HELENA — Carroll College and Montana Tech were fighting for more than just a win Saturday afternoon.
A win for the Orediggers would put them one step closer to an at-large playoff berth.
A win for Carroll would signify improvement, clinching its first winning season in five years.
But in the end, Saints coach Troy Purcell and his team won the fourth quarter.
More importantly, they completed a 31-19 upset win over No. 17 Montana Tech.
“Everyone responded,” Purcell said with a smile on his face. “Adversity struck. Coming back and finding a way to win, I give my hat’s off to these players.”
Adversity had a few faces that showed up to Nelson Stadium and it didn’t take long make an appearance.
Carroll launched a 63-yard pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Devan Bridgewater to wide receiver Shane Sipes.
That pass would have put points on the board with a short field goal.
But then Jaden Harrison fumbled the long snap, keeping the game scoreless.
Another Carroll drive into Oredigger territory ended when Bridgewater threw an interception.
Adversity pestered Montana Tech.
The Saints wasted little time shutting down their opponent’s running game.
After all-conference running back Jed Fike went down with an injury earlier in the season, freshman Blake Counts stepped in.
He was held to just 11 yards in the first quarter.
“Carroll is a well-coached team, and (their defense) made some plays,” Orediggers coach Chuck Morrell said. “In the first half, it felt like we were still on the bus coming back from Southern Oregon.”
Finally, at the start of the second quarter, Carroll’s offense took advantage of some Montana Tech defensive penalties.
The end result was Bridgewater finding senior tight end Sam Stratton.
Purcell said the play wasn’t designed for the senior, who was one of 16 seniors playing their final home game, but it was good to see.
“He’s a big ol’ target,” Purcell said. “It’s pretty special to see that, especially on senior day.”
Montana Tech answered later in the quarter, when quarterback Jet Campbell scored on a 9-yard run.
It could have tied the score, but the Orediggers’ point after kick was blocked and returned 90 yards by senior defensive back Isazah King.
“I’ve never done anything like that before,” King said.
Another Carroll touchdown, connecting Bridgewater to Sipes on a 56-yard touchdown pass, put the Saints ahead 16-6 at halftime.
Montana Tech’s struggle with adversity continued.
The Orediggers have always relied on a strong running game to put points on the board.
After seeing that they rushed for just 71 yards in the first half, Morrell gave the signal to air the ball out.
Campbell found Kiley Capara for a 23-yard strike that led to a touchdown four plays later, and then he found Trevor Hoffman on a 3-yard touchdown pass to take a 19-16 lead.
Campbell finished the game passing for a career-high 293 yards on 18-of-32 attempts while Hoffman had 184.
The plan was working.
“I felt like I could win my routes, so I told (offensive coordinator Kyle Samson) I was confident in my ability and he gave me a chance out there.”
Purcell knew if his players could win the fourth quarter, they would win the game.
So they rolled up their sleeves and battled their own adversity.
Bridgewater found freshman running back Matthew Burgess on a 3-yard touchdown pass.
Sure, Bridgewater threw a pair of interceptions, but quickly made up for it with three touchdown passes, 224 passing yards and converting 60 percent of his throws.
The Saints scored one more touchdown when Burgess muscled into the end zone with minutes to spare.
“It goes back to winning the rep and not being too excited,” Purcelll said. “You can’t be too high or too low. We stayed the course and played our game. I’m so proud of this group.”
Carroll overcame its adversity and knocked off its third ranked team this season.
Montana Tech did not, so it will have to hope for a playoff bid next season.
“We just got off to an incredibly slow start,” Morrell said. “I thought we did a good job in the second half.”
Carroll heads out on the road and will meet up with Eastern Oregon for the final game of the regular season.
Montana Tech will celebrate its own senior day when it hosts Rocky Mountain.
Both games are scheduled for Nov. 16.