When Montana Tech punter Travis Farewell dropped a low snap with the Orediggers trailing 24-17, the large home crowd let out a collective “uh oh” Saturday night at Alumni Coliseum.
Little did the Tech faithful realize, they were about to witness the play of the season so far for the Orediggers.
On fourth down and 20, Farewell, a senior from Tehechapi, California, picked up the ball and sprinted to the right for 23 yards and an Oredigger first down.
A few plays later, Tech quarterback Andrew Loudenback hit Kolby Kansala over the middle for a 20-yard TD to tie the game.
Tech didn’t trail again, as the Orediggers rallied for a 38-24 victory that just might have saved the 2014 football season for the men in green and white. Game stats
“We always knew he had wheels on him,” Tech running back Nolan Saraceni said. “Getting that first down was definitely a confidence booster for our offense and defense. It was awesome to see him make a play. Him making a play like that got our offense fired up and ready to score another touchdown.”
Tech head coach Chuck Morrell, who called the play a “huge momentum swing,” said he knew something good could happen when his punter took off running.
“It’s a little bit of a running joke, but, honestly, Travis is one of the most athletic players we have on our team,” Morrell said. “When he gets outside on a punt, he can run. We’ve faked several punts with him in the past. That one was not designed today, but Travis is very athletic and he just made a play.”
Less than 4 minutes after the tying TD, Saraceni busted free for a 49-yard touchdown, the first of his college career.
Saraceni, who got more time because Pat Hansen exited the game with a leg injury in the first half, ran for 131 yards on 15 carries. He also had a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown called back by a holding penalty.
“It feels good, but I’ve got to thank the guys out there blocking for me,” the Billings Senior product said. “Those guys down in the trench and the receivers are doing their job. Everybody did their job, we played our game and we came out winning the game. It feels awesome.”
Hansen said he hopes to be back when the Orediggers take on Carroll College in two weeks.
“Pat’s our heartbeat, but we preach to the guys all the time, ‘Next man up,'” Morrell said. “Our depth tonight really showed up. We’ve got a quality running back in Nolan Saraceni. Zach Winfield came in and took some good carries. I’m just proud of our guys for being ready.”
Tech capped the victory with 1:09 left in the game when Loudenback faked a handoff to Saraceni and scampered 6 yards for a touchdown.
Until Farewell’s big run, it looked like the night would belong to the Lights.
Zach McKinley gave the Lights the lead with a 12-yard run to cap Northern’s first drive of the game.
Tech bounced back with a 21-yard field goal by Matt Berg and an absolutely ridiculous catch by Alec Bray.
Bray leaped high, reached back and made a one-handed TD grab to put the Orediggers up 10-7 with 12:47 left in the second quarter.
The lead, though, lasted just two plays after the ensuing kickoff.
Travis Dean hit a Trevor Baum over the middle for a 70-yard touchdown and a 14-10 advantage. Northern extended the lead to 17-10 with a 31-yard field goal by Jordan Rueschhoff 1:35 before halftime.
Loudentback capped Tech’s first drive of the second half with a 9-yard TD strike to Braxton Lucero to tie the game at 17.
Again, the momentum didn’t last for the Orediggers. Dean, who passed for 307 yards, hit Jake Messerly for a 32-yard score and a 24-17 lead with 8:38 left in the third.
The Lights then forced an Oredigger punt, and that turned out to be a very good thing for the Orediggers.
“I don’t know how to run,” Farewell said after the run that turned him into a celebrity on the Oredigger sideline. “I was just hoping to get the first down.”
Loudenback passed for 257 yards on 19 of 30 passing. He was picked off once.
Bray hauled in eight passes for 105 yards. Lucero caught four passes, while Lucero caught four passes for 27 yards, while Zach Bunney caught three for 40. Clay Cavendar caught a 48 yard pass.
McKinley, who ran for 1,100 yards last season, ran for 88 yards on 19 carries. Baum and Messerly each caught seven passes. Baum went for 146 yards, while Messerly gained 87.
“Offensively, they’ve got so many weapons,” Morrell said. “I knew their quarterback play would be excellent. In the first half it was, and they’ve got some big-time receivers.”
Senior linebacker Mike Touzinsky led the Oredigger defense with 12 tackles, six of which were solo.
Touzinsky said the Orediggers had a little extra motivation because of their disappointing performance in their 38-6 loss at Montana Western last week.
“We had a chip on our shoulder,” Touzinsky said. “We don’t want to start off 0 and 2, so we had to get that ‘W’ to start the season off right.”
David Meis tallied nine tackles, while Caleb Vanec registered seven and Matthew Neyland made five.
Andre Cornell and Zach Hulse picked off passes. Hulse’s pick ended the game.
Morrell, whose father Russ died of a heart attack while fishing in Alaska late last month, was emotional after the game.
“I’m so proud of them,” Morrell said. “For me it’s been an emotional couple of weeks. To have the guys come out and play the way they did today, I just love them all.”
Later, Morrell tweeted about the “M” on Big Butte flashing “V” for an Oredigger victory.
“The flashing ‘V’ never looked so good,” the coach tweeted. “That one was for you Pops!” 3 comments