The Montana State Bobcat football team, previously favorites to win the Big Sky Conference, will most likely miss the playoffs for the second time in three years after they were unable to win their first road game at the Alerus Center, falling to the University of North Dakota by a score of 38-44.
The porous Bobcat defense allowed 548 yards of total offense, with 426 yards coming on the ground. UND freshman running backs John Santiago and Brady Oliveira accounted for 397 of these yards, with four touchdowns. Santiago was especially lethal on the ground, as two of his touchdown runs came from 45 and 75 yards out; he finished the day with 230 yards and three touchdowns.
Montana State’s offense continued to put up huge numbers, as junior quarterback Dakota Prukop threw and ran for 224 and 65 yards respectively. Turnovers were an issue for Prukop as he threw two interceptions and had a costly redzone fumble in the fourth quarter. Sophomore wide receiver Jayshawn Gates led the Bobcats with 74 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Through the air, senior WR Mitchell Herbert had 76 yards receiving and a touchdown. Overall the Cats put up 479 total offensive yards.
The first half was a shootout as the Bobcats long touchdown drives were typically answered by quick strikes from UND. North Dakota led 31-24 at the half, with all four of their touchdowns coming either runs or passes of 30 yards or longer.
Both teams continued to trade punches in the second half, points coming at a premium as both defenses tightened. With 12:38 left in the game and the score tied at 38, Bobcat junior defensive end Jessie Clark forced a fumble on UND sophomore quarterback Keaton Studsrud, which was recovered by Bobcat freshman defensive back Demonte King at the UND 33 yard line. The Cats drove to the 19 where Dakota Prukop fumbled as he tried to dump the ball while under pressure. The play was initially ruled intentional grounding before instant replay overturned the call, giving the ball back to UND. North Dakota fumbled again at the MSU 47 with 7:49 left, but the Cats were forced to punt as the offense were unable to convert on two golden opportunities.
UND took the lead 44-38, but a missed extra point gave the Bobcats the opportunity to win the game with 1:41 left. On 3rd down, Bobcat sophomore wide receiver dropped a wide open pass that would have been a first down. On the next play Prukop’s pass was deflected by the UND defense, which sealed North Dakota’s first victory over the Bobcats since entering the Big Sky Conference.
The loss drops the Bobcats to 4-4 overall, and 2-3 in the conference. With three games left, the Bobcats will most likely find themselves out of the playoffs. With one of their wins coming against Division II Fort Lewis, the Bobcats will be unable to reach seven Division I wins, a mark which is often considered necessary to enter the playoffs.
In order for the Cats to avoid their first losing season since 2001, they will need to win two out of their last three games. The Cats will face conference leader Southern Utah next Saturday, Nov. 7, at Bobcat Stadium. The next week the Cats will travel for their final away game of the season at Idaho State, and then the following week the Cats will end their season against their bitter rival, the University of Montana.