BUTTE — Touchdown Tommy has made plenty of new fans during his time in Bozeman and he has just as much support from his hometown on the other side of the Great Divide.
A Butte High product whose ability to seemingly score at will this postseason has lifted Montana State's football team to heights it hasn't reached since the 1980s, Tommy Mellott's blend of raw athleticism and humble personality endeared him to the Mining City long before he joined the Bobcats.
That support was evident last weekend at Metal's Sports Bar and Grill, where a sizable contingent of MSU fans watched the hometown hero lead Montana State to a blowout 42-19 victory over top-seeded Sam Houston State. Mellott accounted for five touchdowns in that game — two passing touchdowns, two rushing scores and a touchdown reception.
That win earned MSU its first semifinal home game since the Montana State 1984 championship team, back when Bobcat Stadium was still known as Reno H. Sales Stadium and long before Division I-AA had been reclassified as the Football Championship Subdivision.
Thrust into the starting role after the abrupt departure of Matt McKay, Mellott had now delivered back-to-back playoff wins to put Montana State on the doorstep of the title game. The Bobcats will take on South Dakota State on Saturday at noon with a ticket to Frisco, Texas up for grabs.
"There was definitely a lot of cheering for Tommy during that game," said Dave Andrews, Metal's general manger. "And he didn't let the town down...it was electric."
Like Mellott, Andrews is a Butte native and Butte High graduate. He recognizes that what Mellott has accomplished this postseason has reverberated across the state and with Montana State alumni and fans everywhere.
But Mellott's heroics are especially significant to the residents of Butte, a town that in many ways is still reinventing itself after the closure of the Berkeley Pit in 1982, signaling an end to the copper boom that had defined the Mining City for over a century.
"It's exciting for the state of Montana and every Bobcat fan, but more importantly it's exciting for us folks from Butte."
Mellott's performance has made him a household name in Bobcat Nation and earned him countless shoutouts of #TouchdownTommy on Twitter. But as stunned as many have been by his exploits this postseason, his former teammates at Butte High weren't surprised to see him lighting up the scoreboard.
"It didn't shock me at all," said Butte senior Cole Stewart, who will play wide receiver for Montana Tech next fall. "Basketball or track or football, he's the hardest worker out there and no one could beat him out. That's kind of paid off for him now. It's no surprise to me or anyone here at Butte High."
"That's Tommy for you," said kicker Casey Kautzman, who along with wide receiver Dylan Snyder will reunite with Mellott next season at MSU. "He's smart, he's athletic, he's just a freak of nature. That wasn't really surprising for me."