You’ll have to excuse the Orediggers if they were a little rusty at Saturday’s scrimmage on the Bob Green Field.
The team just got back from vacation. Well, kind of.
The Orediggers went on the road — on short notice — to practice Thursday and Friday in Billings because of the smoky, unhealthy air quality caused by the many wildfires burning across the western United States.
“We got two really good practices in there,” Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “We took the kids camping. That was even better. It kind of turned into an impromptu team-building thing.”
The team spent Thursday night at the KOA Campgrounds.
“The Montana guys know that’s not real camping, but for some of our guys setting up the camp was pretty cool,” the coach said.
Morrell said he figured the scrimmage might be a “little rough” because it was thrown off schedule.
“We are far from a finished product,” the coach said.
One player who looked close to a finished product is sophomore quarterback Dawson Reardon.
The Helena High product looked sharp, throwing for four touchdowns in the practice game that lasted nearly two hours. He appeared to have the upper hand over Quinn McQueary, a sophomore transfer from Montana State, at least for one day.
McQueary, though, just returned after missing some time with an injury.
Morrell said he won’t name a starter until the final week as the Orediggers prepare for their Sept. 5 season opener at MSU-Northern.
“It’s absolutely not settled,” Morrell said of the QB competition. “Dawson has been really good. Quinn just kind of got going again. We’re being careful. Those are two really good football players, and we need them for when the real fireworks start.”
The first score of the game came when Reardon hit Clay Cavender over the middle on a short pass. The senior receiver kicked it outside and raced 44 yards for a touchdown,
Dawson’s next TD came on a possession when he and redshirt freshman Dion Williams hooked up for a total of 100 yards.
A few plays and a penalty after Reardon threw from his own end zone for a 45-yard completion (to the opposing 49-yard-line) to Williams, the quarterback found the speedy receiver again for a 55-yard scoring strike.
In all, the drive went for 99 yards.
Reardon also found a wide-open Zach Winfield for a 25-yard TD, and he hit defensive lineman/tight end Andy Butcher for a 6-yard strike.
Whinfield, who along with redshirt freshman Hunter Gappmayer got a lot of snaps instead of starter Nolan Saraceni, also scored on a 1-yard run.
“Zach’s been great,” Morrell said of the running back from Helena. “We didn’t need to take a look at Nolan today, and I wanted to see Zach and Hunter Gappmayer to see if they could handle the load for us. I’m pretty confident in both those guys.”
Morrell liked what he saw with his receivers, which has been a theme of camp.
“The thing I’m excited about is we’ve got some explosive guys on offense that can go get the football,” Morrell said. “I don’t even think we’re close to the same team we were a year ago.”
On the other side of the ball, the Orediggers were without four key players because of minor injuries.
Linebackers David Meis and Drew Schleeman and defensive linemen Jacob Crawford and Jacob Miller watched the practice game from the sidelines.
“Defensively I thought we were a little sloppy at times to be honest,” Morrell said. “It’s just some situational things where we’ve got to be a little smarter. That’s part of the growth process. And arguably four of our top defensive players didn’t play.”
Morrell said he wasn’t too concerned over the absence of any of the four defenders.
“It’s just precautionary stuff,” he said. “There’s some guys that have proved a lot to me already, and I don’t necessarily need to see them.”
Senior defensive lineman Tyler Gavlak and junior defensive back Antony Nelson stood out for the defense. Sophomore defensive back Deontae Wells picked up a fumble and returned it 64 yards for a touchdown.
The officials, though, ruled Wells down on the recovery, and the replay on Digger Vision showed the officials got the call correct.
Morrell said the Orediggers will likely scrimmage again next Saturday, though he wasn’t sure at what time.
“We need to do some live work across the board,” Morrell said. “I think that’s something the defense certainly needs at this point is to continue to tackle real guys.”