Unbeaten ‘Yotes come from behind to edge ‘Diggers

CALDWELL, Idaho – Ninth-ranked College of Idaho got up off the canvas late in its bout and scored a 27-24 victory over Montana Tech Saturday in a Frontier Conference college football duel of NAIA titans.

A loud crowd at Simplot Stadium exhorted the unbeaten Coyotes – or, ‘Yotes – to battle back from a 14-0 halftime deficit and snuff Montana Tech’s upset plans. Hunter Gilbert’s 23-yard dash up the middle on a draw play with only 17 seconds left in the game cemented the come-from-behind win.

It was an entertaining matchup of two Top 20 teams. The Orediggers brought a No. 19 ranking into the fray and gave College of Idaho all it wanted on the field.

“Our guys played their butts off,” Montana Tech head coach Kyle Samson told buttesports.com in a phone call after the game. “I’m really proud of these guys, though it was not the outcome we wanted. I’m especially proud of the efforts (near the end of the game).”


The Orediggers scored first on a 2-yard leap over the goal line by Blake Counts with 8 minutes, 15 seconds left in the first quarter. Counts’ TD finished off 65-yard drive with Counts carries and pass plays from quarterback Blake Thelen to Trevor Hoffman.

Thelen was the QB for the third straight week in place of injured Jet Campbell. Thelen completed 15 of 32 attempts against College of Idaho for 206 yards.

Defenses dominated the rest of the half and helped set up the second touchdown. Montana Tech punter Andrew Almos’ 36-yard was muffed by ‘Yote returnman Dorian Hardin and Jadyn Downs recovered the fumble for the Orediggers at the College of Idaho 42-yard line.

Thelen directed a Montana Tech drive to inside the ‘Yote 10-yard line, then floated a 6-yard scoring pass to Hoffman in the back left corner of the end zone. Ryan Lowry’s second extra-point kick gave the Orediggers their 14-0 lead with 20 seconds left in the half.

“Our defense dominated the first half,” Samson agreed.

College of Idaho made the necessary adjustments at intermission.

The ‘Yotes received the second-half kickoff and set up a 75-yard drive. The 12-play journey ended with Jon Schofield diving into the end zone from a yard out. The march took 7 minutes, 3 seconds of the clock. The point-after kick by Spencer Fiske followed and College of Idaho was on the scoreboard, trailing Montana Tech 14-7.

Just before the end of the third period, the Coyotes tied the score. Schofield again tallied on a 1-yard carry, capping a 52-yard drive buoyed by passes from QB Andy Peters, a Boise State dropdown transfer, to Brock Richardson of 10 and 15 yards for first downs.

The teams entered the fourth quarter tied 14-all.

The Orediggers answered after 10 minutes of grueling, stifling tug-of-war type field-position grinds between the teams. Thelen took his team on a 73-yard drive and ended it with a 3-yard touchdown tote by Counts. A 15-yard gain by Counts and a 14-yard pass to Wyatt Alexander from Thelen were big plays in the go-ahead drive. Lowry kicked the extra point and Montana Tech led 21-14 with 4:30 left on the clock.

However, the ‘Yotes exploded back quickly. College of Idaho started its next possession on its own 25-yard line and, on first down, Peters found Richardson open behind the Orediggers’ secondary for a 75-yard touchdown pass. Fiske kicked the PAT for a 21-all tie with 4:18 to go in the game.

Montana Tech worked its next possession into a go-ahead series as time wound down. The drive stalled at the Coyotes’ 6-yard line, but Lowry kicked a 24-yard field goal and the Orediggers owned a 24-21 edge with only 1:40 remaining.

It proved to be too much time. The ‘Yotes drove downfield and connected for a big play when Peters hooked up with Schofield on a 35-yard gainer to Montana Tech’s 25-yard line. Three plays later, on third-and-seven, with the Orediggers looking like they were expecting a pass play, Peters stepped back like he was going to throw. Gilbert hunched like he was going to pass block. Instead, Peters stuffed a handoff into Gilbert’s stomach and the running back blasted up the middle for what turned out to be the winning touchdown. The extra-point kick missed wide left.

Montana Tech had three snaps left in the waning seconds, starting from its own 36-yard line. All three passes, however, fell incomplete.

“We responded really well,” Samson said about his team going back ahead twice after College of Idaho tied the score. “We just came up one play short at the end. The guys will come back and compete.

“It was against No. 9 on the road and can’t emphasize enough the valiant effort by our guys to play as well as they did on the road.”

The win pushed the ‘Yotes’ record to 6-0 while the Orediggers are now 4-2.

“It was a great game and they’re a good football team,” Samson said. “Now, we get a week off and, hopefully, get guys healthy and get better. We’re not out of the (conference) race by any means.”

Montana Tech gained 22 first downs, one more than the Coyotes. Total offense was 371 yards to 350 in College of Idaho’s favor. The Orediggers passed for 231 yards, the ‘Yotes for 187. Rushing yards favored the Coyotes 184 yards to 119.

Counts led the Montana Tech ground game with 108 yards on 25 carries. Hoffman caught five passes for 75 yards. Seven Orediggers caught passes. Wyatt Alexander had four of the 16 receptions.

Cornerback Naoki Harmer led the Montana Tech defense with eight tackles and linebackers Blake Allred and Cole Wyant had seven and six. Keyshawn James-Newby had a sack, and Wyant shared one with Tyler Little. Brendan Kinnee broke up two pass plays.

Peters passed 22 times and completed 11 throws for 187 yards. Gilbert was C of I’s leading rusher with 101 yards on 16 carries. Richardson led the receivers with six catches for 123 yards.

Defensively, for the ‘Yotes, Jacob Batubenga and Dylan Martinez collected nine tackles apiece and Keagan McCoy had seven. Six of Batubenga’s were solo stops. McCoy and Hunter Eborn each notched a sack, and Martinez shared one with Alex Ojukwu.

The league takes next weekend off from football action. The Orediggers will return to play on October 22 with a home game against Southern Oregon. College of Idaho will travel to Dillon on October 22 to play Montana Western.

— compiled by Bruce Sayler for buttesports.com