HAVRE – The importance rested in degrees.
Montana Tech’s 49-6 Frontier Conference college football victory over Montana State-Northern Saturday at Tilleman Field kept the Orediggers’ narrowing hopes still alive for an NAIA playoffs spot, and it clinched them their first seven-win season since 2016, and the 7-3 season ended on a positive note for building to next season.
Head coach Kyle Samson soaked in another importance and the quiet smile seemed probably broad as he relayed the instance in a post-game telephone call with buttesports.com.
“The coolest thing about it,” he said, “we were able to get Isaiah Allik into the game. Isaiah has been battling cancer the last two-and-a-half years. He hasn’t been able to play and he hasn’t even been able to practice. This week, he just cleared to play and we put him on the field at safety near the end of the game. That was one of my special moments as a coach. He’s battled cancer hard and he was able to get out on the field and play. That was pretty awesome.”
Allik is a 6-foot-2, 180-pound defensive back from Charlo.
Backup running back Kaleb Winterburn ran for 122 yards with two touchdowns and defensive lineman Alaric Greil tallied on a pick-six for a few of the Montana Tech offensive highlights in a game played in temperatures hovering around minus-5 degrees. Kyle Torgerson caught two touchdown passes and quarterback Jet Campbell threw one to all-time Oredigger career TD receptions leader Trevor Hoffman. Blocking fullback Landers Smith got to lug the ball and broke into the end zone.
The defense held the Lights out of the end zone and seldom let them cross midfield. The special teams were largely responsible for pinning Montana State-Northern deep in its own territory. Two QBs, Campbell and Blake Thelen, executed the offense.
“I thought the guys played really well and it was a great way to finish the season,” Samson said. “All three phases did their jobs. We got a defensive touchdown, which was awesome. We threw the ball really well. The offensive line did its job all day as we ran the ball well, too. Kaleb Winterburn and Christian Vetter really ran well today.
“Our special teams and defense kept us in good field position all game long. Our coaches got the guys ready to go.”
Playoffs aren’t likely, Samson said he thought. Carroll upset Frontier Conference No. 1 College of Idaho 21-6 Saturday in a battle of ranked teams and Montana Tech owns a 26-10 victory over Carroll in the two teams’ only game this year.
“It’s crazy how the conference tightened up the last couple of weeks,” Samson said. “I’m not sure about playoffs. I think this win will get us back in the Top 25, which is great but I don’t think it will be enough (to earn a playoffs invitation).”
The Orediggers stormed to a 14-0 lead though the first quarter as Campbell threw over the top to a sprinting Hoffman. The play went for 38 yards and Hoffman’s school-record 26th touchdown catch. It capped Montana Tech’s first series of the game and Ryan Lowry’s ensuing point made it a 7-0 lead.
Just before the end of the first period, Campbell hooked up with Torgerson on a double-post route for a 28-yard TD pass. Lowry’s kick increased the difference to 14-0 heading to the second quarter.
The lead grew to 21-0 midway through the second quarter when Winterburn, playing in place of injured Frontier Conference leading rusher Blake Counts, bolted 15 yards up the middle for a touchdown.
The defensive line led Montana Tech in interceptions this game, the first being by Ezra Gulewich to give the Orediggers possession on the Lights’ 38-yard line. Thelen then found Torgerson on a double-post for the distance and Montana Tech’s command was at 28-0.
Montana State-Northern broke onto the board as the half ended when Kaden Nelson kicked a 40-yard field goal.
A skirmish late in the half saw several unsportsmanlike conduct calls made, but no penalties assessed, except for a Lights’ assistant coach being ejected.
Nelson booted a 29-yard field goal in the third quarter, but Montana Tech still held a thick 28-6 cushion and Montana State-Northern never scored again.
Torgerson returned the kickoff after the field goal 64 yards and his teammates put together a short scoring drive that ended with Winterburn surging up the middle for a 3-yard tally. The defense continued the pummeling when Greil stole a Lights’ screen pass out of the air and rumbled 25 yards with it to the end zone.
The pick took the Oredigger lead to 41-6 and it remained to the end of the frame.
The last TD was set up by an interception Angel Sanchez made. Smith finished the possession with his 3-yard crash over the goal line.
“Landers Smith is one of our toughest guys on the team,” Samson said. “It was really cool to see him score a touchdown. He ran a couple guys over.”
A meeting between the teams earlier in the season saw Montana Tech prevail 73-0 in Butte. The weather was much warmer and the Lights, breaking in mostly a new roster and a new coaching staff, have progressed noticeably since.
“It was chilly,” Samson said. “It was cold weather and everything, but the guys showed up and played a great game. What a great way it was to send our seniors off.
“And, for sure, Northern is improved. They gave a good effort.”
The successful end for Montana Tech’s season shines a brighter light to the next campaign for returning and new players and the incoming recruits.
“Being 7-3 in a big accomplishment for where we’re going,” Samson said. “It is a huge stepping stone toward next years. I can’t thank our seniors enough for setting the standards and the future goals. The future is very bright for Montana Tech.”
The coach said Butte and the Montana Tech following did their parts, too.
“Thanks to our fans and their support,” he said. “They’ve been great and we can’t do it without them. They’re so great, they get on the road to support us and make it special for our guys.”
Campbell passed for 128 yards on 9-of-14 passing, and Thelen connected on two throws out of four, accounting for 42 yards. Winterburn’s 122 yards came on 23 carries. Vetter, a freshman out of Butte High, ran the ball 11 times for 64 yards. Torgerson was an all-arounder with a 20-yard carry, six catches for 112 yards and 94 yards in returns. Hoffman hauled in three passes for 44 yards. Defensively, Naoki Harmer had seven solo tackles among 13 total. Brandon Morley totaled 10 tackles and Zach Trumble was third with six.
Montana State-Northern was held to 12 first downs and 191 total yards in offense. The Lights passed for only 41 yards. Quarterback Kaymen Cureton was 5-for-19 on his passing attempts. Tight end Levi Keltner led the receivers with two catches for 20 yards. Running back Mason Dionne enjoyed a little more success with 108 yards on 24 totes. Cureton ran for 35 yards. Safety Hunter Riley collected 13 tackles, and Devin Carmona and Dylan Wampler each came up with eight.
— compiled by Bruce Sayler for buttesports.com