RB depth lets Diggers take it slow with Hansen

Whether or not Montana Tech star running back Pat Hansen plays against Carroll College Saturday in Nelson Stadium has yet to be determined.

Hansen injured a calf muscle early the Orediggers’ 38-24 Aug. 30 win over MSU-Northern at Alumni Coliseum. He didn’t play in the second half of the win, and he hasn’t practiced since.

The Orediggers are holding out hope that Hansen can play in Helena, but they aren’t going to rush their senior captain into action.

“We’re precautionary with him,” Montana Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “We’re thinking big picture. We want him to get back to full speed. Pat’s not a guy who requires a thousand reps to know what’s going on. He’s one of the most intelligent players I’ve ever coached.”

The Orediggers can also afford to be patient for their running back to return because they are loaded at the running back position.

For starters, the Orediggers have sophomore Nolan Saraceni. The Billings Senior product ran for 131 yards on 15 carries in place of Hansen against the Lights. He broke a 49-yard go-head touchdown in that performance.

The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Saraceni is a much different back than the elusive, shifty Hansen. Saraceni, the last man to beat Butte High star Dalton Daum in a sprint at the state meet, can run over or past just about any defender. He broke a 96-yard kickoff return for a score, only to see it called back by holding.

“Against Northern, Nolan played very well,” Morrell said. “He came in and had some explosive runs for us.”

Morrell also feels very good about the running backs he has behind Saraceni.

“Zach Winfield had done a great job for us,” Morrell said, referring to the running back who was the surprise of spring drills.

The Orediggers also have Hunter Gappmayer, a true freshman from Bozeman. He is a back many thought would play at a higher level while helping lead the Hawks to the 2013 Class AA state title.

Ideally, Oredigger fans won’t see Gappmayer until next season. They could, however, see him as early as Saturday.

“We feel like if we needed him to step on the field, he could step on the field,” Morrell said. “He’s been taking a lot of reps with the second team. We’re definitely preparing him to be ready to play. There’s no doubt he could step out and help us right now. If not, we’ll look into hanging onto the redshirt for him.”

That Saturday’s opponent is the No. 2-ranked Saints won’t affect whether or not Hansen will be one of the ball carriers on Saturday.

“It’s just a day-by-day process for him right now,” Morrell said. “We’re going to keep in mind what’s best for him health-wise.”

While Oredigger fans might put more stock in the Tech-Carroll rivalry, Morrell says his team must have the same intensity for the Saints.

“Obviously, you can’t just get up for one game,” Morrell said. “If you don’t get up for every game in this conference, you’re chances of winning are pretty low. Our preparation level has been the same, but you certainly sense a bounce in the guys’ step this week.”

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