The MSU football team took to the turf on a sunny Saturday morning for the Sonny Holland Scrimmage, marking the final outing of spring. Fans crowded into the stadium, eager to get a taste of Bobcat football action after a long offseason. Officially taking the field at Bobcat Stadium for the first time since a disappointing 28-14 loss to the rival UM Grizzlies that capped off a 7-5 season in which the Cats missed the playoffs for the first time in four years, the team had a number of unanswered questions at key positions.
Perhaps the biggest question mark comes at quarterback. Following the departure of senior Denarius McGhee, three players — Juniors Jake Bleskin and Tanner Roderick and sophomore Dakota Prukop — have vied all spring for the position. Bleskin is the only one of the trio that has game-time experience, but the scrimmage reps have been more or less evenly juggled between the three.
Saturday’s exhibition didn’t seem to make the decision any easier for Head Coach Rob Ash; all three showed signs of greatness but also a few shaky moments. Bleskin seemed to have the most command of the offense during his time on the field, shifting in the pocket and delivering some nicely timed passes to his receivers. However, he was also responsible for the only turnover of the day, throwing an ill-advised deep ball into double coverage that was intercepted by senior safety Cody Cleveland. Roderick looked a bit rusty during his reps but showed flashes of the explosive athletic ability that helped him lead the local Bozeman High Hawks to the Class AA State Championship three years ago. Perhaps the most surprising of the bunch was Prukop. He kick-started the only touchdown drive of the day, with an impressive pocket presence and quickness as well as a nice touch on the ball for a player only entering his second year in the program. However, there were a few instances where he looked a bit out of sorts in the uptempo offense and once had to burn a timeout because of it.
Another visible position battle emerged for running back. The Bobcats have a collection of capable backs ready to take over for the graduating Cody Kirk, and at this point perhaps a committee approach to the position is in order. Senior Shawn Johnson, who saw the most playing time last season, sat out the scrimmage while redshirt freshman Nick LaSane and sophomore Gunnar Brekke battled it out for much of the day. Joining them in the backfield was sophomore workhorse Chad Newell, who also saw some action last fall.
Unfortunately, not much was noticeably decided on the defensive side of the ball, as a number of key players were unable to participate in the scrimmage due to injury. Redshirt freshman Mac Bignell had a big day though and seemingly was in on almost every single tackle.
The precarious battle for the placekicking duties possibly crystallized as junior Trevor Bolton was only able to convert of one of his six attempts, however one was blocked by a blazing fast Deonte Flowers off the edge and another clanged off the right upright. Redshirt freshman Luke Daly, on the other hand, made five of his six chances, but his lone miss never got more than five feet off the ground and careened into the offensive line’s backside.
Overall, the scrimmage appeared to be a success with many good plays on both sides of the ball. Most importantly though, the training staff stayed relatively idle as there were no new injuries. After the scrimmage, Bleskin commented, “The spring went very well, personally and as a team.” Going forward, he said, “The most important thing is staying healthy and disciplined; that will set us apart from other teams. Last year we went 7-5. For a lot of teams that would be good, but to us it was a let down and we’re looking to improve this season.”
At the conclusion of the scrimmage Ash announced the captains for the upcoming season. Senior guard Quinn Catalano and senior tight end Tiai Salanoa represent the offense while senior linebackers Na’a Moeakiola and Cole Moore will represent the defense as the Cats look to reclaim the Big Sky Conference title.