to do a lot of evaluating over the weekend end really come back and zero in with what we want to do with the second half of spring ball,” Morrell said.