By Bill Foley
Nolan Saraceni was named the player of the game after running for 149 yards and three touchdowns in No. 10 Montana Tech’s 35-20 win over No. 22 Montana Western on the Bob Green Field.
Quinn McQueary threw for a touchdown and ran for one more as the Orediggers won for the fourth straight victory.
The Oredigger defense was lights out in the second half, helping Tech turn back its heated rival in a game with a playoff atmosphere in front of a standing-room crowd at Alumni Coliseum.
There was only one player, however, who was compared to a super hero.
That was sophomore receiver Dion Williams, who impersonated the Man of Steel with five catches for 166 yards. Nearly all of Williams’ grabs were circus catches that went for big yardage.
“We nicknamed him Superman for a reason,” Saraceni said of Williams, who sports No. 13. “He uses that cape to get up there and catch those footballs. He’s a playmaker. He’s a great asset to our team.”
All three of Saraceni’s runs were set up by long passes to Williams. A 38-yard catch led to a 39-yard Saraceni run. Williams also caught passes for 33 and 52 yards that set up 1-yard Saraceni TD plunges.
“Having Dion out there making catches like that definitely spreads out the defense,” Saraceni said. “It makes those running game a lot easier. With the O-linemen playing their butts off and blocking up front, it’s great. It’s a good feeling.”
Oredigger coach Chuck Morrell beamed about Williams, a redshirt sophomore in his third season at Montana Tech.
“I’m proud of Dion,” Morrell said. “He’s been grinding and working and working. To see him become an explosive play maker, that’s what we though he would be out of high school. To see him develop and mature, it’s been awesome.”
The Orediggers never trailed while improving to 4-1.
Tech took the opening kickoff and marched 70 yards for a touchdown. McQueary hit Mitchell Keaton in the back of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown with 11 minutes, 55 seconds still on the first-quarter clock.
The Bulldogs quickly answered with some bruising running from Hunter Thomsen. The junior from Great Falls led Western on a 75-yard TD march that was capped by a 10-yard pass from J.D. Ferris to Beau Brekke.
Oredigger cornerback Andre Brown, though, busted through to block the kick and keep the Bulldogs from tying the game.
“That’s a momentum swing,” Tech senior linebacker Luke Benz said of the block. “It’s something small, but it makes a big difference.”
The Orediggers extended the lead to 21-6 on Saraceni first two touchdown runs.
Western scored 11 seconds before halftime when Ferris found Matt Lickfold for a 5-yard score. This time, Brock Beede blocked the PAT, leaving the score at 21-12.
“That played into a lot of stuff the rest of the day,” Morrell said, referring to Brown’s block, then Beede’s. “It’s hard to be down that extra point or the extra two points. We blocked two today.”
The Orediggers made it 28-12 by marching 97 yards for a score on their first possession of the second half.
That drive included the 52-yard Williams reception and a 33 yard run by McQueary, who jumped from about the 6-yard line, while going out of bounds, to the pylon.
He was ruled out of bounds at the 3.
“Having McQueary back there is awesome,” Saraceni said. “You can tell he has a lot of passion for the game. You’ve got to love having players like that on your team. I always tell him to slide because the last thing you want is for him to get hurt. But having him lay out like that … he’s putting himself on the line for the team, and that’s good to see.”
Two plays later, Saraceni was in the end zone to make it 28-12.
Western picked up a safety when the ball was snapped through the end zone on a punt to cut the lead to 28-14 with 5:44 left in the game. Again, though, the Orediggers made a play to assure that it would not lead to Bulldog momentum.
On the ensuing punt, reserve running back Braden Feisthamel recovered a fumble to give the Orediggers the ball at the Western 41.
That led to an 8-yard run by McQueary with 2:43 left in the game. That score put Tech up 35-14 and basically put a bow on the victory.
Western answered with Ferris’ third TD pass, this time a 7-yard strike to Lickfold. The 2-point conversion failed, and there were only 4.9 seconds left in the game.
Morrell praised his defense for helping Tech’s offense overcome some second-half struggles.
“Outside this last drive, our defense was unreal keeping them in check,” Morrell said. “We had to make some adjustments, and coach (B.J.) Campbell, our defensive coordinator, did a tremendous job getting us set for the second half.”
The Orediggers slowed Thomson after his fast start. He ran for 83 yards on 16 carries, but only managed 31 yards in the second half.
“It was just good team defense,” said Benz, who joined Beede with a sack. “We knew he had some yards in the first half, and we made some adjustments for the second half. He’s a good running back, and we definitely had to deal with him.”
Saraceni racked up his 149 yards on 27 carries, good for an average of 5.5 yards per carry.
McQueary completed 17 of 28 yards for 241 yards. He also ran for 69 yards on seven carries.
Carlos Martinez and Zach Bunney each caught three passes for the Orediggers. Sean Sullivan caught two, while Andrew Loudenback, Kolby Kansala and Saraceni each caught one.
Gunnar Kayser and Will Davey picked off passes for the Orediggers, and that is something the Orediggers were looking for. Tech had just three picks through its first four games.
“We talked about it all week,” Morrell said. “We thought we’d have some opportunities with the ball hanging in the air to go after it. It was good to see our guys being in attack mode and coming down with it.
“Western had a really strong passing game, so we knew it would be up to our DBs to sit in there, fight it out and finish,” the coach added. “We ran some complicated things today, and I was proud of our guys for executing.”
The Orediggers got contributions from so many players on the defensive side of the ball.
“We have pretty good depth, and that plays to our advantage,” Benz said. “We all play so well together in any combination. That has put us in successful situations.”
Ferris completed 20 of 38 passes for 188 yards. Lickfold caught five passes, while Matt Fuhrman grabbed four, and Charlie Switzer and Thomsen each caught three.
Riley Martello and T.J. Benson picked off passes to highlight a Western defense that played most of the game without starting safety Skylar Roope.
Roope was ejected in the first quarter after being flagged for targeting, a call that was questionable to say the least.
Western fell to 2-3 in league standings, while the Orediggers kept pace with Southern Oregon at 4-1. The Mountaineers beat Rocky Mountain College 35-34 in Billings.
The Bulldogs will host the College of Idaho next week in Dillon.
The Orediggers, meanwhile, will be back at home for another huge game. Carroll College, which beat the College of Idaho 28-25 in Caldwell Saturday, will come to town for the second meeting of the rivals this season.
The Saints won the opener 27-24 on a last-second field goal.