By Bill Foley
BILLINGS — The Montana Tech Orediggers were all laughs Saturday afternoon.
The No. 7 Orediggers rolled to a 62-10 win over Rocky Mountain College in a Frontier Conference football game on the Herb Klindt Field, and the fun all began with a superstar running back playing in his hometown for his last time. Stats
Senior Nolan Saraceni broke a 95-yard touchdown run that started Tech’s second extremely lopsided win in as many weeks.
“I’m always telling the guys to have fun out there to kind of ease them up,” Saraceni, a Billings Senior product, said after the win. “They seem a little tense coming into games with the position we’re in, so I’m always yelling at them to have fun.”
Saraceni, who ran for 197 yards and three touchdowns on just 14 carries, made it a 14-0 Tech lead with his 95-yard touchdown, which is four-yards shy of his school record.
“The fun starts every time our offense does something,” Saraceni said.
“Nolan was unstoppable today,” Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “It was a special deal for us throughout the course of the week knowing that this was going to be the last time for Nolan to play in his hometown. They guys just wanted to go big for him, and just to see him unload today was awesome.”
Overall, the win was Tech’s seventh straight, and the Orediggers can wrap up the Frontier Conference title with a win over the College of Idaho in Butte.
Saraceni was one of a handful of Orediggers who had big-time performances in the win.
Quarterback Quinn McQueary passed for 278 yards a five touchdowns, Mitchell Keeton caught three touchdowns, Kolby Kansala grabbed two, and Gunnar Kayser picked off two passes.
“We’ve just got a bunch of great kids that are very dialed in,” Morrell said. “They’re taking care of all the details of the game, and they’re executing as a group. It’s fun to watch us.”
Tech took the opening kickoff and marched 81 yards for a touchdown to take the lead for good.
Keeton capped the scoring drive with a 10-yard reception, barely tapping his toes down in bounds on the side of the end zone.
The scoring drive lasted seven plays. The next one lasted two.
One play after a holding penalty pushed the Orediggers back to their own 5-yard line, Saraceni broke a run to the outside and then ran past the Rocky defense down the left sideline for the score.
“The O-line was doing their job and the guys on the perimeter are doing their job,” Saraceni said. “That made that long run happen and that other long run happen. I’ve definitely got to give a shout out to those guys. They’re working hard every play.”
The Orediggers erupted for four touchdowns and 27 points in the second quarter to put the game away.
Saraceni made it 21-0 on a 1-yard run out of the Wildcat format to make it 21-0, and Chris Kelly hauled in a 60-yard pass from McQueary down the sideline to make it 28-0.
Kelly’s TD came with the Orediggers facing a third down and 16.
“Quinn was on fire,” Morrell said. “He’s making some great throws from the pocket. Then he gets out of the pocket and he’s dangerous, too. The think that is most impressive is he’s keeping his eyes down the field, and our guys are fighting to get open. We’re making some explosive plays that way.”
Griff Amies booted a 22-yard field goal, but Kansala helped kill the thoughts of any Rocky momentum.
One play after a Rocky punt, Kansala turned a short pass into a 48-yard touchdown to make it 35-0.
Kansala added a 4-yard TD reception 12 seconds before halftime.
That score was set up by Kayser’s first interception of the game. Seven plays and 60 yards later, the Orediggers were in the end zone.
“He’s playing great right now,” Morrell said of Kayser, a senior safety. “He’s ball hawking. His attention to detail right now is extreme. I’ve had the opportunity to coach some really good safeties, but I don’t know if I’ve had one that has the combination of athleticism and the football IQ that Gunnar has. It makes my life easier and it allows us to do a lot of different things.”
Kayser, who grabbed his sixth pick of the season later in the game, said the Oredigger defense is just making things happen.
“We have a really good defense, and I think everyone else is doing a good job, forcing them to look at other options and throw it my way,” he said. “We really trust each other that every play everyone is going to do their job. That’s what forces a quarterback to throw it a certain way or run a certain way.”
The Tech offense gets an assist, too, because the Orediggers have been playing with a lead all season.
“That’s pretty awesome to know we have a baller like that on offense,” Kayser said of Saraceni. “We might not have the best defensive drive one time, but we know he’s going to have our back. It’s all about team football. We’ll have his back and he’ll have our back.”
Rocky opened the second half with 10-play, 65-yard drive that was capped by an 11-yard touchdown run by Mason Melby.
Tech answered on the next play from scrimmage when Saraceni broke a 67-yard touchdown run that was almost identical to his 95-yard burst.
The Orediggers’ next scoring drive lasted one play, too.
Andre Brown picked off a pass to give the Orediggers the ball in Rocky territory. On the next play, McQueary hit Keeton in the back of the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown to make it 55-10.
“He’s out there throwing touchdowns and getting the ball to the receivers when they’re open — or even when they’re not open by just having a great throw,” Saraceni said of his quarterback. “It’s amazing having him back there because of just how dynamic he is.”
The Orediggers capped the scoring in the third quarter when backup quarterback Danny Peoples hooked up with Keeton for a 14-yard touchdown. The TD pass was the first as a college player for the former Butte Central Maroon.
Keeton ended with 107 yards on five receptions. Kelly racked up 73 yards on two catches, while Kansala gained 66 on three and Dion Williams made three catches for 61 yards.
Drew Schleeman and Jacob Clarke each registered seven tackles to lead the Oredigger defense. Kayser had six tackles, while Anthony Nelson and Eddie Smith each made five tackles.
“Our defense was really outstanding the in first half today,” Morrell said. “They came out on a mission and played super physical.”
Daniel Van Dyke added an interception late.
“It’s a pretty awesome feeling knowing when we’re all playing together we can do really well,” Kayser said. “When all cylinders are clicking we can have games like this. It’s something special to be a part of right now. We’re having a good season right now, but we’re not going to be satisfied. We’re going to take every week the same way.”
In other Frontier Conference games, Eastern Oregon beat the College of Idaho 48-14, Carroll College routed Northern 49-14 and Montana Western knocked off Southern Oregon 43-24.
At 7-1, the Orediggers sit atop the league standings. Eastern Oregon is basically a game and a half behind Tech at 6-2. The Orediggers won their only meeting with the Mountaineers.
Tech travels to Southern Oregon to close the regular season in two weeks. First, though, the Orediggers will try to grab a Senior Day win and a playoff berth next week.
“I just think about all the seniors who have poured their lives into our program,” Morrell said. “A lot of those guys came here when we weren’t very successful. They built the program up to the stage that it is right now, so we’re going to do everything in our power to get those guys a win next week at home.”