BOZEMAN – Facing a fourth-quarter deficit for the second straight week, Montana State scored 15 points in the game’s final 7:02 and forced turnovers on its final two defensive possessions to earn a 43-35 win over 23rd-ranked Stephen F. Austin in smoky Bozeman on Saturday.
“One of the core values of this team is resiliency,” said senior linebacker Jody Owens, who logged eight tackles on Saturday. “When it was time to buckle down today, we did.”
In a donnybrook of a game in which neither team led by more than eight, Montana State’s late push boosted the Bobcats to 3-0 for the first time since 1978. More importantly, it gave the team a win over a playoff-caliber opponent which Rob Ash admitted all week lended a post-season feel to preparation.
“Stephen F. Austin is a very good team,” Ash said. “They have fantastic players. DeNarius (McGhee) and I were talking, they have at least one great player at every position on defense, and it’s the same way on offense. They are tough and well-coached. J.C. (Harper) has done a great job with that program. That is a very good team.”
Harper said that assessment applied to MSU. “They’re a good football team,” he said, “and I think we’re a good football team.”
While MSU grabbed an edge in turnovers with its late takeaways, penalties played a key role throughout. SFA was penalized 14 times for 130 yards, while the Cats drew eight flags for 96 yards.
“You can’t win with foolish penalties,” Harper said. “We talk about it all the time.”
Lumberjack quarterback Brady Attaway was spectacular against a Bobcat defense missing starting defensive linemen Zach Minter and Brad Daly, although his status was unknown until Friday due to an injury sustained last week. He finished the day 33-for-52 passing for 418 yards and three touchdowns. Cordell Roberson was the main beneficiary, catching 10 passes for 163 yards.
None of Roberson’s 10 catches were as dramatic as the 75-yard touchdown catch with 6:23 to play after the Bobcats had grabbed a 34-29 lead. That swung the momentum back to the visiting Lumberjacks.
But Montana State responded, marching 65 yards in six plays. The big play came on a swing pass from McGhee to Tray Robinson for 26 yards, and Cody Kirk’s five-yard run got the Bobcats into the end zone.
On the first play of the next drive, Attaway chucked a pass over the middle that Steven Bethley intercepted. “We were in kind of a cover four with a bracket to one side,” he said. “I was reading the quarterbacks eyes, and he led me right to the ball.”
Rory Perez converted Montana State’s first field goal of the season three plays later, and Attaway was sacked by Caleb Schreibeis on the second play of the next drive, fumbling. The ball was recovered by Hayden Vick, and the Cats had the win.
“They came into our house and gave us their best shot,” Owens said. “I’m sure this is something we’ll use later in the season.”
– MSU Sports Information