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Rapid reaction: No. 4 Montana State 38, No. 15 Eastern Washington 35

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Posted at 5:47 PM, Sep 24, 2022

CHENEY, Wash. — Montana State lost quarterback Tommy Mellott to injury in the first quarter, but the fourth-ranked Bobcats gutted out a 38-35 victory Saturday at No. 15 Eastern Washington in their Big Sky Conference opener at Roos Field.

At the 3:33 mark of the first, Mellott was injured at the end of a 12-yard run. Mellott slid to avoid contact but banged his head hard off the red turf when two EWU defenders converged on him. After the play, Mellott lay motionless and eventually needed help leaving the field.

Mellott did not return, though he came back to the sideline after halftime. Sean Chambers took the QB reins full time, and he produced 160 rushing yards on 28 attempts, including the game-winning score late in the fourth quarter.

It is the second consecutive season that MSU has won atop the red “Inferno” turf at Roos Field.

Turning point: MSU linebacker Callahan O’Reilly forced a fumble from EWU’s Micah Smith with 3:43 remaining, and Ty Okada recovered it on the Eagles’ 20. That produced a 13-yard touchdown run by Chambers, putting the Bobcats ahead 38-35 with 3:26 left.

MSU’s defense held strong on Eastern’s ensuing possession, which ended with an interception by the Bobcats’ Danny Uliulakepa. The interception was reviewed by the officials for several minutes but was upheld. MSU ran out the clock after that.

Stat of the game: The Bobcats again piled up the rushing yards. Behind Chambers and Elliott, MSU rushed for 355 yards on 60 carries, an average of 5.9 per rush. The Cats had four rushing touchdowns: two by Chambers, and one each from Elliott and fullback R.J. Fitzgerald.

Bobcat game balls: RB Elijah Elliott (offense). The Bobcats’ running back depth is still depleted with injuries to Isaiah Ifanse, Lane Sumner and others, but Elijah Elliott took at least some pressure off MSU’s QB run game with 156 yards and a touchdown.

LB Callahan O’Reilly (defense). With Eastern Washington leading 35-31 with 3:43 remaining, O’Reilly forced a fumble from Micah Smith that Ty Okada recovered for the Bobcats on the Eagles’ 20.

DB Ty Okada (special teams). Okada blocked an Eastern Washington punt with about 3:30 remaining in the second quarter, which gave MSU the ball in Eagles territory. The Bobcats, though, came away with no points as Blake Glessner missed a field goal wide right.

What’s next: The Bobcats, now 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the league, will play their first Big Sky Conference home game next week against UC Davis. The game will kick off at 8:15 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPNU.