BUTTE - Montana Tech has one big chance to turn the end of its season around, and it just happens to come against its biggest rival.
The Orediggers (4-5 overall, 4-4 Frontier Conference) must win against second-ranked Carroll College (8-0, 8-0) when the two teams meet in Butte today at noon if they want the possibility of a winning season and a second-place finish in the conference kept alive.
The Orediggers have spiraled downward recently, losing their last three conference games. As far as the Saints are concerned, that doesn't change the importance of this rivalry.
"Nothing's different," said Saints head coach Mike Van Diest, whose squad clinched the conference title outright last weekend. "They want to have a winning season, they want to finish second in conference and they have an opportunity to do that."
It's much easier said than done.
Even with a number of injuries to some star offensive players - tight end Bubba Bartlett, running backs Chance Demarais and Jeff Deal, receiver and Wildcat operator Dakota Stonehouse in that list - the Saints' offense continued to roll with a 42-3 win over the University of Montana-Western last week.
The big key was a dominant performance from the offensive line that allowed a hurting John Camino to rush for 104 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries, and converted wide receiver Ryan Egan to get 94 yards and two touchdowns on a team-high 17 carries.
"It's nice that we have a game under our belt with all those (fill-in) guys," Van Diest said. "Cole Coba did a great job (at tight end). I think he had some nerves early on but (assistant coach) Marshall McEwen did a great job settling him down at halftime."
Senior quarterback Gary Wagner, meanwhile, was 13 for 15 for 200 yards and two touchdowns, with just one interception. He's third in the nation in passing efficiency with a 179.8 rating. He's completed 73 of his 98 attempts (74.5 percent) for 130.9 yards per game, targeting Bartlett and receivers Matt Ritter and Corey Peterson the most.
"The first thing you want to do with Carroll is stop the run," said ‘Diggers head coach Bob Green. "If they run the football on us, they'll win."
That running ability will put tremendous pressure on Tech's defense, which allowed 287 yards rushing in a 31-13 loss to Carroll in the first half of the season. Camino, picked up 103 yards and two TDs in that contest.
The ‘Diggers have been missing one of the top defenders in Stephen Burns since the midway point of the season, but have been powered by defensive end Paul Klaboe's 5.5 sacks and Connor O'Neill's team-high 51 tackles.
Tech also leads the conference in interceptions with 15, thanks to four apiece by Jordan Heringer and Jake Stagnoli.
Offensively, Tech's biggest advantage could come in the feet of quarterback Matt Komac. The Helena High graduate rushed for a team-high 34 yards (mostly coming in the first half) last time against the Saints, who had recent struggles containing QBs.
The Saints gave up 127 yards and a TD to Rocky's Kasey Peters before giving up 107 yards and a TD to Chris Ware two weeks ago.
"Komac is bigger and stronger than both of those guys," Van Diest said.
Green knows the potential his dual-threat quarterback, who is averaging 212 yards through the air on 61 percent passing, can have.
"I obviously hope we can get Matt sprung for some big yards. We did in the first half against them last time," the coach said. "Matt's most effective when he's able to run the football."
He's complemented out of the backfield by Drew Savage, who has taken over main starting duties with the injury of running back Skyler Knuchel. Savage had 118 yards and three TDs last week and also has some of the team's best hands for receiving.
Shayne Shaules and J.T. McIntyre lead the team in catches, with 3.7 and 3.4 per game, respectively. They both also average over 50 yards receiving per game.
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