BUTTE — The No. 17 Montana Tech football team isn’t about to quit on its season.
Losing to Rocky Mountain College on a warm (though, looking out the window, it’s hard to imagine it was in the mid-60s last week) Saturday afternoon hurt the Orediggers' chances at making the NAIA playoffs.
They’re now on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs go, and they’re well aware the margin for error is razor thin. The team isn’t trying to dwell on that, however, and the focus this week is completely on the College of Idaho.
“Our culture is of a bunch of blue collar, tough young men,” ‘Digger head coach Chuck Morrell said. “There’s going to be challenges, and the test of your character is how you respond out of it.
“College of Idaho will be a tough road game, and we have to take it one game at time.”
The mentality of taking things one snap, one drive, one game at time has been something everyone on the Tech team has preached throughout the year.
Saturday’s game in Caldwell will be a test of this philosophy. Tech hasn’t played at COI since 2014, which means a lot of the players on the team haven’t been there before.
It will also be the longest road trip the team has gone on this season — about 450 miles each way — though they say they’re looking forward to the opportunity.
“We enjoy going on the road. It gives you some time to spend together with your brothers, with your family and you get to know each other a little bit better,” Morrell said. “You get to set other pieces aside for a moment. I just really enjoy getting on the road with our guys and you can really see the chemistry and the bond build when we spend some extra time together.”
Sitting at 6-2 on the year, the playoffs certainly aren’t out of the question for the Orediggers. There will be 16 total berths into the NAIA playoffs up for grabs and with two games left, they know what’s at stake. If they’re able to beat the Yotes and then upset No. 7 Southern Oregon in the final game of the season, Tech’s resume certainly won’t be bad. They’ll need teams in front of them to lose, but currently the ‘Diggers are the highest ranked two-loss team.
Worrying about rankings is something of a slippery slope, but they’re not naïve to the process.
“Rankings, we don’t talk about it a bunch, but there’s a point where you have to,” linebacker Connor Wines said. “These two games are so big, we have to win them both, but there’s not two games until there’s the game against College of Idaho. We just have to get the job done down there.”
While Montana Tech will head west with the best offense, yardage-wise, in the conference, the Yotes are not slouch. Quarterback Darius Peterson has thrown for 1646 yards and rushed for another 919. He’s totaled 16 touchdowns and will be an incredibly dangerous threat for the Orediggers to contain.
The silver lining for Tech? He’s thrown 12 interceptions this year and there could be a chance to win the turnover battle.
That’s still not saying he’ll be easy to slow down.
“He’s the best offensive player possibly in the league in terms of being an all-around athlete,” Morrell said of Peterson. “They’re super dynamic as a team and present some challenges in the run game with just a completely different style.”
Injuries have started to take a toll on the team as well and cornerback Andre Brown played just one snap in the second half of Tech’s loss against Rocky.
There’s no word on his status, but it’s been a theme for the team this season. Morrell, however, isn’t using injuries as an excuse and is confident in his squad as they head to Idaho.
“Everybody’s banged up, but that’s everybody in America,” Morrell said. “Anytime we got guys that are banged up, knocked up, it’s the next guy. The next guy just has to get ready and play for us.”