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Carroll defense

Carroll’s defense forces Western’s Kylar Prante to fumble and turn over the ball to the Saints during a game at Nelson Stadium on Oct. 19. The Saints have been emphasizing turnovers all season. 

HELENA — Carroll College senior defensive lineman Craig Kein takes to heart what his coaches have preached about takeaways.

“It has been a point of emphasis during every meeting all season,” Kein said. “One of the biggest keys to win a game is putting it back into the offense’s hands.”

Kein leads the team with two forced fumbles.

But it doesn’t matter to him if he or a teammate is making the impact.

As a collective unit, the Saints are third in the Frontier Conference in total takeaways this season.

Their three fumble recoveries pair quite nicely with their 13 interceptions.

“We are always looking for takeaways,” Carroll coach Troy Purcell said. “It’s a crucial thing in this game. We have to get some short fields at times.”

The only problem is that Carroll’s opponent this week doesn’t like to give up possessions.

Seventeenth-ranked Montana Tech is looking to make itself known in the NAIA playoff hunt.

And its signature running game has fumbled the ball just four times this season.

That doesn’t mean Carroll players don’t know what to look for.

While the Orediggers have learned to secure the football, a player like Kein has a natural instinct to poke the ball away.

“There are opportunities during every play,” he said. “It’s about thinking about the situation when you are on the field and executing.”

Kein hasn’t been the only one forcing fumbles.

The Saints have seven different players who have poked the ball away from the opposition. Throughout the week, coaches lead film sessions where their players can look at tendencies and how certain running backs carry the ball.

There are also drills that coaches lead where the defense practices picking up fumbles.

“You just have to prepare during the the week, and then using what you learned on game day,” Kein said.

Montana Tech’s running game has not only been secure, but also efficient.

The Orediggers quickly found suitable replacements after all-conference running back Jed Fike went down with a season-ending knee injury.

True freshman Blake Counts leads the team with 87.5 yards per game on the ground and seven touchdowns.

Behind him is sophomore Tyler Folkes, who also showed his production last week when he ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns against Southern Oregon. He also put together a 198-yard game weeks before against Montana Western.

“They want to stay on the field as long as they can with their offense,” Purcell said. “They use a lot of (isolation) and a lot of straight downhill running. They find a formation they like and will run the ball 40 to 50 times a game.”

Montana Tech hasn’t been the only team to run the ball this season.

Carroll has also put together a rushing attack led by freshman Matthew Burgess.

The difference between the two offenses comes from the Saints’ inside zone.

“It’s technique, effort and execution,” Purcell said. “I think we put a pretty good game plan together, and then it’s up to the kids to go and execute.”

For seniors like Kein, Saturday’s game will be the last time they will step onto Nelson Stadium as players.

But whether it’s their eyes lighting up realizing they forced a fumble, running into the end zone or even knocking a rival out of playoff contention, the players know it’s what they do with their opportunities that counts.

“We stress stopping the run over everything, Kein said. “And the satisfaction of knowing Tech might not go to the playoffs makes it that much sweeter.”

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Ryan Kuhn covers Carroll College athletics for the Independent Record and 406mtsports.com. Email him at ryan.kuhn@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @rskuhn

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