Bobcats party like it was 1984

By Pat Kearney

The fall of 1984 provided football fans with one of the most amazing stories of all time. The Montana State football team went from one of the worst teams in 1-AA football in 1983 to the best of the land in 1984.

Montana State, under second-year head coach Dave Arnold, went into the 1984 campaign with few high hopes. The Bobcats struggled through a dreadful season the year before winning only one game. The victory was a 28-8 pasting of cross-state rival Montana in the annual Divide War game.

Montana State had loads of players back from that 1983 team; however, few thought the Cats would amount to much of a club.

The forecast certainly appeared that way in week one when MSU trailed Mesa College of Colorado. The Bobcats fought back and pulled out a hard-fought win over Mesa. Arnold’s club struggled through its first four games going 2-2. The Bobcats had a nice win over Idaho, but dropped games to Eastern Washington and Idaho State.

The loss to the Bengals in Bozeman seemed to inspire the Montana State team. In its next game, the Cats walloped Weber State 48-0. The victory ignited a fire that got hotter than a  July day in the California dessert.

The MSU Bobcats became impossible to beat with the exploits of quarterback Kelly Bradley and the hard-rocking defense led by Choteau native Mark Fellows. The Bobcats shocked Nevada-Reno in Bozeman 45-41 in four overtime periods. Montana State edged a tough Boise State team behind a brilliant touchdown run by Jesse Jones who broke through six tackles on his way to the end zone. The Cats came from behind to beat an upset-minded Montana Grizzly club in Missoula. Montana State finished off the incredible run through league play by hammering Northern Arizona in Bozeman. The win gave Montana State the 1984 Big Sky Conference championship.

The Bobcats closed out the regular season by beating Fresno State with a come-from-behind performance. They scored in the final seconds on a touchdown reception by Deer Lodge native Joe Bignell.

Montana State got a chance to host a playoff game in Bozeman against Arkansas State.

The Cats were down 14-0 in the first quarter thanks to a pair of interceptions that were returned for scores. Montana State dug out of the hole and came back to beat Arkansas State.

The next week MSU hosted Rhode Island in the national semifinal game. The Rams were up 20-12 in the fourth quarter when Kelly Bradley hooked up with Butte native Kelly Davis on a long touchdown pass to close the margin down to 20-18.

The score remained that way with three minutes to go in the game and Rhode Island sitting on the Bobcats’ 15-yard line. Earlier in the game, Rams’ quarterback Tom Earhart fooled MSU defensive back Joe Roberts, which resulted in a Rhode Island touchdown from about the same distance on the field. Earhart came back with the same play on third down and this time Roberts was ready. He picked off the Earhart pass at the three-yard line and took off down the field. He almost fell near midfield, but his teammate Tex Sikora of Billings kept him on his feet. Roberts took it all the way for a touchdown and the capacity crowd at Reno H. Sales Stadium exploded with joy. The Bobcats on the brink of defeat now led 25-20. It is without question the most electric moment in the history of Montana State football.

Rhode Island muffed the ensuing kickoff that Miles City native Kenny Lang recovered for MSU. On the next play, the Bobcats scored and won a thriller 32-20.

Montana State followed that win up by trouncing Louisiana Tech 19-6 in the national championship game played in Charlestown, South Carolina. The lowly one-win Bobcats of 1983 were now the national champions of the 1-AA world in 1984.

The incredible road to a national title will be celebrated this weekend in Bozeman during homecoming week. The 1984 national championship Montana State Bobcats will be honored during ceremonies

For any MSU Bobcat fan who saw the amazing performance of a team that came out of nowhere to win it all will cherish to honor such a brilliant feat.. Bobcats fans will all be singing  “I’ll want to be partying again like it was 1984,” a blue and gold football treasure.