First Half: Paul Panisko Play by Play, Ron Hasquet Color.
Second Half; Paul Panisko Play by Play, Ron Hasquet Color.
Montana Tech was forced to become a different kind of animal on Saturday. Because of a need, the Orediggers switched to the wildcat.
Injuries to quarterbacks Quinn McQueary last week and Dawson Rearden Saturday emptied the depth chart and forced head coach Chuck Morrell to pull the cat out of his bag at halftime. A 29-21 Frontier Conference college football win was then gained over the College of Idaho on the Bob Green Field.
The dramatic turn came as the Orediggers celebrated Homecoming.
Clay Cavender scored a late touchdown on a wildcat play and Montana Tech’s defense made three crucial stops in the last quarter.
Cavender, a wide receiver, shared the duties with running back Nolan Saraceni and tight end Andrew Loudenback after the first-half injury to Rearden.
The win took 21st-ranked Montana Tech to 2-1 for the season and sent the 1-4 Coyotes to their fourth-straight loss. The Orediggers are 2-1 in conference play, College of Idaho is 1-3.
“Going into the week we knew Quinn wasn’t going to play and we were getting thin at the quarterback situation,” Morrell said. “We needed something for positive yards.”
The switch was made easier by Saraceni’s hard, fast running behind an inspired offensive line that gained the speedster 179 yards and game Most Valuable Player honors. Cavender had high school experience at quarterback, as a zone-read attack engineer, Morrell said, and Loudenback had been a QB for the Orediggers until his change to tight end.
Their different skills and the different plays helped keep the Coyotes off balance.
Cavender scored what became the winning TD on a 5-yard keeper with 4 minutes, 4 seconds left in the game. Matt Berg kicked the extra point and Montana Tech had its 29-21 lead. Berg’s 29-yard field goal about 8 minutes earlier gave the Orediggers a 22-21 edge after College of Idaho had gone ahead 21-19 on a 5-yard pass to Marcus Lenhardt from Teejay Gordon with about 3 minutes left in the third quarter.
Montana Tech’s other touchdowns were Rearden passes of 37 yards to Kolby Kansala and 28 yards to Sean Sullivan. Berg also kicked a 22-yard field goal. The Orediggers gained a safety when a Coyotes’ center snap was high and eventually kicked through their end zone by punter Kevin McLemore.
A.J. Martin carried for College of Idaho’s first two touchdowns on 1-yard plays.
“We knew we were working it in in practice,” Cavender said of the wildcat, direct-snap-to-a-back offensive set. “So, it wasn’t too much of a surprise to (get the call) today. Our offensive line made it easier for me.”
The Orediggers held a 17-14 halftime lead after Berg’s first field goal, as the second period expired. The home defense gave up a TD in the second half, but was staunch when the pressure heated. Linebackers Drew Schleeman and David Meis came up with big fourth-down stops and Reid Siderius sealed the victory by intercepting Gordon at the Montana Tech 11-yard line with little more than 2 ½ minutes left in the game.
“I saw the opportunity and took it, like the coaches said to,” Meis said about his stop that caused the Coyotes to turn the ball over on downs on their second-to-last possession. “I got a big hit and it set the offense up to keep up a long drive. It’s a team game. If the offense is struggling, the defense and special teams have to pick it up.
“Our offense had some struggles with the injured quarterbacks, so we had to be a team. Every win is a big win in the Frontier conference.”
The Orediggers contained the vaunted College of Idaho running game pretty well and kept the Yotes from hurting them deep with any big plays. Meis said it was the plan to set some borders for the ground game and certainly not let the visitors shock through the air.
“Our coaches schemed them up pretty well to contain the run game,” he said.
Montana Tech scored first with the Rearden pass to a leaping Kansala over the secondary. A try for two points on the conversion failed.
College of Idaho answered on the next series. Gordon directed traffic by mixing handoffs and passes as the Coyotes marched from their own 28-yard line. A pass to tight end Cole Maupin took them to the Oredigger 1, from where Martin burrowed into the end zone. Hartvig Bondo kicked the extra point and the Yotes had an early lead.
The teams traded possessions before Montana Tech regained the lead on a 27-yard pass Rearden tossed into the the end zone and to Sullivan, who curled from out of the corner to make the grab. Rearden connected with Alec Bray for the successful two-point conversion and a 14-7 lead.
The Orediggers forced the Coyotes to punt away their next series, but the Yotes took the ball back on a Hunter Temple interception of Rearden in Montana Tech territory. College of Idaho set up shop at the 15-yard line. Two running plays netted 14 yards and Maerin sneaked in for the TD,
Rearden was hurt on the next possession, and left the game holding his hand to his collarbone or shoulder. Morrell declined to speculate on the nature of the injury, saying he would wait for the medical evaluation.
“We were in such an offensive rhythm when Dawson went down,” Morrell lamented.
Loudenback directed Montana Tech to position for Berg’s 22-yard field goal just before the half.
Morrell said the coaching staff had realized it could be to the third-string QB before the end of the game.
“We spent a lot of time this week game-planning,” he said. “This way (in the wildcat) we’re giving the ball to our best player (Saraceni) and Clay came to us as a zone-read quarterback (from Redding, California), though he’s now a great receiver.
“I’m really proud of Andrew. He’s fully committed to tight end, but he was willing to help us (with some quarterback snaps), even though he’s put on 20 pounds (to play on the line).”
The Orediggers forced the Coyotes into their biggest mistake early in the third quarter when the snap sailed over McLemore’s head. He had to outstep a host of touchdown-minded Orediggers in the end zone to boot it out the back, drawing a penalty for the illegality, but also yielding the two points to Montana Tech on the safety.
It also gave the Orediggers the ball on a free kick as their lead had grown to 19-14.
However, they had to punt and the Coyotes controlled the ensuing possession for a touchdown drive that gave them a 21-19 lead with 4:22 left in the third quarter. The scoring play was a 5-yard pass, Gordon to Lenhardt.
Berg’s 29-yard field goal return the lead to Montana Tech, 22-21, at 12:51 on the fourth quarter. College of Idaho lost its next possession on Schleeman’s jarring stop and the teams traded sereis and punts. The wildcat crew went to work and moved the ball 35 yards after a short College of Idaho punt. Cavender slashed into the end zone on a keeper for the final TD.
“I was reading the defensive end and he flew down, so I just kept it,” he said, indicating he had the option to pitch.
Siderius’ pick ended the Yotes’ next series and the wildcatters ran out the clock.
Morrell agreed that the Montana Tech defense was mighty in the second half while the offense adjusted to compensating for injuries, which also affected the fullback, tackle and tight end positions because of missing men.
“David Meis is an All-American for a reason,” the coach said. “And Drew Schleeman stepped up big with a hit on fourth down.”
Saraceni gained his 179 yards on 31 carries. Rearden completed 10 of 16 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Cavender led receivers with four catches for 40 yards. Tyler Gavlak led the team in tackles with nine.
Zach Garzoli was College of Idaho’s leading rusher with 78 yards on 12 carries. Gordon threw for 173 yards going 16-for-32. Kenhardt had nine receptions for 111 yards. Troy Carr was in on 13 tackles and Nate Moore was in on 11 lead the Yotes’ defense.
The Frontier Conference takes next weekend off from playing football. The Orediggers will return to the field on Oct. 10 at Rocky Mountain in Billings. The Coyotes will play at Montana State-Northern on the same day.