Montana Tech dominated the state sheet Saturday night at Alumni Coliseum.
The Orediggers, though, committed five turnovers — seven counting two failed fourth down attempts — to turn a promising season-opening performance on the gridiron into a disappointing 26-23 loss to Eastern Oregon.
A 12-yard touchdown pass from reserve quarterback Jason Simonis to Kedrick Starr with 39.9 seconds left in the game gave the No. 16 Mountaineers the win in a game that they trailed by 10 points in the fourth quarter.
The Orediggers outgained the Mountaineers 489-239, but Eastern Oregon took advantage of short a short field for three touchdowns to keep them in the game. Their longest scoring came when the Mountaineers marched 57 yards for the game winner.
The Orediggers drove down for a shot at tying the game, but a Matt Berg 35 yard field goal sailed left as time expired.
“This is a tough loss, but we’ve got a long season,” said Tech running back Pat Hansen, who racked up 112 yards on 20 carries. ” We’ve got a lot of good things coming, and we’re excited. ”
Junior quarterback Nick Baker, who started and took all but a handful of snaps, passed for 394 yards and one touchdown in the loss. He was picked off three times.
Speedy junior college transfers Kevin Moss and Zack Kinney excited the large Tech crowd. Moss caught nine passes for 151 yards, including a diving grab that set up a touchdown.
Kinney caught eight passes for 103 yards, while Trent Thomas hauled in seven passes for 97 yards despite battling cramps in the second half.
“We provide entertainment, there’s no doubt about that,” Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “Our guys played super hard. It’s a great brand of football to watch. We just want to come out on top.”
To do that, the Orediggers clearly have to at least cut down on turnovers.
Mike Wood fell on a fumble at the Oredigger 30-yard line early in the second quarter to set up the Mountaineers’ first score.
Four plays later, Chris McGinnis-Parker scored on a 17-yard burst. Devonte Craig blocked the extra point, and the Orediggers trailed 6-0.
Montana Tech took a 7-6 lead 3 minutes, 27 second before halftime when James Roberts made a leaping catch from Baker in the back corner of the end zone. The score came one play after Kinney caught a 50-yard pass.
The Orediggers extended the lead to 9-6 with 8:35 left in the third quarter after the defense forced an Eastern Oregon punt — one of 10 Mountaineer punts on the night — from the EOU end zone. The snap sailed over the punters head and out of bounds for a safety.
Just when it looked like the momentum belonged completely to the Orediggers, Nathan Rudder, a 265-pound defensive lineman, stepped in front of a Baker pass and returned the pick 24 yards to the 4-yard line.
That led to a 1-yard TD run by Howard McDonald, who also had a big night as a linebacker, that put the Mountaineers up 13-9.
The Orediggers took the lead on a 3-yard run by Hansen with 13:27 left in the game. That play came after Moss laid out in a full dive to haul in a 52-yard pass from Baker.
The left handed Baker, who previously missed a couple long balls with under throws, rolled to his left and heaved a ball to the Moss.
“My boy Kevin Moss reeling in that deep ball, that was sweet,” Hansen said. “We’ve got lots of those coming.”
Hansen, extended the lead and looked like clinched the victory with a 20-yard touchdown run to make it 23-13. The score came one play after Hansen busted through the middle for 24 yards.
The Eastern Oregon defense, though backed up the Orediggers to their own 3-yard line. A rushed punt from the back of the end zone gave Eastern the ball at the Tech 34, and the Mountaineers cashed in on the short-field opportunity when Jason Simonis, who replaced Tyler Pine in the fourth quarter, found Sean Hurlbut for a 10-yard TD pass.
The extra point failed, leaving Eastern Oregon down 23-19.
The Orediggers had a chance to ice the game with a any kind of a drive after Craig returned the ensuing kickoff 58 yards, but a sack by Michael Goins got a sack, strip and fumble recovery to give the Mountaineers the ball on their own 43.
The Mountaineers converted a pair of third-down conversions on the 10-play, game-winning drive. The second one came when Simonis hit a wide-open Starr in the back of the end zone for the 12-yard TD on third and 8.
“I think they wanted to go with a hotter hand and operated really fast,” Morrell said of the quarterback change. “Obviously he made some plays.”
The final 5 minutes of the game spoiled what was otherwise a dominant performance by the Tech defense.
Mike Touzinsky, who made several big plays, recorded a sack. Devon Jones and Mike Waldman combined for another sack.
Nathan Kobold joined Touzinsky with eight solo tackles, while Waldman recorded seven. David Meis was in on eight total tackles in his debut.
“Our defense was really good pressure-wise for most of the game,” Morrell said. “But at the end they made some big plays, and that’s what it really came down to.”
Nate Thompson and Andre Frank recovered fumbles.
Frank’s came after Tech punted on its first possession. It game the Orediggers the ball at the Eastern 18.
The Orediggers moved the ball to the 1-yard line.
Tech, though, failed on three tries from a yard-out and turned the ball over on downs.
Unfortunately for the Orediggers, it was far from their last turnover of the night.
Montana Tech is back in action next Saturday when they play host to Carroll College.
Eastern Oregon 0 6 7 13 — 26
Montana Tech 0 7 2 14 — 23
EOU — Chris McGinnis-Parker 17 run (kick failed), 12:59
MT — James Robert 10 pass from Nick Baker (Matt Berg kick), 3:27
MT — Safety EOU ball snapped through end zone, 8:35
EOU — Howard McDonald 1 run (Anthony Lyngar kick), 5:24
MT — Pat Hansen 3 run (Berg kick), 13:27
MT — Hansen 21 run (Berg kick), 10:17
EOU — Sean Hurlbut 10 pass from Jason Simonis (kick failed), 4:38
EOU — Kedrick Starr 12 pass from Simonis (Matt Gayman kick), 39.9
First Downs 20 23
Rushes-Yards 44-135 32-121
Passing Yards 186 394
Comp-Att-Int 24-37-0 37-54-3
Total Offense 239 489
Punt-Avg. 10-37 6-37
Fumbles-Lost 5-2 2-2
Penalties-Yards 7-50 6-31
RUSHING — EOU, McGinnis-Parker 16-65, Hurlbut 19-65, Tyler Pine 5-3, Allain Songco 1-1, Howard McDonald 3-1. Tech, Hansen 20-112, Baker 7-(-15), Brian Schwarzkoph 1-5, Kevin Moss 2-16, Taylor Rowe 2-2.
PASSING — EOU, Pine 13-22-0-93, Simonis 11-15-0-93. Tech, Baker 37-52-3-394, Team 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING — EOU, Jace Billingsley 7-60, Justin Reynolds 4-38, Kedrick Starr 5-33, Sean Hurlbut 4-21, Joseph Johnson 1-3, McGinnis-Parker 1-(-2), Andrew Woody 2-33. Tech, Kevin Moss 9-151, Zack Kinney 8-103, Trent Thomas 7-97, Branxton Lucero 3-30, Roberts 1-10, Hansen 9-3.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — MT, Matt Berg 2 (32, 35).