The tone for the day was set early.
Montana State got a stop one yard from its own red zone on the game's first drive, Luke Daly answered with a 57-yard field goal on the Cats’ first offensive drive leading MSU to a 44-20 win over Idaho State Saturday inside Holt Arena.
“We talked all week about just having some fun and winning the game,” said MSU head coach Rob Ash, “and I think things just clicked. We got the stop on defense and then the 57-yard field goal, and when you get off to a good start you can survive disappointments later in the game. Getting off to that start was key.”
Montana State gained 546 yards on the afternoon, led by Chad Newell’s 110 on the ground and Dakota Prukop’s 263 through the air. Gunnar Brekke chipped in 31 rushing and 98 receiving. Ash called it a well-rounded effort. “I thought a lot of different players made positive contributions,” he said.
The most important of those don’t show up in the stats. Fully 60 percent of MSU’s starting offensive linemen missed the game with injuries – JP Flynn played two plays, and Kyle Godecke and Alex Eekhoff didn’t make the trip. “I’m very proud of the (offensive line) guys,” Ash said. “That’s especially true because three of the starters didn’t play.”
The Bobcats were also without starting corners Bryson Keeton and Tre’von Strong, and starting defensive linemen Tyrone Fa’anono and Tucker Yates. Ash was pleased with the work of those reserves, but particularly Trace Timmer, who filled in for Keeton. “Trace really played a terrific game,” he said. “He did a very good job on Madison Mangum.”
While Mangum (112 yards receiving) and ISU’s star running back Xavier Finney (145 yards rushing) each ended up with outstanding statistical days, the Cats held the duo in check in the first half. Mangum had just 46 yards at the intermission, Finney 80. MSU out-gained the Bengals 294-to-171 in the first half.
After accepting the opening kickoff – Hagen Graves was stopped at the ISU 18 on the return – the Bengal ran 11 plays and moved 67 yards, possessing the ball nearly four minutes. But on a fourth-and-nine, Bengals quarterback Michael Sanders threw incomplete and the Bobcats had a stop at their own 21. The Bengals also kept the Cats out of the end zone on MSU’s opening drive, but Luke Daly drilled a 57-yard field goal to get the Bobcats on the board.
Montana State’s defense doubled down on the opening-drive stop the next time ISU got the ball, forcing a three-and-out. After a 17-yard punt by Zak Johnson, Prukop found Mitch Griebel for a 40-yard touchdown and MSU had its first double-digit lead since October 24.
The beat, though, went on. The Bobcat defense forced another three-and out, and spurred by a 24-yard Prukop pass to Beau Sandland the Cats scored again when Sandland caught a four-yard touchdown pass to give MSU a 17-0 lead. A 20-yard run by Prukop with 7:18 to play in the half boosted MSU’s lead to 24-0, and when Daly became the second Bobcat in history to hit two 50-yarders in a game MSU headed into the locker room up 27-0.
While the Cats were without several key players on Saturday, it’s who the team had at its disposal that mattered. Prukop was rumored throughout the week to be on the shelf, and in fact some degree of doubt shaded his status until the minutes before kickoff. Running back Chad Newell didn’t was also heavily limited in practice last week. But the linchpins to MSU offense were staunch. Prukop threw four touchdown passes, and Newell plowed his way to a 110-yard afternoon. Mitchell Herbert, Mitch Griebel, Beau Sandland and Justin Paige each caught scoring strikes.
The defense had its stars, as well. Timmer logged a career high 13 tackles with two pass breakups, while Mac Bignell had three tackles-for-loss and Jessie Clark had a sack. Khari Garcia broke up three passes.
The win levels Montana State’s record at 5-5, 3-4 in Big Sky play, while Idaho State falls to 2-8 overall, 1-6 in league play. Montana State hosts the Brawl of the Wild on Saturday at noon.