BOZEMAN — In Montana State’s 124-year history, the Bobcats have only played McNeese State once — November 30, 2002 — during the first round of the FCS playoffs.
The Cowboys made it to the championship that year, but that season ended up being a turning point for both programs. Montana State has grown into a powerhouse amongst the FCS while McNeese State hasn’t won a playoff game since.
However, in head coach Brent Vigen's words.. “Tradition doesn’t just go away.”
“If you’ve had it over time at your institution, to light that fire it doesn’t necessarily take years," Vigen explained. "It just takes gaining a little momentum. We have to live in the moment of where this team is right now. Don’t look at maybe where they’ve been the last couple of years or whatever record-wise. Expect them to be playing a different brand of football that maybe we’ve been looking at from this most recent season.”
Between two hurricanes, academic sanctions, and four head coaches in five years – it’s safe to say McNeese State has had their fair share of battles recently.
Last fall, the Cowboys went 4-7 marking back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in 33 years.
“They’re coming off a coaching change, so there’s uncertainty as far as what we’re going to see on Saturday," Vigen added.
This game will mark a new era of football for McNeese State under the leadership of Gary Goff who spent the last three years at Valdosta State leading the Blazers to back-to-back conference titles and a trip to Division II National Championship game.
“They made the hire they did because of the success that he had had at Valdosta and there’s an expectation that this staff has to win like they’ve been winning," Vigen explained.
Goff brings over an entirely new staff – six from Valdosta State – but that’s not the only fresh thing about this program.
More than half their roster is new this fall making game-planning more difficult.
“It’s not a team where you can look just at their tape from last year and say this is exactly what they’re going to be," Vigen stated. "You can’t just look at Valdosta’s film necessarily and say this is exactly how they’re going to be. It’s got to be a blend of schemes from some different places and also the talent that they do return.”
One of those returners is linebacker Kordell Williams who led the Cowboys in tackles (100) last fall, and with the return of two vets — Mason Kinsey and Accord Green — on the line, McNeese State has sights set on remaining as the Southland’s top rushing defense.
“We’re really unsure what they’re going to throw us on defense - what kind of front," sophomore quarterback Tommy Mellott said. "We’ve been preparing for three and four down. I think we’re excited for the opportunity and we’re going to get after them for sure.”
Offensively, the Cowboys return their top rusher in Deonta McMahon, but the headline this fall has been the quarterback battle, which are both transfers from the FBS.
Cam Ransom from Georgia Southern will get the start Saturday, but the Virginia Tech transfer Knox Kadum is also expected to see the field as well.
“I think it’s pretty open-minded right now, but I know they were explosive at Valdosta," Vigen said. "I’m certain that they aim to be in this move to McNeese.”
McNeese versus Montana State kicks off under lights Saturday at 6 p.m.