Montana Western apparently didn’t get the memo that Saturday was a big day for the Orediggers.
The Bulldogs, though, did send out a message loud and clear on the first college football game on the Bob Green Field.
Sam Rutherford rushed for 190 yards and three touchdowns at a packed Alumni Coliseum, and the Bulldogs spoiled Tech’s all-class reunion with a 29-22 Frontier Conference win.
The freshman from Centerville’s third touchdown — a 4-yard burst — came with 1 minute, 1 second left in the game, breaking the hearts of scores of Orediggers of the past who came to town to cheer on their alma mater.
These 3-0 Bulldogs are apparently the real deal.
“Maybe nobody else thought we could do it,” Rutherford said of the team’s 3-0 start. “But we sure as hell did.”
Montana Tech’s start gave fans reason to doubt the Bulldogs.
After changing from their green uniforms to black jerseys with “Mines” on the front in honor of the former Orediggers, the Tech defense forced Western three and out on its first possession.
Then Herman Tapley hit Zack Kinney over the middle for a 28-yard touchdown just 1 minute, 2 seconds into the game.
Tech, which switched off at quarterback between Tapley and senior Brian Schwarzkoph in the first half, extended the lead when Schwarzkoph hit Alex Bray down the right sideline for a 73-yard touchdown.
The point after failed as the hold never got down for a Matt Berg attempt, and Tech led 13-0 with 1:56 still left in the first.
Western climbed back on the back of Rutherford, a 2011 Centerville High School graduate who went to the University of Mary before transferring to Western.
“He’s a physical, fast runner,” Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “He’s a very good football player. He’s going to be a problem in this league for a long time. We’ve got to figure out a way to get him slowed down.”
Rutherford scored on runs of 7 and 4 yards to send the Bulldogs into halftime leading 14-13. His 4-yard run, which came with 2:41 left in the second, came after he ran 23-yards to the Tech 9 on fourth and 10.
Rutherford chalked up 128 yards in the first half, even though he had issues with a knee he hurt in the second quarter. He called it a “just a little battle wound.”
The Orediggers built a 22-14 lead with nine straight points.
Schwarzkoph hit Bray, who caught seven passes for 168 yards, again on the opening drive of the second half. Bray made a leaping catch in the back corner of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown.
Tech went for two, and the pass failed, making it a 19-14 lead.
The Orediggers’ next possession ended with Berg booting a 33-yard field goal. That put Tech up 22-14 with 5:32 left in the third quarter.
Things were good for the Orediggers. Or so it seemed.
“Hats off to Western,” Morrell said. “They played their butts off. They rushed the ball very effectively today, I’ll give them that.”
Rutherford said getting back into the ball game wasn’t overly complicated.
“We just did the small things right,” he said. “If you’re going to come out and compete with these guys, you better bring your A game. We did that today.”
The Bulldogs also overcame their own mistakes.
After seeing Rutherford’s 13-yard TD reception and a 3-yard touchdown run called back by a penalty, junior quarterback Tyler Hulse capped a long Western drive with a 5-yard touchdown run to pull within 22-21 with 24 seconds left in the third.
The Orediggers had a chance to ice the game, but the offense couldn’t keep the ball long enough to put the game away.
Collin Sale returned a Travis Farewell punt 16 yards to the Western 41 to start the game-winning drive.
Twelve plays later, the Rutherford was in the end zone. The back took the handoff for a 2-point conversion. He was surrounded by Orediggers. But as Rutherford was hit, he pitched the ball back to Hulse, who ran in for the conversion and a 29-22 lead.
“That sure wasn’t planned,” Rutherford said. “That was just improv at its finest.”
Tech’s ensuing possession started at the Oredigger 7 after a block in the back penalty.
It ended at the Tech 28 when Connor Langel picked off a pass by Schwarzkoph, who took every offensive snap of the second half.
“We just had some bad momentum swings again,” Morrell said after his team’s second loss in as many weeks. “We were on and off the field really fast offensively. We got worn down a little bit at the end defensively at the end.”
Schwarzkoph passed for 293 yards on 27 of 44 passing. Tapley completed 5 of 7 passes for 52 yards. Kinny caught 13 passes for 94 yards, while James Roberts caught six for 55.
Tech’s Pat Hansen ran for 27 yards on just 13 carries.
“They did a great job collapsing on the box,” Morrell said. “We had several things designed with the run game that we just really couldn’t get going. Their front was very physical, they loaded up the box and they took a lot of things away from us. They really forced us to put the ball in the air.”
Hulse completed 16 of 30 passes for 153 yards. More importantly, he directed a Western offense that didn’t turn the ball over.
Western is at home against MSU-Northern next week. Tech is back at home to take on Rocky.
At 1-2, the Orediggers already have as many losses in conference as they did all last season.
“It starts with me. I take the personal responsibility for our failures out there today,” Morrell said. ” I’m going to look inward. I’m going to find the answers. Then we’ve got to come back.”
Morrell said saving the 2013 season is going to be a long process.
“We’re not going to get our whole season back in one game,” he said. “We’ve got to go one play, one quarter and bring ourselves back. But we can’t get our whole season back over night. It’s going to take a lot of work. We’ve got to find a way to get better right now.”3 comments