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Montana Tech’s Saraceni a DSU dilemma

There isn't a whole lot Montana Tech -- Dickinson State's opponent in the first round of the NAIA playoffs -- cannot do. The Orediggers rank seventh in the nation in scoring per game, and 11th in the nation in points allowed per game. On average,...

Montana Tech running back Nolan Saraceni rushes the ball against Dickinson State last year in the first round of the NAIA playoffs. This year, the Blue Hawks will try to limit his production. (Press file photo)
Montana Tech running back Nolan Saraceni rushes the ball against Dickinson State last year in the first round of the NAIA playoffs. This year, the Blue Hawks will try to limit his production. (Press file photo)

There isn't a whole lot Montana Tech - Dickinson State's opponent in the first round of the NAIA playoffs - cannot do.

The Orediggers rank seventh in the nation in scoring per game, and 11th in the nation in points allowed per game. On average, they scored more than 41 and allow only 18.2. Their rush defense is fifth in the nation and their sack totals are sixth.

The list of statistical accomplishments hovering around the top 10 goes on and on.

Even their kicking game is top notch - kicker Derrick Holt is first in the nation with a field goal percentage of 85.7%.

It's pick your poison with this team, but for the Blue Hawks, one of the main priorities in film sessions and game planning will be the Orediggers' offense, and namely, the locomotive that makes the team go - running back Nolan Saraceni.

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"A mixture of Jed Fike and Tray Boone," DSU defensive line coach Jeff Miller called Saraceni. The senior back was seventh in the nation in rushing yards and sixth in total scoring. An NAIA all-American a year ago, Montana Tech likes to get him the ball anyway it can, Miller noted, including the occasional wildcat formation in which the ball is snapped directly to Saraceni for him to do what he pleases.

To hope to stop the rusher would be optimistic, but to try to slow him down is the realistic goal.

"Well, yes, he is a point of emphasis, but as most people in the Frontier can attest to, you don't really limit Nolan Saraceni," Miller said, laughing. "He's going to get his yards, he's going to get his touches. He's going to make plays. It's one of those deals where you try to limit him as much as you can but you can't just go wholesale on one guy because their quarterback is really good, their wide receivers are really good. They're just a good offensive unit."

In last year's game, which turned into a rout in part because of Saraceni's 163 yards and three touchdowns, the DSU defensive coaches and players could at least rest assured knowing he was the offense's main focal point; Montana Tech didn't have much of a throwing game in 2015. But this year, with the emergence of quarterback Quinn McQueary, the preparation becomes even more complex.

Still, said DSU linebacker Tommy Sease, who finished the season 14th in the nation in tackles per game despite a broken wrist since week three, the rudimentary goal for the Blue Hawks will be to get the ball out of Saraceni's hands as much as possible.

"We understand he's going to have some big runs, might have a few touchdowns. We just need to limit him the best we can and try to make other players beat us," he said. "It's always tough because of how talented and how great he is, but we're excited for the opportunity to play against them."

Against teams who spent time in the NAIA's top 25 this season, Saraceni averaged 139 yards per game and scored 11 touchdowns. Against 14th-ranked DSU, that number can't become much more bloated or it could potentially turn into another long day for the Blue Hawks.

"If you get him in the open field, he'll make you look foolish, he'll run away from you. He'll run over you. We've watched it all week," Miller said. "Someone's got an angle on him, and he'll just take off and there he goes. If he comes to you, you've got to get him down."

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A Butte of a stadium

The result certainly wasn't favorable, but the memories of being part of a playoff game for some of the Blue Hawks was the lasting take away from Butte, Mont., last year.

A chance to go back to play in front of what figures to be a packed Alumni Coliseum on Saturday is something senior defensive end Noey Tauave is looking forward to.

"All I remember is a little bit of snow on the ground. I remember it was a little bit cold. A lot of fans, a lot of people. Man, it was fun. It was an emotional time for me. A very emotional time," said Tauave, who could be playing his final collegiate game Saturday. "I'm so focused on going back out there for this revenge. I'm so focused on that instead of, man, you never know."

Sease, a junior, echoed Tauave's sentiment.

"It's a nice playoff atmosphere. A lot of people there. Very nice field. In the background they've got the mountains and everything," he said. "I was particularly excited that we got to go back there. Last year we were one of those teams that were just happy to get in and go down there. But now we're trying to get over that hump and win a playoff game."

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