Montana Tech has a chance to avenge its lone loss of the football season Saturday when the Orediggers take on Eastern Oregon in La Grande, Ore.
The No. 8-ranked Orediggers are anything but the Avengers, however, when they kick off the Frontier Conference game at 2 p.m. Butte time. (KBOW 550 AM. Click here to listen online.)
The Mountaineers beat Tech 26-23 in a mistake-filled season opener Sept. 1 in Butte. That has little to do with Saturday’s game, Tech coach Chuck Morrell said.
“That’s not really my mind set,” Morrell said of playing for revenge. “There’s going to be games where there’s a little more amp to them. But in the Frontier Conference, where it is so competitive every week, you better be amped up ever week or you’re not going to have the opportunity to put yourself in the position to win.”
The Orediggers have been on a roll since that September Saturday, winning five straight and climbing into the top 10 in the NAIA.
Tech is coming off an off week. Two weeks ago, the Orediggers traveled to Dickinson State and thumped the Blue Hawks 42-6 in their most lopsided win of the season.
The “bye week” is both a benefit and a possible concern for the Orediggers.
It’s a benefit in that the team had a week to rest and get healthy. The Orediggers will get back a few players, most notably receiver Brandon Moss and defensive lineman Austin Brinkworth.
The concern is that a week off can often throw a team on a roll out of rhythm.
“That’s kind of the big question mark in my mind is how do we come off the bye week? Are we sharp?” Morrell said. “There’s always a concern in coming off the bye week of not being clean, crisp and sharp and taking care of the things that you need to from a fundamental standpoint.”
The Orediggers don’t want to mess with their rhythm since they’re ranked No. 2 in the conference in points per game (33.7) and yards per game (480.5).
Junior quarterback Nick Baker is third in the league in passing yards per game (258.7) and total touchdown passes (15).
Zack Kinney is ranked third in the Frontier with 40 catches. Trent Thomas and James Roberts have had strong seasons, and true freshman Alec Bray is coming off two big-time games.
Sophomore running back Pat Hansen is No. 2 in the league with 591 yards rushing. He’s averaging just under 5 yards per carry and 100-yards per game. He’s scored eight touchdowns behind an offensive line led by Gage McCann, Ben Cook, Keith Mullan, David Tapia-Padron and David Valenzuela.
The Oredigger defense will have to be aware of some Eastern Oregon weapons. So will the Tech special teams.
Kedrick Starr and Jace Billingsley are capable of big things for the Mountaineers, who beat Rocky 28-24 in La Grande last week.
“Their special teams were outstanding,” Morrell said. “Kedrick Starr had a couple of big returns that had an impact on the game. Their skill guys are very talented. If any of those guys get the ball in their hands, they can be very, very dangerous.”
Defensively, Jacob Workman leads the Orediggers up front. He’s tops on the team and the conference with 5 sacks. He gets plenty of help with Logan Sims and Mike Waldman on the offensive line.
Linebacker Mike Touzinsky is ranked No. 1 in tackles for a loss and No. 4 in tackles. Safety Nate Kobold and linebacker Joe Semansky and David Meis rank among the top tacklers in the league for a team that is plus nine in the turnover margin since turning the ball over five times in the opener.
Still, the Orediggers aren’t focusing on that opening game.
“What I tell our players is never put yourself in the position where you say ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda,’ Morrell said. “The game of football is black or white. At the end of the day you either won the game or lost the game. They won the game and we lost.
“You either did it or you didn’t. In my mind, there’s no moral victory. At the end of the day, you either have the ‘W’ or you have the ‘L.’ It’s that simple. They flat out beat us in the most critical stages of the game, and they deserved to win.”
The Orediggers have three games left in the regular season after Saturday. Tech plays at home against MSU-Northern and Montana Western before making the long trip to play at Southern Oregon on the finale.
First, the Orediggers have to get past what Morrell expects to be an all-out battle.
“You know that their players know how to play in critical situations,” Morrell said of the Mountaineers. “We’re expecting a real knockdown drag-out with them. The last two games we played them have games that have gone down to the absolute wire, and I don’t expect anything to be different with this one.”