BUTTE — Montana Tech's first win of the season -- and head coach Kyle Samson's first victory as head coach of the Orediggers -- hinged on stopping a two-point conversion play against Rocky Mountain College last Saturday.
Tech had bolted to a 31-7 lead early in the third quarter to seemingly put the game away before Battlin' Bears quarterback Nathan Dick began orchestrating a comeback. He got Rocky within 2 points on a 14-yard touchdown pass to Joseph Dwyer with four seconds remaining and then ran the ball himself on the ensuing conversion for a quarterback keeper.
With the game, and perhaps the overall trajectory of Tech's 2021 season, hanging in the balance, the Oredigger defense stood tall, stymieing the conversion attempt and preserving a 31-29 win.
"I mean that was absolutely huge for us," said Teddy Croft, a senior safety. "They score that they're going to overtime probably. That was a must-have play. We needed that stop and it was just a great experience."
"From the beginning of that game, we felt different, things were going our way and we were playing how we know we can," said quarterback Jet Campbell, who had an interception-free game and totaled three touchdowns. "It felt good to right the ship."
And for Samson, he finally claimed his first win as a college football coach, 606 days after he was hired.
"Just really proud of our kids and our staff," Samson said. "A great win for us down there against a really good football team in Billings. Definitely looking to build some confidence off of that.
"But we can't get complacent. We got a great team coming in on Saturday and we gotta be ready to go."
Now siting at 1-2, Tech will look to improve to .500 on Saturday when the Orediggers welcome No. 12 Montana Western on Saturday in what will be Tech's homecoming and first home game in nearly a month. The 3-1 Bulldogs, whose lone loss of the season was to Eastern Oregon, are coming off a 42-28 win over MSU-Northern.
The Orediggers and Bulldogs haven't squared off since Oct. 12, 2019, also at Bob Green Field. Under then-head coach Chuck Morrell, now an assistant coach at Fresno State, the Orediggers pulled away for a 35-12 victory.
A lot has changed since that cool autumn evening, but Tech-Western still remains one of the best rivalries in the Frontier Conference.
"We got a great program, they've got a great program and it's been a rivalry for a long time," Samson said. "Should be a great game, but every week is a battle in this conference."
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.