Tech officials expecting big-time crowd for Carroll

Tech officials expecting big-time crowd for Carroll
Montana Tech fans cheer on the Orediggers against Carroll College in this Oct. 15, 2016 Butte Sports photo.

By Bill Foley

Conditions appear to be right for a big-time crowd Thursday night at Alumni Coliseum when Montana Tech opens the football season against arch-rival Carroll College.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. for the game between the No. 6 Orediggers and the unranked Saints.

“I think we’re going to have as many people who have maybe ever been to a Tech-Carroll game coming up this Thursday,” said Montana Tech head coach Chuck Morrell, who is just finishing up a stint as athletic director at the school. “There’s certainly a buzz, not only locally, but throughout the state of Montana and beyond. Everybody knows what’s about to happen.”

School officials won’t put a number on the expected crowd size. They just say it could be huge.

Alumni Coliseum officially holds 3,500 fans. The crowd could approach double that because of several factors.

The game will be on a Thursday, so there is no conflict with Montana or Montana State. It also means the game will be played before fans head out camping for Labor Day weekend, something that has drawn heavily from games in the past.

Mostly, though, it is because it is Tech-Carroll, which is arguably the best rivalry in the NAIA.

The Orediggers and Saints opened the season against each other for just the fourth time since 1960.

The last time the teams opened in Butte was on Sept. 6, 2003. That’s when the No. 1 Saints, playing their first game as defending national champions, escaped town with a 19-16 victory in double overtime.

That game, by the way, was the third double-overtime game between the teams in four years.

An estimated crowd of 3,500 watched that Saturday night game in 2003. That was three years before Joe McClafferty was hired as athletic director, bringing an event-like atmosphere to each game on the hill.

Tech football crowds have eclipsed 5,000 several times since then.

Morrell, who is entering his seventh season with the Orediggers, is 4-6 in 10 games against Mike Van Diest’s Saints.

Carroll shocked Tech with a last-second field goal and a 27-24 win to open the season last Sept. 3 in Helena. Tech bounced back to take Game 2 from Carroll 34-15 Oct. 15 in Butte, giving Tech three wins in four tries against Carroll.

The loss, though, really stung, even though Tech followed by rolling off a 10-game winning streak. That season-opening loss was likely the difference between Tech playing its second-round playoff game on the road instead of on the Bob Green Field.

“There’s a ton at stake,” Morrell said of Thursday’s opener. “That’s every week in the Frontier, but there’s a sense that this one is pretty big. Our focus has to be at an extreme level from the start until whenever they declare the game over. We certainly had a lapse in the fourth quarter of the game last year, and it cost us.”

All that just adds one more dimension to a rivalry that really doesn’t need anything added to it in the first place.

“I just think if I’m a player, what better setting could I be walking into at the beginning of the year?” Morrell said. “The buzz is incredible.”



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