DILLON — James Roberts knew the game was over when he saw teammate Joe Mitzel pick off a Jeff Logan pass.
Four plays later, Roberts made sure that was the case.
Montana Tech’s 6-foot-5 junior receiver hauled in his second touchdown of the game — a 5-yard strike to the back corner of the end zone from Nick Baker — as the Orediggers got a walk-off win over Montana Western at Vigilante Field.
The catch touchdown catch gave the No. 20 Orediggers a 30-24 Frontier Conference victory.
“Honestly, that was the game right there when he got that pick,” Roberts said of the interception by the junior defensive back from Missoula. “We knew we were going to score again. It was our choice at that time.”
Mitzel gave the Orediggers that choice by making the pick on the third play of Western’s possession in the second overtime.
The Orediggers took over at the 25-yard line — even though Mitzel made a long return down the left sideline — as part of college football’s overtime rule
Roberts caught an 18-yard pass on third-and-eight. One play later, he was celebrating.
“Coach saw it on the sideline and changed the play,” Roberts said off Tech offensive coordinator Ted Schlafke. “He saw me one-one-one on 11 (5-8 cornerback Isaac Anderson) over there. It’s kind of tough being a foot shorter. I juked him inside and he totally broke on it, and it was wide open. Nick knew where to put it.”
The TD catch was the second one of the game for Roberts, who started his Oredigger career as a defensive lineman.
“James had a great week of practice,” Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “He was outstanding all week long, so I wasn’t surprised to see him make some big plays down the stretch. James is a big-play guy.”
“It’s nice when you’ve got a guy who is 6-5 out there making plays,” Baker added.
Senior Trent Thomas only stands 5-8, but he, too, is also a big-play guy. Thomas caught two touchdown passes, including a 5-yard reception from Baker in the first overtime.
The Bulldogs responded, sending the game to one more frame on a four-yard run by Dylan Kramer.
“We don’t feel like that was our best game, but hat’s off to Western,” Morrell said. “They came out and played super, super hard. They gave us everything we could handle.”
Playing in front of a standing-room crowd for homecoming, the Bulldogs came back from a 10-point deficit twice to send the game to overtime.
Roberts hauled in an 8-yard strike, in the opposite back corner, to put the Orediggers on the board in the first quarter. The receiver found an opening behind the Bulldog’s zone coverage and waited for the ball to find him.
“I just stood there, made sure I was in and it was a touchdown,” Roberts explained.
The scored capped a 12-play, 91-yard game-opening drive.
The Orediggers looked primed to break the game open early.
Nate Thompson picked off a pass that gave Tech the ball at its own 48 early in the second quarter. Baker then hit Braxton Lucero and Zack Kinney for back-to-back completions to move the ball to the Western 22.
The Bulldog defense stiffened, though, and forced a 35-yard field goal by Matt Berg to make it 10-0.
Western cut the lead to 10-7 by halftime when freshman Jordan Pastras made a diving, one-handed catch to haul in a 28-yard TD pass from Logan.
Tech held a big statistical lead at the break, but the Orediggers only led by three points.
“We should have been up a lot by half,” Roberts said. “But to pull it off on the road — especially against Western — it was one hell of a game.”
Tech extended the lead to 17-7 when Baker hit Thomas for a 28-yard touchdown with just over 4 minutes left in the third quarter.
That play was set up by a game-changing punt by Travis Farewell.
With the Bulldogs owning the momentum and the field position, Farewell launched a 75-yard rocket over the head of the Western return man.
That punt turned a fourth-and-39 from the Tech 12 into a Western first down on the Bulldog 13.
The Orediggers forced a punt and Kevin Moss returned it 28 yards to the Western 28.
On the next play, Tech scored.
When darkness set in, tough, the Bulldogs heated up.
Logan led the Bulldogs on a nine-play 73-yard scoring drive, capped by a 5-yard strike to Junior Mataafa to cut the lead to 17-14 early in the fourth.
McKenzie Crossley drilled a 42-yard field goal to tie the game with just under 6-minutes.
The Bulldogs drove, thanks to several key runs by Logan, for a game-winning field goal attempt.
Crossley’s 33-yard boot, though sailed wide left.
Players on both sidelines waited as the referees made a dramatic pause before signaling no good.
“We made too many mistakes, and we’re not executing in a lot phases of the game,” Morrell said. “We’ve got do a better job protecting the quarterback, and defensively I thought we took a step back today as well. But, like I said, Western is a good football team.”
Baker completed 31 of 39 passes for 255 yards. He was picked off once and sacked four times.
“I’m still waiting for Nick to put that complete game together,” Morrell said. “He’s been off and on a little bit.”
Baker used seven different receivers, with Thomas and sophomore running back Pat Hansen both catching eight passes. Thomas racked up 79 receiving yards, while Kinney caught six passes for 96 yards.
Roberts caught four passes, while Kevin Moss caught two, Taylor Rowe caught two and Braxton Lucero hauled in one.
Hansen, who was clearly the focus of the Western defense, ran for 53 yards on 16 carries. Of those yards, 48 came after the third quarter.
“They did a good job crowding Pat at the line of scrimmage,” Morrell said. “They made sure he wasn’t going to get loose on them. He got loose on them big last year, and I think they were prepared for Pat today.”
Logan passed for 219 yards on 20-for-34 passing. Keenan Hoohuli caught five passes for 55 yards, while the Orediggers held Rashad Peniston to just two catches. Peniston, though, gained 59 yards on those grabs.
Kramer ran for 99 yards on 23 carries, while Logan ran for 52. Those numbers look better if you throw out the 23 yards on three Oredigger sacks.
Dakota Wainwright was credited with 15 tackles, six solo, to lead the hard-hitting Western defense. Jesse McLoud and Will Fields also made six solo tackles.
Butte linebacker Blake Cohlhepp got in one of Western’s 13 tackles for a loss.
Senior linebacker Joe Semansky was credited with 13 tackles, while Mike Touzinsky made 11 take downs.
Nathan Kobold and David Meis made nine tackles, while nose guard Logan Sims registered seven.
Meis, Jacob Workman, Levi Cade and Devon Jones all got in on sacks for the Oredigger defense.
The Orediggers (2-1) hit the road to take on Rocky Mountain College next week in Billings. That game will be the Battlin’ Bears’ homecoming.
“We’ve got to go back to work on Monday, and we’ve got to get better,” Morrell said. “We’ve got to keep improving.”
Baker credited Western for making the Orediggers earn the victory.
“This team is definitely a tough team. I think they wanted to prove something after our game last week. They played us hard,” Baker said. “We definitely made some mistakes, and we can still get better. But we made plays when we had to. Finishing a game always feels good. It’s positive to see you can come through in the clutch.”