BUTTE — The Orediggers appeared to be on their way to their first home win of the season Saturday, until injuries, a fumble and general misfortune led to the Yotes winning 28-23 in heartbreaking fashion.
Montana Tech held a 23-21 lead with two minutes left in the game. Attempting to milk the clock, the Orediggers ran for multiple first downs until running back Blake Counts went down with an injury.
On the next play, the College of Idaho forced a fumble that it returned 49 yards for a touchdown. The Yotes then intercepted a Hail Mary attempt in the final minute to seal the game.
"I just told the guys I love them after the game," Montana Tech coach Kyle Samson said. "I didn't have any great words to tell them. They played really, really good football for 55 minutes. But I told them I love them and we have to stay together, that's all we can do."
The timing of the bye week may be fortunate for Montana Tech. In addition to Counts, receiver Mark Estes left the game with an injury. Quarterback Jet Campbell took a hard hit in the third quarter but finished the game and appeared to be alright.
"I haven't gotten a word on the injuries yet," Samson said. "They both happened late in the game. Hopefully everything is OK with those guys."
College of Idaho outgained Montana Tech 333-263 in total yards. The Yotes' Ryan Hibbs passed for 221 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions while Campbell threw for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
The Yotes dominated time of possession and forced two fumbles on defense. The Orediggers had the edge on special teams, often starting on the Yotes' side of the field to begin drives while also forcing bad field position for the Yotes.
"We pinned them back a lot and the coverage teams did a great job," Samson said. "The kicking team did a phenomenal job, I was really proud of them today."
Despite the loss, the Orediggers had many bright moments throughout the game. The first came on their opening drive that went 51 yards and ended in a touchdown pass from Campbell to Estes.
A long punt return allowed the Orediggers to begin a second-quarter drive at the 50-yard line. Campbell found Logan Kennedy on a short pass, then Kennedy powered past two defenders and into the end zone to give the Orediggers a 13-7 lead.
With only a minute left before the half, Montana Tech defensive back Naoki Harmer intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown to give the Orediggers a 20-7 lead at halftime.
"I'm proud of our guys' effort, the loss had nothing to do with their effort," Samson said. "We were up against a really good team. We have to regroup and get back to work."
College of Idaho scored first in the second half and forced a Montana Tech punt on their first drive. But an interception by Jordan Washington put the Orediggers in excellent field position for their next drive. The drive ended in a made field goal for the Orediggers.
Among the most crucial plays of the game occurred mid-way through the fourth quarter. The Orediggers forced a turnover on downs but a pass interference call gave the Yotes a first down. On the very next play, the Yotes scored to bring the score to 23-21 Montana Tech.
"We just didn't quite make the plays at the end to win the game," Samson said. "But I'm still proud of our guys, still proud to be a 'Digger. We have two weeks now to find a way to get better so we can get a win against Southern Oregon. I know we'll find a way to get this thing going."
The Orediggers' next opponent, Southern Oregon (3-3), lost to Montana Western on Saturday. Southern Oregon lost to the College of Idaho 29-3 earlier this season, which could be a good sign for the Orediggers.
While the Orediggers were not able to win in the annual Hall of Fame Game, the 2021 inductees were honored at halftime and enjoyed festivities throughout the week. Wade Bristol, Don Hawkinson, the 1997-98 and 1998-99 men's basketball teams were all honored on Saturday.
Bristol, a Butte native, played football for Tech from 1976-79 and was an assistant coach in 1980. The three-time all-conference performer was a leader for the Orediggers and helped them to a Frontier Conference title in 1979.
Don Hawkinson has been a loyal advocate and contributor to the Digger Athletic Association, according to Montana Tech Sports Information.
"It's a really cool deal where some of the old Orediggers come back so we can honor them," Samson said. "It's a nice tradition to have. These are guys who played before us so it's always nice to get to see them and appreciate them like they deserve."
Montana Tech is now 2-4 on the season and will face Southern Oregon on the road Oct. 23. The College of Idaho is now 4-2 and will play Montana Western on the same day.