Orediggers shoot for Lights

A lot has changed since you’ve seen your Orediggers.

The last time Montana Tech played a home football game, the Orediggers were ranked No. 16 in the NAIA and took a 3-1 record into a Frontier Conference showdown at Alumni Coliseum.

Tech won that game 48-45 in double overtime. That was four weeks ago.

Saturday, the Orediggers (6-1) put a six-game winning streak and their No. 8 ranking in the NAIA on the line when they play host to MSU-Northern.

Kickoff is at 1 p.m. (KBOW 550 AM. Click here to listen online.)

“They’re excited to be back home playing in Alumni,” Montana Tech coach Chuck Morrell said of his Orediggers. “We’ve been gone for a month. We’ve been gone for that long, but our focus level right now is still extremely high.”

The Orediggers are coming off a 28-20 win at Eastern Oregon that wasn’t as close as the score might indicate. Tech dominated the stat sheet as the Orediggers racked up nearly 500 yards of total offense and controlled the ball for 37 minutes, 20 seconds.

“I’m very proud of our guys for going on such a big road trip and getting that win,” Morrell said. “Winning on the road was a big deal. It was good to go out there and beat a quality Frontier team. I really feel like last Saturday was our all-around best performance.”

Northern (2-5) comes to town on the heels pair two lopsided losses. The Lights fell 65-34 at home to red-hot Southern Oregon and 35-14 last week at Carroll College.

Still, Morrell said the Lights, who appeared to right their season with two impressive wins before recent slide, are a dangerous team.

Northern, which is expected to have head coach Mark Samson back this week after a brief health score, is particularly dangers on offense, where the lights return 11 starters from last year.

“They are very impressive. The talent they have … wow,” Morrell said. “They have as good as skill guys as anybody in the conference, if not better. They’ve got three or four receivers who can make a big play at any time. They’ve got one of the best running backs in the conference in (Stephen) Silva. Their quarterback (Derek Lear) is playing at a very high level. I think they’re extremely dangerous.”

Silva averages 5.4 yards per carry and has racked up nearly 600 yards on the season. Junior Brandon O’Brian, a decorated Marine, averages 20.1 yards per catch. He has 30 on the season. Senior Kyle Johnston has 26, while junior Orin Johnson has 25.

“There’s a number of guys who can beat you,” the coach said. “There season has been up and down, but they’ve got one of the top offenses in the conference. They know how to score the football, there’s no doubt about that. We’ve seen Southern Oregon, and these guys are right up there. They can throw points up there on the board in bunches. They don’t have a problem finding the end zone.”

That offensive is the reason why Morrell voted for the Lights as No. 2 in the conference — behind Carroll College — in the preseason coaches’ poll. Coaches can’t vote for their own team.

” I think that’s the talent level that they’ve had, and they’ve certainly at times put it on display,” Morrell said. “You run into the buzz saw that is the Frontier Conference, you’ve got to fight your butts off every single game.”

With Kevin Moss back in the fold, the Orediggers enter the game at full strength offensively, too.

Zack Kinney is ranked fourth in the conference with 44 receptions, while Trent Thomas is tied for fifth with 40. Pat Hansen, who leads the league with 749 yards rushing, has 34 catches out of the back field.

Junior quarterback Nick Baker is completing more than 72 percent of his passes for nearly 2,000 yards on the season. He’s thrown 18 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.

On the other side of the ball, the Orediggers are ranked No. 2 in the conference in scoring defense and third in overall defense. The Orediggers also lead the league with 18 takeaways.

Nate Thompson, who is tied for the league lead with four interceptions, picked off a pair of passes last week. Nathan Kobold and Ketwaun Frank both have two picks on the season.

Kobold and linebacker Mike Touzinsky are tied for fourth in the league with 61 total tackles. Senior backer Joe Semansky is ranked No. 15 with 45 tackles. Jacob Workman is No. 3 with five sacks.

After being way from home for a month, the Orediggers are home for two straight weeks. Tech plays host to Montana Western next week. The Orediggers then close out the regular season on the road at Southern Oregon.

The Frontier Conference has become a three-team race between the Orediggers, Carroll (6-1) and Southern Oregon (5-2). The Orediggers lead the East Division, just one game ahead of the Raiders. The Saints have a comfortable lead in the West Division.

The Frontier Conference only crowns one champion, and the Orediggers currently hold the tiebreaker over the Saints thanks to their 37-20 win over Carroll Sept. 8.

Click below for game notes put out by the Montana Tech Sports Information Department.