BUTTE – The words weren’t coming easy from Montana Tech head coach Chuck Morrell's mouth.
His throat tight, he lauded the effort of his team, but especially the 14 seniors after the Orediggers’ 24-10 loss to Southern Oregon, Saturday afternoon at Alumni Coliseum. It’s a class that's won two Frontier Conference titles and helped him turn the program around and they've certainly meant a lot to him.
“It’s just an incredible group of men,” Morrell said with a pause. “It’s a tough day. My coaching buddies always give me a hard time about being Dick Vermeil. You get so invested in the kids' lives and you care about them so much.
“You want the wins for your program, but really you want it for them.”
They weren’t, however, able to get their seventh victory of the year and upset the undefeated, fifth-ranked Raiders.
SOU running back Rey Vega found a hole on third-and-3 with a little over 3 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, racing 81 yards for the final score of the game to put the nail in proverbial coffin for the Orediggers. It turned a one-possession game into a 14-point deficit which was a death sentence for the struggling Tech offense.
“It was a big play that got us a chance to get a little separation,” SOU first-year head coach Charlie Hall said. “Sometimes in a game like this, when you’re playing a good defense, you just want to get that separation score. It was hard to get that.”
Nothing came easy for either offense.
Senior Oredigger quarterback Quinn McQueary, who was obviously still battling an injury, did not have nearly the same zip on his throws. He finished 29-of-63 for 302 yards and two interceptions.
Tech was also missing three starting offensive linemen – Trevor Hopf, Nate Younk and Jack Hape – as well as star running back Jed Fike.
“Three new offensive linemen had to step in there and I’m proud of those guys,” Morrell said. “I think they had a solid day. They got put in a tough situation, but I’m not going to take away anything from our effort out there (Saturday).”
Sophomore running back Braden Fiesthamel got the start for Tech, but was pulled from the game after fumbling on his second carry. Redshirt freshman Braxton Porter (14 carries, 47 yards) and McQueary (14 carries, 35 yards) did nearly all the work on the ground for Tech.
The 'Diggers finished with 96 yards on 31 carries and struggled to convert in the red zone.
Tech managed just seven points after driving inside the SOU 10-yard line five times, and were stopped on fourth down four times.
“We were grinding, man,” senior wide receiver Sean Sullivan said. “We were close. A couple plays didn’t go our way. They were tough and we didn’t execute in the red zone like we’ve been able to.”
Sullivan finished with six catches for 63 yards and also nearly threw a touchdown on a reverse-turned-pass play. Fellow receiver Dion Williams ended with 10 catches for 126 yards to lead Tech. Williams, a junior, finishes with 77 catches for the year, a new school record.
“We talked about how we’re never gonna have the biggest or fastest guys at Montana Tech,” Morrell said. “But we’re gonna be smart and play as hard as we can every time we step on the field.
“Our guys did that.”
The ‘Diggers just weren’t able to come up with the plays when they needed them most.
Perhaps the biggest was early in the second half. Tech was backed up deep in its own territory and had to punt. Derrick Holt’s block was kicked, the ball went out the back of the end zone, and the Raiders got a safety. On the ensuing possession SOU scored a 39-yard touchdown, caught by Max Boudreaux from Tanner Trosin and suddenly it led 18-3.
Trosin went just 17-of-42 and looked out of rhythm most of the day. Boudreaux, however, was a huge boon and his two long touchdown catches gave the Raiders a huge boost. He’d end with eight catches for 179 yards – no one else on his team had more than two catches.
Holding the explosive SOU offense to just 24 points – they’d come in scoring 36.9 a game – was huge for the Orediggers. Tech’s defense forced seven punts, had two interceptions, broke up eight passes and sacked Trosin twice.
It just wasn’t enough.
“We put it on our backs, the coaches put it on our back, I had guys that wanted to fight with me,” said senior defensive lineman Tyler Saunders, who had 11 tackles. “We came up a little short, but I know as a team and as a defense we can keep our head held high today.”