BUTTE — After an Oct. 21 loss at Rocky Mountain College, the Montana Tech football team's playoff hopes were suddenly on thin ice.
The Orediggers had just dropped consecutive Frontier Conference games, a serious blow to their postseason resume. They knew going forward that the final three games were must-win contests if they wanted a shot at earning an at-large bid.
Accomplishing that was going to start with the right mindset and not allowing the letdown of two straight losses carry over into the final stretch of the regular season.
"Stay positive and stay motivated," said redshirt junior running back Landers Smith. "Every team hits a little bump in the road and that's OK. We came back stronger after (the loss at Rocky)."
The Orediggers did that, winning their final three games including last Saturday's de facto playoff game at No. 16 Carroll College. The unofficial consensus was that the winner of that contest might claim a second at-large bid out of the Frontier.
"There was mixed emotions of like can't wait to get started, but just so thankful that the committee didn't look us over," said junior defensive back Angel Sanchez III.
Of course, that wasn't guaranteed. But Tech still played like its playoff life was on the line, rallying past the Saints 23-14 to set up a high-drama NAIA Football Championship Selection show watch party for the Orediggers.
After watching outright Frontier Conference champion Montana Western and College of Idaho be awarded the No. 8 and No. 11 seeds, respectively — as well as first-round byes — Tech waited to see if it would be one of the eight teams to play a first-round game.
The video below shows the Orediggers' reaction to the answer they got.
The Orediggers (7-3 overall, 6-2 conference) didn't just get an at-large bid. They'll be hosting a first-round game against Dickinson State (9-1, 8-0) at Bob Green Field at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Blue Hawks have won the North Star Athletic Association title the past nine straight seasons, and their lone loss this season was a non-conference 20-19 defeat against Rocky Mountain College in the season opener.
For Tech, this will be its first playoff game since 2016 when Chuck Morrell — who is now the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Washington — was the Orediggers head coach. That 2016 team had just won its second straight Frontier title and also hosted the Blue Hawks in the first round.
Despite the two conference losses this season, Tech was still able to present a fairly robust application to the playoff selection committee that included a 6-2 conference record, a win over NCAA Division II Central Washington, a victory over a top 10 College of Idaho team, and obviously the pivotal win over Carroll in the regular-season finale.
For Tech head coach Kyle Samson, this upcoming clash with DSU will be his first postseason game as the Orediggers head coach. And it was set up by his team not wavering when their backs were against a wall.
"It was three straight playoff games where we knew we couldn't falter," said Samson. "Just so proud of our guys and our staff for being able to go out the last three weeks and get the job done. We've earned the right to get an extra week together."