Jacob Workman didn’t have to introduce himself to MSU-Northern quarterback Derek Lear Saturday afternoon. He did anyway.
The Montana Tech sophomore defensive lineman said hello to his former Fairfield High School classmate and teammate over and over and over again at Alumni Coliseum.
Workman sacked Lear three times and hurried him many times more as the Oredigger outlasted the Lights for a 21-13 Frontier Conference win.
The win was Tech’s seventh in a row.
“If we weren’t getting the sacks, we were in his face,” Workman said. “That’s kind of what we needed to do to win.”
Mike Waldman sacked Lear twice, while David Meis and Mike Touzinsky also registered sacks. Touzinsky, who still has a cast on his broken right hand, also recovered a fumble. Senior linebacker Joe Semansky registered 14 tackles. Nate Thompson had 10 tackles.
“The coaches put us in some good situations. They had us blitzing a lot today,” Workman said. “Their offense is really tough every year, and last year they kind of put it on us both times, so it was a must win.”
Workman, who raised his league-leading sack total to eight, said he didn’t say much to Lear until after the old friends got to talk after the game.
“I didn’t need to say anything,” Workman said. “The look when I got up off of him was enough. He wasn’t happy.”
Nonetheless, Lear was still impressive. Lear completed 23 of 43 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown to lead the feisty Lights as they turned a blowout into a nail biter.
Even though the Orediggers led 21-3, the game wasn’t over until senior safety Nathan Kobold picked off a tipped pass late in the game, letting the Oredigger offense to take a knee to end the game.
“I was in the right spot, and luckily the ball got tipped and came right to me,” Kobold said.
The pick was the second of the game for Kobold, who contributed to the Orediggers three-touchdown first half.
The Orediggers drove for touchdowns on their first two possessions of the game. Nick Baker hit Trent Thomas over the middle for a 15-yard touchdown to cap Tech’s first drive. He hit Zack Kinney on a fade pattern for an 8-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter.
The Oredigger offense was in business on Tech’s third drive, until Trevor Baum picked off a Baker pass in the end zone. On the play, Baker, a lefty, rolled left and threw across his body to the center of the field. Baum jumped in front of a Tech defender and fell out of the end zone, giving the Lights the ball at the one.
A few plays later, Kobold picked off a pass and returned it to the 2-yard line.
“Nate knows how to make big plays,” Montana Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “He’s a fifth-year senior and I have so much faith in his abilities. He’s really the quarterback of our defense. He’s a big-time player who can step up and make big plays.”
Morrell also praised his cornerbacks. Ketwuan Frank made several big plays. So did Devonte Craig, who left the game in the fourth quarter with looked like it could be a serious knee injury.
“The corners defended a lot of vertical passes,” Morrell said. “We kept their key guys in check the entire game.”
Kobold’s first pick set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Pat Hansen to put the Orediggers up 21-3 with 7 minutes, 38 seconds left in the second quarter.
The Lights cut the lead to 21-6 at the break, using a Tech fumble to set up a Baum field goal. Baum, by the way is also the Lights’ punter. He also blocked a Matt Berg field goal in the third quarter.
The Northern defense kept the Oredigger offense in check the rest of the way, and the Tech defense shouldered the load, spending most of the second half on the field.
That was OK with Kobold.
“We don’t get tired,” Kobold said. “We work too hard to get tired.”
Northern kept fighting, converting several fourth downs along the way.
The Lights cut the lead to 21-13 with 4:17 left in the game when Lear made one of his how-did-he-do-that plays. The quarterback somehow avoided a heavy Oredigger rush and found Kyle Johnston in the back of the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown.
The Lights got the Orediggers to punt, and were moving toward tying the game.
Northern converted a fourth down one play before Kobold ended it with his pick.
“I’m proud of those guys,” Morrell said of the Oredigger defense. “They played a lot of snaps. They hung in there and made them grind. They were outstanding today.”
Baker completed 18 of 35 passes for 197 yards to lead the Oredigger offense that clicked early
Thomas caught six passes for 65 yards, while Kinney caught four and Craig Halko pulled in three. James Roberts, Kevin Moss, Taylor Rowe and Hansen also caught passes.
Hansen ran for 72 yards on 16 carries, while Rowe gained 39 on seven.
“We’ve just got to execute on offense when we have opportunities,” Morrell said. “We missed some chances to put the game away a little bit earlier, but I’m still proud of our guys for finishing through the end.”
The Orediggers are 7-1 in the Frontier Conference. They lead Southern Oregon, which beat Carroll College 52-49 Saturday, by one game. Carroll, which leads the East Division, is also 6-2.
“We’re in the driver’s seat, there’s no doubt about that,” Morrell said. “We control our own destiny right now. You couldn’t ask for any more than that.”
The Orediggers play at home against Montana Western next week. They close out the regular season at Southern Oregon in two weeks.
“We’ve got to keep rolling,” Kobold said. “We’re going 1-0 every week, that’s all. If we do that, we’re going to have all our goals.”