The weather was ugly and the game was nearly as ugly at some points, but the Montana State Bobcats earned a hard fought victory over the University of North Dakota. The Homecoming atmosphere was less than welcoming in Bobcat Stadium on Sept. 27 as intermittent rain and gusting winds turned the game into a defensive clash.
The usually potent Montana State offense looked anemic to start off the game. The Bobcats were missing starting receivers Tanner Roderick and Brian Flotkoetter as well as running back Anthony Knight. Failing to get anything going through the air or on the ground and additionally hindered by a snap that sailed over sophomore quarterback Dakota Prukop’s head, the Cats went three and out on their first two drives. The first quarter was more of the same, aside from a MSU field goal.
The defense was finally able to jump start the scoring early in the second quarter when redshirt freshman cornerback Khari Garcia picked off North Dakota quarterback Joe Mollberg and returned the ball 45 yards for a touchdown. A short while later, senior MSU running back Shawn Johnson went around the defense on his way to a 16-yard scoring plunge.
The defense came up big once more when they forced a North Dakota fumble on the MSU 5 yard line that was recovered by senior safety Robert Marshall to give the Cats possession. Unfortunately, the stroke of luck was only temporary. Prukop was sacked on a broken play, unable to avoid the onslaught of defenders and fumbled the ball which North Dakota returned for a quick touchdown. While replay clearly showed Prukop’s knee was down before he lost possession, the lack of instant replay in the FCS prevented the call from being overturned.
With the score now 16-7, the Cats responded with a touchdown pass from Prukop to freshman receiver Mitch Herbert and a field goal by redshirt freshman kicker Luke Daly to extend the lead to 26-7 at the half. The only scoring in the third quarter was a North Dakota field goal as the teams dug in and slowed down the game. The Cats tried to run the ball in response to the deteriorating weather conditions and to run down the clock, but North Dakota’s stout defensive front proved to be a challenge.
North Dakota attempted to mount a comeback in the fourth quarter, but they ran out of time. They managed to score and grab a two-point conversion to close the gap to 29-18, but failed to get any closer. For what seemed like the third week in a row, the Bobcats did not finish the game in a strong or convincing fashion. Rather than putting teams away when they gained the lead, they continued to let teams hang around.
“It’s a mentality game,” MSU Head Coach Rob Ash said of the game, “where you have to go up there and realize you’re gonna be in a very physical battle on every single snap.”
MSU finished with just 329 total yards and finished a poor 3-13 on third down. Prukop threw for 269 yards and one touchdown and Johnson led the Cats in rushing with 75 yards on 15 carries and one touchdown.
The Cats go on the road for the first time in four games next week to face the Sacramento State Hornets in their next Big Sky Conference matchup. The Hornets will be attempting to bounce back from a loss to traditional bottom dweller Idaho State and the Cats will look to get a bit more healthy and reestablish their offensive identity.