BUTTE — Football players at Montana Tech take their rivalry-games seriously.
Perhaps it’s because of the geographic location of the teams in the Frontier Conference or something having to do more with being in Montana, where many of those rivalries are produced at an early age. Either way, football is important here — primarily at the high school and collegiate levels.
The Orediggers really have two big traditional rivals in Montana Western and Carroll College. Most of the players on the team understand this coming into the program.
It’s pretty simple. The majority of players on the Montana Tech roster hail from Montana and have been around the Frontier Conference for most of their lives. Other players on the team indoctrinate the athletes who aren’t local or familiar with the rivalries and traditions.
The coaching staff doesn’t need to get involved in that indoctrination.
“Our veteran players help the new guys sort out and understand the rivalry stuff,” Oredigger head coach Chuck Morrell said. “I think our veterans guys do a good job of getting guys dialed in on it.”
While Jed fike, a transfer from Dickinson State isn’t exactly a veteran — he’s in his first year with the Orediggers — he knows a thing or two about local rivalry-games.
Fike attended Jefferson and Whitehall high schools, spending his latter days as a Trojan. He got the unique perspective of seeing both sides of that particular rivalry.
“To me, it was huge,” Fike recalled. “To the outside, it might not be the biggest rivalry game but to the players it was a big deal. It’ll always be a thing I remember.”
Once he graduated from high school he had plenty of opportunities and places to go play football. He settled on Dickinson State and redshirted his freshman season.
Last year, he played in all 12 games for the Blue Hawks, racking up 898 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 135 carries. His best game of the season was in a first-round playoff matchup against Montana Tech where he had 186 yards of total offense.
Shortly after that game, he decided to transfer to Montana Tech because he wanted to be closer to home.
While the Orediggers and DSU aren’t exactly rivals, they have met in the playoffs in each past two seasons. Fike's move to Tech might just heat up the tension between the two teams if they end up seeing each other for a third year in a row.
Fike doesn’t feel DSU really had the same type of rivalry games in the North Star Athletic Association. Just five games into his career at Tech he’s already been in two rivalry games and when the ‘Diggers kick off in Helena on Saturday that number will move to three.
“That’s something I’ve really noticed about the Frontier Conference compared to the North Star: the rivalry games,” Fike said. "There’s a lot of tension between all the teams in this conference and in the North Star, they’re kind of separated.”
There’s more tension than there has been all season for Tech heading into its game with the Fighting Saints. The Orediggers are coming off a loss to Montana Western and need a win to stay in contention for their third consecutive conference championship.
Tech handled Carroll 45-28 in the teams' first meeting of the year and after a slow start in that contest, Fike ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns. He came up big in his first rivalry game as an Oredigger and seems to understand the importance of the game.
It still wasn’t an easy task.
“It was pretty overwhelming,” Fike said. “There were a lot of people there and everyone was ready for the game since last spring. There was a lot of hype and we’re definitely looking forward to playing those guys again.”
The Tech-Carroll game is heading back to Helena and with that comes a new set of challenges.
The Orediggers haven’t quite been the same team away from home and will surely be tested in a hostile environment. The only blemish in Tech's 9-1 regular season from a year ago was picked up at Carroll College.
The Saints are desperate to salvage something positive out of what has been a rough season. A huge win over a rival might be the thing to get their season back on the right track and there’s little chance Carroll won’t play hard.
They’ve already experienced the potency of Fike and the rest of the Tech offense, though the running back isn’t particularly worried what Carroll College will bring to the table.
“We have to go in and play our brand of football,” he said. “We’re a juggernaut offense. We're one of the best offenses in the country, if not the best so we just have to go in, be relaxed, play our game and our defense will do its job.
“We’ll be fine.”
If Tech plays its brand of football and continues to light up the scoreboard, the Orediggers will prove Fike right.
The Orediggers will need another big game from Fike to help open up the passing offense for quarterback Quinn McQueary. There’s a lot of trust in the coaching staff for the junior running back to be able to do that.
They’re also not concerned with how he’ll approach what should be another intense rivalry game.
“From Jed’s standpoint, he’s just from the other side of the hill and is very familiar with these type of games,” Morrell said. “He knows a lot of the guys that play on other teams and I think his indoctrination is probably not as steep of a learning curve as a player that’s an incoming freshman or a player from out of state.”