No. 11 Diggers pull away from Raiders in 2nd half
ASHLAND – After facing its first deficit early in the second half, No. 11-ranked Montana Tech responded with touchdowns on three consecutive drives to defeat Southern Oregon 31-21 on Saturday afternoon at Raider Stadium.
The Diggers improved to 4-1 overall and 3-0 in the Frontier Conference, keeping their share of first place despite being without the services of all-star running back Blake Counts. They didn’t miss a beat with Landers Smith in his place: the 6-foot, 225-pound junior kept them in control by netting 110 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, while Wyatt Alexander caught seven Blake Thelen passes for 143 yards.
The Raiders (1-3, 0-2) fell behind 10-0 early, but took their first lead at 14-10 four minutes into the third quarter when Matt Struck finished an 11-play drive by hitting Moku Noa for an 8-yard TD in the corner of the end zone.
The Diggers answered less than a minute later, as Thelen found a wide-open Alexander in stride for a 56-yard score. Tech stopped the Raiders 30 yards short of the end zone on their ensuing drive, then scored again as Christian Vetter got loose for a 24-yard TD rush to make it 24-14.
Payton Gonser intercepted Struck on the next play from scrimmage. A few minutes later, Thelen connected with Grant Kelly to make it a 17-point game.
Thelen completed 15-of-26 attempts for 215 yards, though he was picked off by both Spencer Kuffel and Seth Miller in the end zone. The Raiders also sacked him four times in the first half to keep the Diggers from getting away – Noah Turnbull teamed up with Alejandro Sanchez for two and had a solo effort, and Taye Courtney got the other sack — but Thelen went untouched after halftime.
Struck went 20-of-37 for 189 yards and two TDs, to Noa and Jackson Clemmer. He netted 72 yards on the ground, but no other Raider totaled more than 34 rushing yards against a defense led by Matt Whitcomb’s 10 tackles.
Avery McCuaig accounted for the Raiders’ final score, a 3-yard run that got them within 10 points with 10 minutes to play. Their comeback hopes diminished when Jadyn Downs intercepted a pass that was initially dropped in Tech territory with 1:33 to go.
The win was the Diggers’ fourth in a row. They’ve left three straight trips to Ashland with victories.
Freshman linebacker Iona Purcell registered a career-high 10 tackles and Kuffel had nine for the Raiders.
SOU is back on the road next week at Rocky Mountain (Mont.), which went to 3-2 overall and 1-2 in the Frontier with Saturday’s 45-21 loss at College of Idaho.