BUTTE — Montana Tech is the last football team standing in the state of Montana, and much of that credit goes to a stingy Digger defense.
Tech stymied a driving Dickinson State team in the final minute of last Saturday’s playoff game to advance to the NAIA Football Championship Series quarterfinals. The Diggers travel to Georgia on Friday for their toughest defensive challenge of the season — a date with undefeated Reinhardt University, who has the top-ranked offense in the country.
“They have a ton of athletes and they’re a great football team,” explained Tech defensive back Gunnar Kayser. “We’re going to have to be the best that we can be in order to have the best chance of getting a win.”
The Diggers may have to play better than their best. The Eagles of Reinhardt enter this weekend averaging just under 56 points and almost 570 yards per game.
“They’ve got tremendous team speed and they wear you down,” added head coach Chuck Morrell. “They play at a really high tempo and they line up and you’re just one missed tackle away from them breaking a big play.”
Not only do the Eagles possess elite-level talent, but they utilize their tools within an outdated and unusual offensive scheme, according to Morrell.
“They run the Wing-T very efficiently,” Morrell said. “It’s something that, schematically, you don’t see much anymore.”
The Wing caters to Reinhardt’s run-first mentality, and the Eagles have all but perfected it. The nation’s top rushing attack amasses almost 400 yards a game on the ground and has yielded 14 players who have carried the ball at least 15 times this year. But Tech’s defense is among the toughest in the nation and the Diggers are looking forward to their biggest test to date.
“To get where you want to be,” said Tech linebacker Drew Schleeman, “you have to beat everybody and you have to see everybody. We’re really excited about that and we’re gonna take the challenge.”
Last week’s performance against Dickinson State was as close as they come, but a clutch, crunch-time performance from the defense has boosted the team’s confidence heading into Saturday.
“If it comes down to the wire,” Kayser said, “(it helps) having that confidence that, ‘Hey, we’ve done it before, we can do it again.'”