BUTTE — Montana Tech learned its lesson.
The Orediggers let a 14-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter of last season’s opener against Carroll College, and vowed to not let that happen again.
Montana Tech outscored Carroll by a 17-point margin in the second half and pulled away to a 45-28 win over their rivals from the north Thursday night at Alumni Coliseum. The contest was the season opener for both schools, but this time the two-time defending Frontier Conference champions took care of business.
Running back Jed Fike’s conversion to the Frontier got off to a bit of a slow start but he made up for it with a strong second half. The transfer from Dickinson State finished the game with a pair of rushing touchdowns as well as a touchdown reception that came in a wild second quarter.
The product of Jefferson and Whitehall high schools finished with 116 yards on the ground.
“Teams thought we lost a step after losing Nolan (Saraceni) but we have depth,” defensive back Andre Brown said. “Jed came in and did what we was supposed to do.”
The first half of the game was about as entertaining as one would expect for this chapter of the storied rivalry. Carroll College, with a new-look offense led by quarterback Tanner Gustavsen, drew first blood when he hit Ryan Walsh with an 18-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of the first quarter.
The teams took turns slugging it out from that point, with each scoring against the other.
The Orediggers responded to the Saints’ first touchdown with a two-play drive that tied the score. McQueary connected with receiver Chris Lachance, who had a step on his defender and was streaking down the left sideline. Lachance caught the pass in full stride and raced into the end zone for a 73-yard touchdown pass.
The Orediggers took a 14-7 lead on their next drive, courtesy of Fike’s first one-yard run of the contest, only to have Dawson tie the score when he lined up in the shotgun and turned the play into a 15-yard touchdown run.
The teams exchanged another pair of touchdowns and went into halftime tied at 21.
Montana Tech came out in the third quarter looking like the team that Oredigger fans were used to seeing the past two seasons.
“I’ll give Carroll some credit; they formationed us a bit on defense, got us with a couple new plays,” Montana Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “In the second half we let our training take over.
“We came into this game well-conditioned. Our offense is a juggernaut; once they get rolling, they’re hard to hang with. Our guys showed mental toughness and resolve going into the second half.”
The defense did its part by shutting down the Saints’ passing game. Gustavsen threw for 144 yards in the first half but completed just five passes in the second half for 28 yards.
Carroll’s only scoring drive in the second half came as a gift when the Orediggers fumbled the ball away on a punt. The Saints went from their 13 to the Tech 24 on the play and scored their final touchdown of the game on a five-yard run by Gustavsen.
The Orediggers, meanwhile, got second-half touchdown runs from Fike and McQueary, a touchdown catch from Dion Williams (9 catches, 70 yards) and a 29-yard field goal from Derrick Holt, who was also 5 for 5 on PATs.
““It’s tribute to our offensive line,” Fike said. “Our pace and type of play isn’t going to wear them out in the first quarter, it’s going to wear us them out in the third and fourth quarter. That’s what you saw.”