Despite running into trouble early in their first Big Sky Conference road game, the Bobcats (5-0, 2-0) defeated the Southern Utah Thunderbirds (2-3, 1-1) on Saturday, 24-17.
MSU’s workhorse and leading rusher, Cody Kirk, was taken out early in the game by a hamstring injury, and the Cats’ top receiver, Tanner Bleskin, was also injured. Tackle John Weidenaar was ejected and an injury to guard Matthew Devereux left the Bobcat offensive line short-handed, but DeNarius McGhee took everything in stride and found some support in the form of Orenzo Davis.
The Bobcats took an early lead on a 4-yard touchdown pass from McGhee to Tray Robinson, but the Thunderbirds answered with a touchdown of their own, following a 44-yard reception by Griff McNabb. Davis provided the spark the Cats needed after losing Kirk to injury, rushing the ball 74 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead at halftime. Davis finished with 123 yards rushing. Jon Ellis filled Bleskin’s shoes with 71 receiving yards.
After tieing the game on a 49-yard field goal by Colton Cook with 8:29 left, the Thunderbirds had a chance to take the lead on an interception of McGhee that turned into another 49-yard field goal attempt. Cook missed the kick and put the ball back in McGhee’s hands, who led the Cats 67 yards in 12 plays for the game winning touchdown. Southern Utah nearly forced overtime, driving into Bobcat territory only to toss an interception to junior defensive back Steven Bethley, his second of the year.
In a game where the Bobcats were shorthanded and clearly didn’t play their best, turning the ball over four times, they worked hard to win a Big Sky Conference road game. “We were pretty shorthanded today…that made DeNarius’ performance even more amazing,” Head Coach Rob Ash said. McGhee completed 18 of 28 passes for 211 yards, threw two touchdowns and one interception. “I thought [McGhee] did a great job with every aspect of the game,” Ash said after the game.
While Missoula’s loss to Eastern Washington this week put them in the basement of the Big Sky Conference, the Cats sit atop the conference along with Eastern Washington, Cal Poly and Northern Arizona, making the Cats’ next home game a big one.
Coach Ash said of playing in the Big Sky, “Everybody’s going to be awesome…It’s going to be a challenge.”
The Bobcats visit UC Davis this Saturday and host Eastern Washington for Parent/Family Weekend on Saturday, Oct. 13 at 1:35 p.m.