Orediggers prepare for playoffs

Montana Tech won’t be playing at home when the Orediggers open the NAIA football playoffs Saturday.

After falling seven spots in the national poll following their first loss in two months, the No. 14 Orediggers will play Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa.

That’s OK to Tech coach Chuck Morrell.

“Anybody, anyplace, anywhere, any time, I will take my guys,” Morrell said at a Monday press conference at the HPER Complex. “So we’re going to take this show on the road. I know our guys perform well on the road. I’ll put my guys up against anybody in the country. I feel very, very confident. I’m not over confident, but confident that I know we’re a good football team.”

Morrell credited his fellow Frontier Conference members for preparing the Orediggers (8-2) for the postseason. Kickoff is at noon (Butte time) at Elwood Olsen Stadium.

“I strongly believe we play in the best conference in the country,” Morrell said. “When you play on a weekly basis in the No. 1 conference in the country, it’s that week-by-week process that gets you ready for what’s about to happen here next Saturday.”

The Orediggers saw their eight-game winning streak halted Saturday with a 46-28 loss at Southern Oregon. The loss forced the Orediggers to share the Frontier Conference title.

“We haven’t had a single week off, we haven’t had a single quarter off the entire season,” Morrell said. “We have played 10 full games for the most part the entire season. I think that’s really fine-tuned our edge. Our guys are on an edge right now, and they’re going to be ready to perform come Saturday.”

Tech’s opponent hasn’t had a close game all year. The closest the 10-0 Mustangs came to losing came in 25-point wins over Nebraska Wesleyan and Doane (Neb.).

Morningside outscored its last three opponents — Dordt (Iowa), Concordia (Neb.) and Briar Cliff (Iowa) — by a combined score of 153-0.

“They are an outstanding football program,” Morrell said of coach Steve Ryan’s Mustangs. “They boast one of the best defenses in the country. They also have one of the top scoring offenses in the country.”

The Mustangs will rely on their playoff experience Sunday. Morningside is making its ninth straight trip to the playoffs.

The Orediggers haven’t sniffed the postseason since 2005 when they went on the road to beat Azusa Pacific before falling at Carroll College in the second round.

Tech, though, is counting on a little familiarity to counter that.

Morrell grew up an hour from Sioux City.

“I spent 15 years as a part of the (Great Plains Athletic) Conference,” Morrell said. “I have a strong sense of familiarity with their staff, with their program, how they operate and what we need to do to be successful. They are a very well-coached football team, very disciplined all the way around. That’s why they have been so successful for so long.”

The Oredigger players say they’re relying on their coaches.

“We just show up and learn the new things that they’ve installed for us and make sure we come to work every day in practice,” sophomore running back Pat Hansen said.

Nick Baker, Tech’s junior quarterback, said he’s not intimidated by the playoffs.

“It’s just another day for us,” he said. “I feel comfortable playing playoff games. I played in playoff games through high school. I know it’s the first time playing in a college playoff game, but this is the first season being a starting quarterback at the college level, too.”

Baker said he’ll rely on his teammates and coaches in his first college playoff game. It’s the same approach he used in the regular season.

“I’m just going to go about it the same as I’ve always done,” Baker said. “I’ve got a great group of guys around me, so my job is easy. I just do what the coaches tell me to do. Everyone else will take care of the rest.”

Senior cornerback Ketwaun Frank said playoff experience is somewhat overrated.

“I don’t think it plays much of a big role,” Frank said. “You’ve just got to go out there and do your job. Experience matters, but when you know you can do it, you can do it. Our team, we believe in ourselves and we believe in each other. That’s pretty much it. Experience matters, but when you believe you can do something you can do it.”

Of course, the Orediggers will have a boat load — or plane load, in this case — of experience when they leave town. As a player and assistant coach, Morrell has appeared in 42 NAIA playoff games.

“It’s nothing new to me. I’ve been there many times,” Morrell said. “I’m just excited to have these guys go out and represent Montana Tech and Butte, America. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Something that wasn’t lost on the Orediggers is how quickly they went from a 3-8 team to conference champions.

“We’ve come a long ways,” Frank said. “We came from the bottom to the top. Well, not to the top yet, that’s where we’re going to be when it’s all said and done.

“We worked hard all offseason,” Frank added. “It hasn’t been easy, but we stick together and look where we are now.”

Chuck Morrell
Pat Hansen
Nick Baker