Tech-Carroll game has huge implications

Whenever Montana Tech travels to Helena to take on Carroll College in Nelson Stadium it is a very big occasion.

Last year, more than 8,000 fans watched as the Orediggers and Saints battled on the football field.

This year, though, Montana Tech coach Chuck Morrell is viewing the game as a de facto playoff game when the teams meet at 1 p.m. Saturday. (Radio: KBOW 550 AM, 101.5 FM, online)

Both teams enter the game with a loss, meaning Saturday’s loser faces an extremely uphill battle in the race for an NAIA playoff spot.

“They’re really at a critical point in their season right now, too,” Morrell said. ” When you think of the long term playoff picture, how many losses can you have and make it to the playoffs? It’s awful tough.”

Saturday’s loser would more than likely have to win out for a chance at a playoff spot.

“They’re big time, and that’s just the beauty of the Frontier Conference,” Morrell said of even the early-season games. “Hey, bring your best. That’s what I think we’ll do on Saturday.”

The Saints are coming off a 38-35 loss at Southern Oregon. Morrell said the Saints looked good against the high-powered Raiders.

Quarterback Mac Roche efficiently ran a Carroll offense that is diverse and explosive. He completed 20 of 32 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns.

“He was excellent,” Morrell said of the junior. “He obviously knows their scheme inside and out. He’s been a backup for a number of years. He’s really dynamic throwing the football. To me, that’s the biggest difference. He throws on time and on target.”

Roche threw passes to seven different receivers last week. He hit Kyle Griffith seven times for 95 yards and a touchdown. Anthony Clarke caught five passes for 115 yards and two scores.

“They’ve got all their receivers back,” Morrell said. “Every receiver they’ve got is a returner, and you can just sense the chemistry between their quarterback and receiving corps right now.

“They have just a great receiving corps,” Morrell added. “I think they can hurt you with any receiver. It certainly is going to be a really big test for our secondary against their skill guys this week.”

That passing game only makes their running game that much more dangerous.

Dustin Rinker, a senior who was a 2,000-yard back last year, ran for 138 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. He had a huge game against the Orediggers last year in Helena while on his way to 1,960 yards for the season.

“Rinker can pound the football as good as anybody,” Morrell said.

Morrell’s defense is led by a veteran group of linebackers, including Mike Touzinsky and David Meis. On either side of those linebackers, though, the coach said his team is still growing. So, the Oredigger coaching staff used the week off after Tech’s 38-24 win over MSU-Northern as an extension of their preseason camp.

“There’s a lot of spots on our team where we’re really young,” Morrell said. ” We’re young on the D-line, we’re young in the secondary. We just used it as an opportunity to really work with our young guys who are playing with us, and work to cut down on the learning curve.

“It was a lot of fundamental work and a lot of base-execution work,” Morrell said. “Obviously we started to put some focus on Carroll later in the week.”

Morrell said his defenders showed signs of growing up in the win over Northern.

“We made progress from Week 1 to Week 2,” Morrell said. “If we can continue that flight path, then as the season progresses we’re going to get nothing but better.”

The Oredigger offense also took a big step from the season-opening loss at Montana Western.

“It was a night-and-day difference between Game 1 and Game 2,” Morrell said. “Guys executed with a greater sense of urgency. It was really nice to see us make some explosive plays. We had some big runs, we had some nice deep pass completions.”

The Oredigger offense also finished the game with the defense watching on the sideline.

“The biggest thing I was impressed with was the end of the game,” Morrell said. “We’re up one score and we take over the ball with about five and a half minutes left in the game. To watch the offense just methodically march down the field and pretty much grind out the entire clock…

“It’s such an asset to a defense when the offense can control the tempo down the stretch when you’re playing with a lead. That’s something that is new to us.”

Sophomore quarterback Andrew Loudenback passed for 307 yards and two touchdowns last time out. Alec Bray caught eight passes for 105 yards. That included a ridiculous leaping, one-handed touchdown reception.

Saturday, the Orediggers will have to play nearly perfect to pull out a victory against their biggest nemesis.

Tech hasn’t won in Helena since 2001, and the Orediggers have only topped the Saints twice since then.

Morrell said the Orediggers can’t get caught up in all of that, however. They also can’t worry about the raucous atmosphere they are sure to see at Nelson Stadium.

“I enjoy the heck out of it. I think it’s great,” Morrell said of playing the Saints in a packed house in Helena. “You just can’t get overwhelmed by it. I think our guys are heady enough and steady enough that that’s not going to be something that affects them a lot.”