For the second weekend in a row, a rough third quarter proved to be the undoing for the Eastern Oregon Mountaineers football team.
The Mountaineers saw a 14-0 halftime lead vanish, committed four turnovers and lost starting quarterback Kai Quinn to a leg injury in the third as they ultimately fell to the Montana Tech Orediggers, 24-17, Saturday night in Frontier Conference play in Butte, Montana.
A stout defensive effort in the first half helped set up both of EOU’s touchdowns and locked down Montana Tech’s offense. A fumble recovery by Chris Kindle at the Montana Tech 10 yard line set up a Victor Dias 10-yard scoring run for a 7-0 first-quarter lead, and a second fumble recovery by EOU — this time by Garret DeVos — led to another short field and a six-yard touchdown run by Quinn for a 14-0 lead late in the the first quarter.
The defense forced two more first-half turnovers — both interceptions by Zack Jacobs — and held Tech to just 90 first-half yards. Three Mountaineers — Sage DeLong, Isaiah Cranford and Chase Van Wyck — also sacked Montana Tech quarterback Tanner Kump in the first half.
But it fell apart in the third quarter. An interception by Quinn led to a short field and an 11 yard touchdown catch by Trevor Hoffman that got Montana Tech on the board early in the third quarter. Quinn went down two series later on a quarterback scramble, and EOU committed turnovers on three of its next four offensive plays — two interceptions and a fumble — that eventually led to two more touchdowns and Tech taking a 21-17 lead late in the third quarter on a six-yard TD catch by Kenny Lafayette.
All three of the Orediggers’ touchdown drives in the third were 22 yards or less.
Eastern forced a fifth Montana Tech turnover in the final quarter when Justin Hughes grabbed an interception, but was unable to get back on the board.
EOU limited Montana Tech to just 278 yards, but gained only 312 yards when it was on offense. Quinn was 16-for-33 for 163 yards passing and added 33 yards rushing. Saige Wilkerson and Joey Aliff, who both filled in at quarterback, combined to go 4-for-15 for 23 yards with two interceptions. Dias led the EOU ground game with 64 yards rushing, and John Lesser added 69 yards receiving.
Jed Fike led Montana Tech with 151 yards rushing, and Hoffman turned in 59 yards receiving and scored twice.
EOU (1-2 overall, 1-2 Frontier) has a bye before hosting Montana Western Sept. 22.