CollegeFrontier Conference


NAIA playoffs: Montana Tech suffers first-round loss to Dickinson State, 35-28

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Posted at 4:54 PM, Nov 18, 2023

BUTTE — Braden Zuroff rushed for 227 yards and three touchdowns Saturday to lead Dickinson State (N.D.) to a 35-28 victory over homestanding Montana Tech in the first round of the NAIA football playoffs.

The 210-pound Zuroff scored his third touchdown of the day from 3 yards out with 8:35 remaining to break a tie score and give the Blue Hawks the winning points in what was a back-and-forth affair. DSU improved to 10-1 while Montana Tech finished its season with a 7-4 mark.

After Zuroff’s third touchdown, the Orediggers moved the ball to the Dickinson State 32 with 5:37 remaining. But quarterback Blake Thelen was intercepted by Joey DeMarco to snuff out the drive, and the Blue Hawks were able to bleed the clock.

Landers Smith gave Tech an early 7-0 lead with a 7-yard touchdown run, but Zuroff tied the game for DSU with a 1-yard TD plunge. Thelen connected with Mark Estes for a 73-yard touchdown pass, putting the Orediggers back in front 14-7 later in the first, but Blue Hawks quarterback Will Madler found Noah Sickler for a 51-yard scoring pass early in the second to tie it again.

Zuroff then gave DSU a 21-14 lead with a 2-yard TD run, though Thelen hit Wyatt Alexander with a 20-yard scoring pass to make it 21-21 just before halftime.

Madler threw his second touchdown of the day late in the third quarter, a 46-yarder to Cameron Shepard as the Blue Hawks jumped in front 28-21, but Smith scored his second rushing TD for the Orediggers early in the fourth, a 3-yarder, to knot the score again.

That set up Zuroff’s final touchdown, giving Dickinson State the points it needed to ultimately prevail.

Thelen led Montana Tech with 359 passing yards and two touchdowns but was intercepted three times. Estes had 133 receiving yards while Alexander had 131. Smith carried 22 times for 71 yards.

Madler threw for 244 yards and two TDs for Dickinson State. Zuroff averaged 7.6 yards on 30 carries.

The Blue Hawks, coached by Baker native Pete Stanton, have 54 players from the Treasure State in their program.