By Ryan Divish
Montana Tech's Renzy Kelly was supposed to be the Orediggers' big play threat this season. However, coming into Saturday's game against Montana State University-Northern, Kelly had yet to score a touchdown pass this season.
That changed in a big way. Kelly caught a pair of touchdown passes and ran another in on a reverse to lead the Diggers to a 45-14 win over the Lights in Butte.
Tech quarterback Skyler Willard connected with Kelly on scoring passes of 62 and 53 yards. Kelly's rushing touchdown came on a reverse play from 11 yards out. Willard added scoring passes to Patrick Watson and Connor Hogan.
"That's the best they've played all year," Northern head coach Walt Currie said of Tech's performance. "They didn't throw the ball that well in our first game."
Indeed, in the first match-up Kelly never caught a pass and Willard completed just 15 of 29 passes for 149 yards. On Saturday, Kelly caught nine passes for 170 yards, while Willard completed 20 of 35 passes for 308 yards and four touchdowns.
With his secondary banged up, Currie knew the Lights were susceptible to the big play.
"(Kelly) would give that little stutter step on his route and our corner would bite just enough," Currie said. "And all of the sudden he kicked it into another gear."
As for Willard, he was able to avoid being sacked, unlike the first game. But just because he wasn't sacked didn't mean that Northern didn't pressure him.
"(Willard) is a tough kid," Currie said. "He took some hits after he got rid of the ball and he stayed in there every play."
While Tech's offense was clicking, Northern's offense was also moving the ball well. The Lights racked up 320 yards of total offense, but still made a couple of key mistakes that gave Tech points.
After Kelly and Willard's first touchdown connection, Northern answered on a 32-yard scramble touchdown from senior Brandon Kerkes. The Lights defense held on the ensuing possession, but Tech punter Ryan Dunn pinned Northern deep in its own territory. On Northern's first play from its own 7-yard line, Ryan Utterback had the ball knocked loose as he crashed ahead on a dive play. The ball took a high bounce directly into the arms of Tech cornerback T.J. Raemaker, who waltzed into the end zone.
Tech would add Kelly's second touchdown catch, Watson's scoring reception and a Chris Casne field goal to take a 31-7 lead at halftime.
Northern opened the third quarter with Kerkes finding Tanner Woodward for a 37-yard touchdown pass.
Northern missed out on a potential touchdown when it appeared that Kerkes got in on fourth and goal. However, officials did not signal or blow the play dead and Kerkes fumbled on a second effort. Lights running back Travis Crawford picked up the fumble and ran into the end zone. But, according NAIA rules, a fumble can't be advanced on fourth down by any player except for the player who fumbled it.
"They made the right call on that," Currie said. "But it looked like he was in in the first place. It should have probably been a touchdown."
Regardless, when Tech gets more than a touchdown lead they are a tough team to come back on. They control the ball and eat up clock with a strong ground game.
"If they get a lead," Currie said, "they like to hang on to it. They really chewed up the clock in the second half."
So much so that both teams only had one possession each in the scoreless fourth quarter.
With the win Tech snapped a two-game losing streak, while Northern's losing streak grew to five games. The Orediggers, 2-3 in conference and 3-5 on the year, will face University of Montana-Western on Saturday. Northern, 1-5 in conference and 1-7 overall, will face league leader Carroll College on Saturday in Helena.