Orediggers play Raiders 879 miles from home

Montana Tech’s football team didn’t make the 879-mile bus trip to Ashland, Ore., with hopes of shutting out Southern Oregon Saturday.

Alabama probably wouldn’t even be thinking that way against the NAIA’s best offense.

The Orediggers, though, are hoping to slow down the Raiders just enough to get their ninth straight win Saturday. Kickoff is at 2 p.m. Butte time. (KBOW 550 AM. Click here to listen online. The game will be joined in progress after the Butte High-Great Falls Russell playoff game.)

A win would give the Orediggers the outright Frontier Conference title and secure a first-round home playoff game.

The Orediggers already have the Frontier Conference title secured, via tiebreaker, assuming they don’t lose by 130 points Saturday.

Of course, if there is one team that can score 130 points to force the next tiebreaker scenario, it’s probably the Raiders, who average 55.3 points per game.

Since the Orediggers beat Southern Oregon in a 48-45 double-overtime thriller Sept. 29 in Butte, the Raiders have been on fire. Southern Oregon has won five straight. Their point totals in those games were 68, 65, 76, 52 and 63.

“I thought we did a tremendous job here holding them to 35 points in regulation,” Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “People look at that and say ‘holy cow.’ That’s their style. They know how to put the ball in the end zone.”

Morrell and the Orediggers have a simple plan of attack against the Raiders. They want to make the Raiders work hard for every point and eliminate the quick scores.

“I’m not going to pretend like we can completely shut them out,” Morrell said. “I think you’ve got to work to make them earn it. They’re so successful getting those 60-, 70-yard scores. That’s what’s allowed them to put up those monstrous numbers.”

If there’s any defense up to that task, it’s the Orediggers. Tech sacked high-powered quarterback Austin Dodge twice — amazingly the only two sacks the Raiders surrendered all season — and eliminated the deep ball in the victory, which was the second double-overtime win over SOU in as many years.

Dodge has passed for an eye-popping 3,839 yards and 31 touchdowns. He’s only been picked off six times.

Senior cornerback Ketwuan Frank and ball-hawk safeties Nathan Kobold and Nate Thompson lead the secondary in a defense that has racked up 16 interceptions. Kobold is tied for the Frontier Conference lead with five picks. Thompson has four.

Kobold, a senior, is also ranked No. 9 in the conference in tackles. That puts him No. 3 on his team. Senior linebacker Joe Semansky is ranked fourth in the league in tackles. Fellow linebacker Mike Touzinsky is No. 7.

Jacob Workman leads the Frontier with nine sacks. Fellow defensive lineman Mike Waldman and Logan Sims have been pressuring quarterbacks at an alarming rate, as have Touzinsky and linebacker Niall Padden.

The best Oredigger defense Saturday, though, might be the team’s offense.

The Orediggers actually huddled for the first time in two seasons to try to keep the Raider offense on the sideline in the first meeting.

Playing behind an ever-improving offensive line, sophomore Pat Hansen heads into the final regular season looking for the Frontier Conference rushing title. Hansen averages 4.6 yards per carry and has 923 yards on the season. He is 12 yards behind Carroll’s Chance Demarais.

Nick Baker has quietly put up a solid season, completing 69.1 percent of his passes for 2,403 yards. He’s thrown for 23 touchdowns — including three in last week’s 43-7 over Montana Western — and just 11 interceptions.

Alec Bray caught two touchdown passes last week. Tight end Jacob Crawford busted onto the Oredigger scene with one TD reception.

Kevin Moss caught eight passes for 76 yards, while Trent Thomas and Zack Kinney caught Baker five passes. Leif Knatterud, Hansen and backup quarterback Brian Schwarzkoph also caught passes.

The Orediggers haven’t lost since the season-opening heart-breaker against Eastern Oregon. Since then, the Orediggers avenged that lone loss and then some.

Their winning streak includes four wins on the road, including long road trips to Eastern Oregon and Dickinson State.

The trip to Ashland, though, is the Orediggers’ longest. Morrell said his team is ready for it. The bus left town at 6 a.m. Thursday and traveled to Pasco, Wash., for a practice. Then the Orediggers drove to Salem, Ore., before driving the final four or five hours to Ashland on Friday.

“We’ve done very well holding our focus on the road throughout the course of the season,” Morrell said. “Our second-half theme of the season has been ‘road warriors.’ We’re  4-0 on the road. That shows that our guys understand what it takes to be successful when you’re not at home. I think they’ve got a strong mentality for the long road trip.”