The Bobcats battled against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in the 16th annual Gold Rush game on Sept. 9 at Bobcat Stadium. The game was played in front of a crowd of 19,817, the seventh largest in school history. The Jackrabbits, who were ranked fourth in the FCS before the match-up, are the highest-ranked opponent outside of the Big Sky Conference to visit Bobcat Stadium. The last time the teams met up was in 2014 in the first round of the FCS playoff, where the Jackrabbits defeated the Cats 47- 40.
The Bobcats started the game with a strong first possession, only to see senior kicker Luke Daly miss a 33-yard fieldgoal attempt. This miss slowed the Bobcats’ momentum, allowing the Jackrabbits to gain a 10-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. SDSU scored again in the second quarter, bringing the score up to 17-0.
The Cats marched downfield on another possession, but sophomore quarterback Chris Murray threw an interception in the endzone. SDSU did not score on the turnover, and in MSU’s next possession with 14 seconds left in the half, Murray completed a 6-yard pass to junior wide receiver Jabarri Johnson to score the first touchdown of the season. Daly made the point after to bring the score to 17-7 going into the half.
SDSU started the second half with a successful possession resulting in a touchdown, bringing the score to 24-7. MSU responded with a touchdown in their next possession with a 41-yard pass from Murray to Johnson to close the score gap to 24-14. With 13 seconds left in the third quarter, MSU scored again with a 14-yard pass from Murray to senior wide receiver Mitch Herbert, bringing the score to a close 24-21 to start the 4th quarter.
Following a missed 45-yard field goal attempt by Daly, which would have tied the game, SDSU faked a field goal and kicker Chase Vinatieri ran 31 yards for a touchdown, bringing the score to 31-21. With a little over a minute left in the game, Murray threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Herbert putting the score at 31-27. The Cats attempted an onside kick which was unsuccessful, but was able to stop the Jackrabbits and get the ball back with under two minutes left in the game. The Bobcats were unable to use the time left in the game to take the lead, losing by four points.
“I think this is a game that we should have won,” Head Coach Jeff Choate said afterward. “I think our kids continued to fight and I think what we saw tonight was a very mature team in South Dakota State, which was the difference in the game.”
Murray threw for a career-best 311 yards and four touchdowns, 255 of those yards in the second half. Murray became the fifth Bobcat to throw for over 300 yards and rush for over 100 yards in one game. “I was very pleased in our throwing game and in [Murray’s] ability to lead the team,” Choate said.
Herbert had nine catches for 111 yards — his fourth career 100-yard receiving day — and two touchdowns. He now has 17 career touchdowns, the fourth-most in MSU history. Johnson, a transfer from American River Junior College in Sacramento, had eight receptions for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Herbert and Johnson accounted for 227 of Murray’s 311 total throwing yards.
On the defensive side, senior linebacker Mac Bignell broke the school record with his ninth forced-fumble, and he registered two tackles-for-loss, putting him at a career-total of 39 and fourth in the MSU top ten in most tackles-for-loss.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, there were several positive aspects to this game. “Football is a game of momentum,” Choate stated, and that momentum was something MSU was able to capitalize on in the second half. Closing the score gap and providing several scoring opportunities for themselves, MSU proved that they can compete with a fourth-ranked team.
“The loss is frustrating, but it was a great experience,” Johnson said. “We have the right guys in the right positions, and fans can expect more like that.” MSU showed strong offensive skill, gaining yardage with pass plays to powerhouses Herbert and Johnson, as well as with a notable rushing game by Murray.
The defense also showed strength, especially by defender Bignell. “We had opportunities, but they’re ranked number four for a reason,” Bignell said. SDSU’s ranking cannot be disregarded in this loss, and the plays made by MSU throughout the game show promise that the Cats will be a strong conference opponent this season.
“A year ago, I didn’t think we’d fight the way we did tonight,” Choate said. “I think [Murray] really took a huge step forward for us. Those boys continued to play hard for us.” The Bobcats have a bye-week before heading to North Dakota on Sept. 23. The next home game for the Cats will be the Homecoming game on Sept. 30 against conference rival Weber State.