Under the lights, the Montana State football team got off to a slow start despite the high energy in the stadium and the reloaded offense and defense. Facing off against the Division II Fort Lewis Skyhawks, the nationally ranked Bobcats struggled out of the gate, failing to score on their first four possessions of the game, only finally punching the ball in on a Chad Newell 1-yard dive into the endzone with just under five minutes remaining in the first half. Newell, a junior, did not look especially impressive in his first game as the feature back in the MSU offense, despite his two short touchdown runs, only managing a pedestrian 3.1 yards per carry.
Things picked up for the Cats in the second half, as they managed to piece together a few scoring drives and wore down Fort Lewis, eventually emerging victorious by a score of 45-14. Quarterback Dakota Prukop engineered a couple deep downfield bombs to sophomore wideout Justin Paige and closed out two drives with short TD passes to sophomore Mitchell Herbert. Prukop also ran in for one touchdown and had another called back due to a holding penalty. The junior did look a bit rusty coming off last year’s breakout campaign. He only completed 14 of his 24 pass attempts and at times looked antsy in the pocket.
Prukop admitted as much during the postgame press conference, but added that he expects to be firing on all cylinders when the Cats take off for Eastern Washington in two weeks. “Game speed is way different than practice … I’m usually a pretty calm guy, but inside tonight, I felt pretty wound up — adrenaline pumping through my veins. It felt good though [to be back on the field competing].”
The revamped defense on the other hand, got off to a solid start under the tutelage of new defensive co-coordinator Kane Ioane. Head Coach Rob Ash praised the unit after the game, saying, “They were playing hard and playing aggressive and that’s exactly what we want to see from them.”
The defensive pressure generated an interception as well as keeping Fort Lewis quarterback Jordan Doyle consistently on the move. The squad though — one of the division’s worst last season — looked a bit suspect against the run, especially considering the lower tier opponent they squared off against. The Cats gave up 174 yards on the ground, but only 103 through the air. The true test comes up on Sept. 19, when they will face a retooled and aggressive Eastern Washington offense.
Coach Ash says the team is ready for the challenge despite the slow start. “I’ve said for 40 years now, the biggest improvement a team makes is between game one and game two. You finally get to see yourself on film and in a game. and so that’s what we need to do. We’ve got to look at this game and learn all that we can … And we’ve got plenty of time to do that.”
Watch for that when the Cats take on The EWU Eagles on the red turf in Cheney, Washington. The game kicks off at 2:05 p.m. and will be nationally televised on ROOT Sports.