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No. 19 Montana Tech braces for pivotal road clash with No. 9 College of Idaho

Posted at 4:39 PM, Oct 06, 2022

BUTTE — There's no need to remind Kaleb Winterburn what's at stake on Saturday for No. 19 Montana Tech's critical road game against No. 9 College of Idaho.

"It feels like a playoff game in a way," said the redshirt junior running back and Helena product at Tech's Wednesday practice. "Or a huge rivalry game in a sense. But we just know we have to come out and win this game."

The outcome of Tech (4-1) vs. undefeated COI (5-0) will set the stage for the final four-game charge toward the Frontier Conference title.

If the Yotes win, they'll be in full control of their destiny, two games ahead of the Orediggers and at least one game ahead of No. 17 Rocky Mountain College (4-1) which is heavily favored to win it's Saturday home game against winless Eastern Oregon.

If the Orediggers can deliver the upset it would pull Tech into a 5-1 tie with the Yotes — with Tech's victory over C of I putting the Orediggers atop the standings — and setup a more frenetic final half of the season as teams race toward the conference crown.

Bottom line, whoever prevails on Saturday afternoon in Caldwell will have a clear path toward the league title.

"I don't think there'll be anything I have to say to get them fired up," said Tech head coach Kyle Samson. "They know it's a big challenge. This is why you play, this is why you work so hard. You get an opportunity to go down there and they're No. 1 and we're in second place right now. We've got an opportunity to go take the spot at No. 1."

Tech will be looking to snap a four-game skid to C of I including a 2019 road loss that saw Yotes kicker Kyle Mitchell drill a walk-off 58-yard field goal to seal a stunning 16-14 win.

College of Idaho will head into Saturday coming off a school-record defensive performance that paced the Yotes to a 31-20 victory over Carroll College at a sopping Nelson Stadium. The Yotes' defense piled up nine sacks and 15 tackles for loss in a win that knocked the Saints out of the Top 25 poll.

C of I senior defensive end Keagan McCoy led the charge for the Yotes with nine total tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble. That outing earned him NAIA and Frontier Conference Player of the Week honors.

Tech isn't looking to make any significant adjustments, but simply stick to what's largely proven to be a winning offensive strategy, especially in last weekend's 73-0 drubbing of MSU-Northern.

"Honestly, I don't think it's anything we have to step up to, I think it's just we have to execute our game plan," said Winterburn. "I think coach Samson gets ready with a good game plan. But it really comes down to execution and playing to our ability. Play how we can play."

At this point last season, Tech was sitting at 2-3 during a campaign that saw the Orediggers reach a .500 record for exactly one week before falling below that mark. That season ended in a disappointing 5-5 record that translated into being picked fifth in the 2022 preseason poll.

Samson knows that this year's squad has evolved greatly from the one he coached during his first season and he's hoping that Saturday's pivotal showdown with the Yotes will offer more evidence to that that belief.

"I've kind of been saying all year we're a really good football team," Samson said. "I still think there's some people who don't quite understand that or believe that but that's okay. We gotta prove ourselves every single week. We gotta go out and prove that we're a really good team. And I'm really excited to go do that."