Still reeling from last week’s tough loss to Eastern Washington, Montana State Head Coach Rob Ash described Saturday’s matchup against Cal Poly as a must-win game. Opening up the Big Sky Conference season against a team they had not beaten in their last eight attempts, the Cats needed to hit the ground running if they wanted to stand a chance. Compared to their anemic starts the last two games, Ash’s squad looked more than up to the challenge straight out of the gate.
“That was the ideal gameplan,” Ash said after the game. “Exactly what we tried to do … We knew the stakes were high and that we needed to get a touchdown on that first drive.”
Firing off to a 14-0 lead just 10 minutes into the first quarter, the Bobcats were finally able to give their still-developing defense a comfortable lead to protect. After an atrocious outing last week, the defense looked stellar this weekend in slowing down Cal Poly’s tricky triple-option offense, holding the Mustangs to just 406 total yards while the Cats gained 602.
On their third possession of the game, MSU busted a massive 88-yard play-action wide open pass from junior Dakota Prukop to sophomore Jayshawn Gates to put the Cats up by three touchdowns just one quarter into the game.
“A lot of teams are going to try to roll down that backside safety to take away the zone-read and so when we see those triggers from the safety it opens up the deep ball,” noted Prukop. “And Coach Cramsey did an awesome job with our game plan and made it easy for us.”
To their credit, Cal Poly refused to give up, sticking to their guns and crawling back to a 31-21 halftime deficit, and with the Mustangs receiving the ball to start the second half, the stadium seemed worried about another comeback attempt as Cal Poly gained a bit of momentum.
Those fears quickly dissipated as the Bobcat defense forced the Mustangs into two consecutive three-and-outs to open the second half while the offense took full advantage and the Cats bolted out to a 45-21 lead that proved insurmountable. Cal Poly closed the gap to 45-28 but could get no closer than that and the Cats proved victorious.
Prukop had himself quite the day, throwing for 399 yards and three TDs on 19 of 26 passing and didn’t have to scramble nearly as much as he did the previous two weeks. Junior Chad Newell and the offensive line punched in three rushing scores and Newell gained 111 yards on 19 carries. University of Miami transfer Beau Sandland finally showed the skills he brings to the MSU offense, breaking out for 156 receiving yards and two touchdowns in his third game as a Bobcat. After the game, the senior commented, “We’ve got so many weapons in this offense, you can’t really expect one guy to be able to cover one-on-one. So if they’re going to draw attention to one guy, then another guy will be open and I was just in the right spot to make those plays.”
The Cats will look to keep things rolling as the head down to Northern Arizona next week for another tough conference matchup. The Lumberjacks are coming off a 23-14 road loss to the University of Montana Grizzlies but are notoriously tough to beat at home in the Skydome. The Cats will have to continue their winning ways if the want to keep pace with the Big Sky heavyweights in the race for a conference championship. The game will kick off at 4:05 p.m. and will be televised on ABC/FOX affiliates locally.