Orediggers, Saints to clash in Tech’s Copper Game

By Bruce Sayler 

 Montana Tech head football coach Kyle Samson wore the anxiousness on his sleeve. 

It was Thursday, two days before game time, and wave of enthusiasm was still at its crest following Saturday’s 38-3 dismantling of Frontier Conference opponent Eastern Oregon on the road. Carroll was up next and Samson, in his second season at the helm was as at least as ready as his players. 

“We haven’t play Carroll here since 2018,,” he noted, recounting road games in Helena in 2019 and 2021 sandwiched around a no-season in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The last meeting was a 31-17 Carroll win in Helena which expanded the Saints’ lead in the series 39-86-22, though it has been even the last 12 games at 6-6. 

The rivals will tangle on Saturday at 1 p.m. on Montana Tech’s Bob Green Field with temperatures in the mid-80s and 35 mph winds being forecast. So is a large, rowdy crowd. Always is, it seems, when the Saints and Orediggers collide. 

The collision will be noisy. Carroll upset 17th-ranked defending league champion Montana Western 16-10 in their opener last Saturday and, so, the Saints figure to be brimming with confidence, too. 

“It was a long bus ride (from LaGrande, Oregon) and we got home Sunday night,” Samson said. “It was a good, long trip. I’m proud of how the team performed. The guys went in 100 percent confident in what they were doing. They showed a lot of confidence in the game, you felt it grow as the game progressed. 

“The offensive and defensive (squads) fed off of each other. They all played together – all three phases (offense, defense, special teams).” 

The game, the annual holding of the Copper Game for the Orediggers, will feature the first two Frontier Conference Players of the Week in Carroll linebacker Tucker Jones on defense and Montana Tech quarterback Jet Campbell on offense. 

 

Oredigger quarterback Jet Campbell scrambles for yardage. (Bill Foley photo)

“Our defense, coach (Aric) Williams did a great job,” Samson said, alluding to the no touchdowns given up to the Mountaineers and one field goal being the only Eastern Oregon points of the game. “I’m extremely proud of our defense. Coach Williams and his staff put together a great defensive gameplan. The guys played fast and we couldn’t ask for a better team performance.” 

Williams is Montana Tech’s first-year defensive coordinator.

The Orediggers seemed in midseason form. Samson said the team suffering no turnovers and creating four was likely the most important cog in the victory, and that Montana Tech committed no pre-snap penalties.  

“I thought Jet spread the ball around,” Samson said about the Oredigger offensive effort. “A lot of different guys made plays – catching the ball and running the ball. The offensive line did a great job of run-blocking and protecting the quarterback.” 

He said he was not really surprised by the team’s overall performance and was certainly pleased by it. 

“You never know, going into your first game of the season,” Samson said. “What is great about this team is that the guys care about each other and I think that showed in all three phases.” 

Carroll is always formidable. 

“We know this is a huge rivalry and always a good game,” Samson said. “They were No. 2 (in the Frontier Conference rankings) in the preseason and they knocked off No. 1. Our guys are excited to play them. 

“It should be a great atmosphere with all the ‘Digger fans in the stands cheering us on. It should be a lot of fun.” 

The coach said he is expecting a ball-control, field-position-oriented game with the linemen seeing heavy action in the trenches. Troy Purcell is in his third season as the Carroll head coach and won state high school championships as head coach at Havre and Bozeman earlier in his career. 

“(The Saints) are very good up front on both sides of the ball,” Samson said. “They’re a very veteran team with a lot of guys who have played a lot of games – like us. Veteran players are always a strength of a team. 

“(The Saints) don’t have a huge weakness. That’s expected when you go up against a team that’s returning a bunch of guys. Our guys will be rearing to go.” 

So, playing keep-away with the ball and running clock could be important factors, again. 

“Field position and taking care of the ball, not having turnovers (will be crucial),” the Oredigger coach said. “We need to make them go on a long field and try to make ours shorter. It could go down to which team has better field position. 

Reasons abound for looking forward to the game, but that it is simply Montana Tech vs. Carroll might still be the major one. 

“It is always great to play in the Copper Game, but playing it against Carroll makes it that much more exciting,” Samson said. “And, playing them when they’re the No. 1 team in the conference makes it a heck of a challenge, too. Our guys will be ready for it.” 

Stephen Powell kicked three field goals in Carroll’s win over UM Western. The Saints’ touchdown was a 43-yard pass play from quarterback Jack Prka to tight end Tony Collins. That gave Carroll a 1-=0 spread. Samson said Collins could be the conference’s best tight end. 

Prka was 15-for-26 passing for 148 yards without suffering an interception. The Carroll ground game was mostly stifled, but Matthew Burgess and Ryan Rickman are both capable backs. Collins and Easton Durham led the receiving corps. 

Jones and safety Thomas McGree were defensive leaders, each coming up with an interception. Defensive lineman Garrett Kocab total nine tackles, and Garrett Worden had five solo stops. 

Campbell scored two touchdowns on keepers and passed to Blake Counts and Logan Kennedy for two more to lead the Montana Tech win at Eastern Oregon. Counts also busted a 10-yard TD run. Campbell passed for 235 yards, completing 17 of 25 throws. He was not intercepted. Counts netted 97 yards on the ground, and Kaleb Winterburn ran for 39. Lineman Zach Trumbo and linebacker Ben Windauer led in tackles with six apiece. Defensive back Jake Orvis intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble and Matt Whitcomb and Naoki Harmer intercepted passes.  

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