Defense leads Diggers past Bears

BILLINGS — Sometimes the best defense is, well, a good defense.

Montana Tech got a pair of defensive touchdowns Saturday and rolled to a 24-6 Frontier Conference football victory over Rocky Mountain College at Klindt field in Billings, spoiling homecoming for the Bears in the process.

The 17th-ranked Orediggers held a potent Rocky offense to a pair of field goals, while Tech’s two pick-sixes ended up being enough offense to carry the ‘Diggers to their third straight win in four starts. The No. 22 Bears, on the other hand, dropped their second straight and fell to 2-2 on the season.

Montana Tech defensive backs Ketwaun Frank and Nate Thompson each picked off Bryce Baker passes, and both returned the ball unhindered for touchdowns, while Tech’s offense got an early score on a Nick Baker-to-Tyson Shriver pass and a 42-yard field goal by Matt Berg.

It was Tech’s second homecoming game in as many weeks. The Orediggers beat Western in double overtime last Saturday to spoil the Bulldogs’ day before wrecking the Rocky party. Montana Tech gets its own homecoming celebration next week against Southern Oregon before returning to the road to play at Dickinson State in the Bluehawks’ homecoming game.

“It’s nice for the guys to get to play in front of some big crowds,” Montana Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “We’re right in the middle of the homecoming stretch.”

Tech’s defense set the tone early, forcing Rocky to punt after three unsuccessful plays, and the Oredigger offense went to work. Tech assembled a 64-yard drive punctuated by a 3-yard scoring pass from Nick Baker to Shriver.

That turned out to be the only offensive touchdown of the afternoon, as both defenses held strong thereafter.

Tech’s next points came minutes later as Rocky was looking to convert a second-and-1 on their own 39. Bryce Baker was looking to the sidelines and was aiming for Cole Cattelan when Frank read the play and pounced for a 45-yard interception return.

“I saw the out and I jumped it,” Frank said. “That was pretty much it. Our offense didn’t get going like we wanted it to, but that’s what our defense is for.”

Both of Rocky’s field goals came in the second quarter, as Nick Knell was right on the money with both attempts. The first, a 23-yarder, came after a shanked Tech punt left the Bears in good field position. The second, from 42 yards out, closed out scoring in the first half and capped a 51-yard drive that stalled at the Tech 25.

The third quarter saw no points and eight punts as the defenses continued to dominate the game.

Tech got a nice break in the fourth quarter when Mike Touzinsky forced and recovered a fumble by Rocky back Mickey Payne. The turnover resulted in a 42-yard field goal by Berg that gave the Orediggers a 17-6 edge with 8:49 left to play.

Touzinsky had a big day from his perch as a linebacker, pacing the Orediggers with 13 tackles, a pair of sacks and four tackles for loss.

“Coaches had us ready to play,” Touzinsky said after the game. “We knew we had to be ready for these guys coming in.”

Another Rocky pass intended for Cattelan across the middle of the field was intercepted by Thompson and returned 40 yards for the final score of the game.

“We knew coming in that the game was going to be on us,” Thompson said. “We had to slow down their offense because we knew they put up 50 points against Southern Oregon.”

It was Rocky’s second week without a touchdown, as the Bears dropped a 19-6 decision the week before against Carroll College in Helena.

Morrell, also Tech’s defensive coordinator, expressed pride in his team’s handling of Rocky Mountain’s offense.

“Rocky has a very explosive offense, but those two big interceptions had a huge impact and changed the course of the game,” Morrell said. “This week we challenged our defensive secondary to step up and make some plays.

“Rocky has a very good defense. They put the clamps on Carroll College last week in Helena. They’re well coached and they’ve had a great season,” he said. “Our guys couldn’t find a rhythm, and Rocky did a good job preventing the big play.”

With 10 Oredigger punts on the day, special teams figured big in the win.

“We had great punt coverage today,” Morrell said. Punter Travis “Farewell had a great week of practice, and his punts today had such great hang time that they didn’t gave Rocky much of a chance for returns. Our kickoff coverage was much improved today as well.”

The defense, though, was the center of attention. In addition to the pick-sixes and Touzinsky’s big show, Tech got eight tackles from Luke Seubert and seven each from Niall Padden and Jacob Workman, a 6-foot-207-pound defensive lineman.

“I was just feeling it,” Workman said. “The coaches put me in a good spot; that helped a lot. Our offense was struggling so our defense had to pick us up.”

Frank played a tough game in the defensive backfield, and had a shot at a couple more picks.

“I had some other opportunities, but the game’s over and I’m not even thinking about the pick-six anymore,” he said. “Right now I’m focused on Southern Oregon.”

Montana Tech will cap its homecoming week next Saturday with a 1 p.m. game against the Red Raiders. KBOW’s Paul Panisko and Ron Hasquet will have the call on 550 AM.

Montana Tech 14 0 0 10 — 24
Rocky Mountain 0 6 0 0 — 6
First quarter
MT — Tyson Shriver 3 pass from Nick Baker (Matt Berg kick), 7:59
MT — Ketwaun Frank 45 interception return (Berg kick), 4:14
Second quarter
RMC — Nick Knell 23 FG, 13:28
RMC — Knell 42 FG, 1:36
Fourth quarter
MT — Berg 42 FG, 8:49
MT — Nate Thompson 40 interception return (Berg kick), 8:04
First downs 15 20
Rushes/yards 42-98 39-112
Passing yards 178 211
Passes 18-30-0 23-42 2
Total yards 276 323
Fumbles/lost 0-0 1-1
Punts/avg. 10-36 9-38.2
Penalties/yards 8-68 7-84
Rushing — Tech: Pat Hansen 21-46, Alec Bray 1-16, Taylor Rowe 6-15, Zack Kinney 3-12, Nick Baker 11-9. RMC: Mickey Payne 18-74, Ben Ray 9-50, Isaac McCreery 5-14, Bryce Baker 7-(-26).
Passing — Tech: Nick Baker 17-29-0, 145 yards; Pat Hansen 1-1-0, 33 yards. RMC: Bryce Baker 23-42-2, 211 yards.
Receiving — Tech: Zack Kinney 5-70, Craig Halko 4-34, Pat Hansen 4-25, Alec Bray 2-25, Braxton Lucero 2-21, Tyson Shriver 1-3. RMC: Ben Ray 6-49, Jake St. John 4-23, Andre McCullouch 3-29, Zack Wohlfeil 2-39, Cole Cattelan 2-20, Isaac McCreery 2-17, Mickey Payne 2-9, Bo Descheemaeker 1-18, MacKenzie McGrath 1-7.
Tackles — Tech: Mike Touzinsky 13, Luke Seubert 8, Niall Padden 7, Jacob Workman 7. RMC: Travis Bertelsen 9, Ridge Fuentes 8, Eric Buer 8, Andy Desin 7.
Sacks — Tech: Mike Touzinsky 2, Niall Padden 1, Mike Waldman .5, Logan Sims .5. RMC: Doug Karmowski 1, Weston Merrill 1.
Fumble recoveries — Tech: Mike Touzinsky.
Interceptions — Tech: Ketwaun Frank 1, Nate Thompson 1.