On a field finally resembling the frigid football environment for which Montana is known, the Bobcats (9-1, 6-1) made quick work of the Portland State University (PSU) Vikings (3-7, 2-5) on Saturday, using six different players to score eight touchdowns — in the first half.
With most of the team sporting short-sleeves in 12-degree weather, the Bobcats dominated every aspect of the game. The 65-30 drubbing made Head Coach Rob Ash the winningest coach in MSU history, with 48 victories, in his fifth year on the job.
“Unbelievable,” said Ash. “In my wildest imagination, I didn’t think it would be that dramatic of a difference between us.” It was fitting that Ash get the win on Senior Day, a day his seniors extended their MSU win record for a senior class to 35. Ash was carried off the field by his team after the game.
After a 42-yard field goal by MSU kicker Rory Perez, running back Cody Kirk ran in untouched from 17 yards out following a sack and forced fumble by MSU senior defensive end Caleb Schreibeis and a recovery by junior defensive end Brad Daly.
“This team, we just love to play,” Schreibeis said. “It makes it pretty easy…this will be a good memory for Senior Day.” The Vikings’ running back DJ Adams answered with a 69-yard touchdown run on the second play of the drive to pull within three, but it was the closest the Vikings would get to the Cats with 8:47 left in the first quarter.
A booming, 59-yard punt by Perez that bounced out-of-bounds at the Vikings’ five yard line set the table for the Cats’ defense. MSU cornerback Darius Jones intercepted Portland’s quarterback Kieran McDonagh’s second pass of the drive and returned it to the nine yard line, and quarterback DeNarius McGhee proceeded to hit wide receiver Kruiz Siewing on third and goal to make it 17-7.
On the next drive, McGhee hit Shawn Johnson for a 54-yard touchdown on what I would call a halfback direct-snap flea flicker, a play Ash saw watching a Texas Tech/TCU game with his son.
“It was like in slow-motion,” said McGhee. “He flips it to me, I throw it to Shawn John, he makes a guy miss, and we scored. It was a great play.” The first quarter ended 24-7, and the Cats kept pouring it on in the second.
After a great catch on the sideline by wide receiver Brian Flotkoetter for 29 yards late in the first quarter, Kirk finished the drive in the second, rumbling through five tackles for a 14-yard touchdown to make it 31-7. The touchdown tied Kirk with the MSU record of 29 rushing touchdowns. Then Orenzo Davis got in on the fun with a 50-yard run and a 2-yard touchdown to make it 38-7.
The Cats’ defense got in on the scoring when defensive back Steven Bethley intercepted McDonagh and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.
“I knew I had to make the play,” Bethley said. “I was just focused on catching it because I couldn’t feel my hands at all.” On their next drive, McGhee hit Flotkoetter for a 19-yard score — then special teams scored for the first time. Running back Shawn Johnson returned a punt 72 yards for his second touchdown just before halftime to make it 59-7.
PSU replaced McDonagh with Collin Ramirez, who made it interesting in the second half, but there were just too many points on the board. Most fans hit the road at halftime to get out of the weather.
MSU’s second string got plenty of valuable minutes, including quarterback Jake Bleskin, who replaced McGhee after another touchdown pass of 54 yards to Kirk made it 65-13. Though Bleskin only completed one pass for six yards, he only threw twice, and mostly handed the ball off to Orenzo Davis. For the third straight game the Cats did not commit a turnover.
With Northern Arizona losing to Southern Utah in three overtimes on Saturday, the Bobcats will play the Grizzlies in Missoula at 1:35 p.m. for their third straight Big Sky Championship, and perhaps the number one ranking in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision.