Game Recap

Bobcats go blow for blow but fall late to Cowboys in Laramie


LARAMIE, Wyoming — Troy Andersen and the Bobcats got off the plane sporting cowboy hats with a collective mission to punch the Cowboys in the collective mouths.

And the ‘Cats did just that on Saturday afternoon at War Memorial Stadium here.

Montana State allowed Wyoming to earn just four first downs in the entire first half and kept UW out of the end-zone until nearly two minutes into the fourth quarter. The notion that MSU has some of the top offensive and defensive line units in the Football Championship Subdivision was confirmed resoundingly.

Chase Benson, Daniel Hardy and the Bobcat defensive front caused havoc all afternoon, allowing the powerful Wyoming run game just 3.5 yards per rush.

The Bobcat offensive line dug in and helped wear down the Pokes as junior tailback Isaiah Ifanse rumbled his way to his eighth career 100-yard game, finishing with 103 yards on 16 carries.

Montana State did not look overmatched at any position on Saturday afternoon with 27,077 mostly clad in brown and gold taking in the first game at War Memorial Stadium with a significant number of fans in the stands since 2019.

And when Treyton Pickering, one of the true cowboys on Montana State’s roster, caught a 1-yard touchdown with two minutes, 17 seconds left, it looked like Montana State might post its fourth win over an FBS squad in school history, including the first since they defeated Colorado in Boulder 19-10 in 2006.

It looked like the Bobcats would be wearing cowboy hats on the ride home, too.

Yet none of the storybook came to fruition. Instead of first-year Bobcat head coach Brent Vigen walking into his old home and stealing a win against a man in Craig Bohl who he worked for 18 years; instead of Montana State snaring a landmark win to affirm that Bobcat Nation shouldn’t miss Jeff Choate so much after all; instead of helping the Big Sky Conference post a third win over an FBS squad of the opening weekend of the 2021 season; Instead, the Bobcats were left to wonder what might have been.

From a failed fourth down try late in the first half to a couple of crucial penalties including one that negated an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown by Willie Patterson and another in the red-zone that helped Wyoming on its first touchdown drive all the way to a missed field goal, another broke coverage in the red-zone and everything in between, Montana State left War Memorial wishing they had a few more seconds.

Four seconds to be specific. When Ifanse’s final reception was spotted a yard short of moving the sticks and the final four seconds ticked off the clock, the reality of a narrow, disappointing loss set in as the scoreboard read 19-16 in favor of the hosts.

“I thought our guys really fought hard today and we were looking for an opportunity to win a football game and we said it was going to take max effort and I think we accomplished that,” Vigen said. “We also thought it was going to take an acute attention to detail and I don’t know if we were there.

“In a game like that where it’s as close as it was and it’s a matter of seconds and probably half a foot to get a first down and a field goal opportunity, there’s way more than that play.

“I’m proud of our guys. There was no thought of coming down here and playing them close. There is no satisfaction of playing them close. This one hurt and it should.”

Jeffrey Manning Jr., a physical and rangy safety who transferred to MSU from Oregon State in January of 2020, snared an interception less than three minutes into his first start, returning the errant Sean Chambers throw to the Wyoming 13-yard line.

On the very next play, Matt McKay threw his first touchdown pass of his first Bobcat start to MSU senior Lance McCutcheon, who ended up hauling in five passes for 71 yards and the 13-yard score to give Montana State a 7-0 lead with 11:47 left in the first quarter.

Montana State wide receiver Lance McCutcheon (86) haul in a one-handed catch vs. Wyoming/by Garrett Becker – Montana State Creative Services

Montana State held that lead for the next 29 minutes, allowing Wyoming to gain just four first downs and 104 yards in the first half and just 198 through three quarters. MSU held Xazavian Valladay, an All-Mountain West talent who averaged more than 100 yards per game each of the last two seasons, to 77 yards on 19 carries.

And Wyoming needed Chambers’ 21-yard touchdown strike to Treyton Welch with 47 seconds left plus one last defensive stand to earn a home victory against the FCS visitors from Bozeman that earned a $425,000 check in the narrow defeat.

“We are going to be positive about how we did respond but trust me…I don’t want to say this but I’m happy we won, there are great things we did that showed some resolve but there is a lot of work to do,” Wyoming eighth-year head coach Craig Bohl said.

Montana State controlled the game for most of the action despite the untimely penalties, the mistakes and the missed opportunities.

Operating first-year defensive coordinator Freddie Banks’ 4-2-5 scheme for the first time, the Bobcat defense flew around, led by a front spearheaded by senior defensive tackle Chase Benson who dominated the interior from start to finish.

That freed up Amandre Williams and Daniel Hardy, a pair of seniors playing defensive end for the first time, to fly around, combining for 10 tackles, three tackles for loss and Hardy’s sack.

Montana State defensive end Daniel Hardy (44) tackles a Wyoming ball carrier/by Garrett Becker – Montana State Creative Services

“The line of scrimmage was an area where I thought we would have a huge advantage and as I walked off the field, I don’t think we had a huge advantage,” Bohl said. “If there was an advantage, it was pretty slight.”

In his first start at inside linebacker Andersen, a senior All-American, racked up a team-high 11 tackles, including a few key sticks late to keep the Cowboys at bay. That despite the fact that he limped on the sideline every time he was not in the game for the final 3 quarters, talking to trainers and riding the warm-up bike.

Junior nickel Ty Okada, senior safety Tre Webb, junior cornerback James Campbell and junior inside linebacker Callahan O’Reilly all showed well defensively, as did sophomore Nolan Askelson, who saw more snaps in place of Andersen. MSU allowed Wyoming 347 yards on 69 plays (five yards per play) and just 18 first downs.

“Definitely disappointed,” Hardy said. “These guys were not unbeatable but we definitely felt we had a shot, especially being up most of the game. It’s disappointing. It came down to a two-minute drive and it was on us. We played our hearts out for sure.”

“I really thought we’d have a chance to be disruptive and we have a lot of really good players,” Vigen added. “I suspected we would hold our own and I didn’t think we had a glaring mismatch and our guys believed that. It wasn’t wishful thinking. It was evident on the field that we belonged out there.”

Ifanse – who is coming up on becoming the 13th Bobcat to rush 2,000 yards in his career – really got going in the second half, surpassing 100 yards for the ninth time in his career despite only getting two carries in the first 22 minutes of the game.

Montana State running back Isaiah Ifanse (22)/by Garrett Becker – Montana State Creative Services

“We might want to get him more carries,” Vigen said. “He was fresh down the stretch and that showed. Isaiah can be a real factor. He’s great at breaking tackles and great when he gets out in the open and he showed that against a pretty good team.”

Chambers finished the game 15-of-26 for 196 yards and the game-winning touchdown. In his first start at MSU, McKay completed 19-of-28 passes for 200 yards and the touchdowns to McCutcheon and Pickering. McCutcheon finished with five catches (on 11 targets) for 71 yards and his fifth career touchdown. Pickering, playing in his first game, caught three passes for 31 yards.

“Very tough; thought the offense had a lot of opportunities to score and as a whole, defense was really shutting them down so we just have to execute better,” McKay said.

Wyoming rolled up 148 yards in the fourth quarter as Chambers finally settled in. After overthrowing his receivers consistently, and even having the ball straight slip out of his hand on a third quarter attempt, he completed passes of 31 yards, 24 yards and the game-winning 21-yard TD strike.

“We more than had our chances today but it’s not about one play, it’s a collection and you flip that around, I know they have a collection of plays they want back too but they found a way to win and that’s what matters,” Vigen said.

The loss marks the first of Vigen’s career as a head coach. He spent from 2014 until last fall on Bohl’s staff as the offensive coordinator at Wyoming. Before that, he was an offensive assistant on Bohl’s staff for 11 seasons at North Dakota State.

Montana State quarterback Matt McKay (1) throws a touchdown vs. Wyoming/by Garrett Becker – Montana State Creative Services

Bohl sought out Vigen to shake his hand almost instantly after the game. The two shared a moment at midfield.

“I know how Brent feels and I’ve been there before,” Bohl said. “He just got his heart ripped out. I don’t want to get into all the family ties. Deep. Parents, my kids, the whole nine yards.

“What a whale of a ball game. It’s too bad, if there was a time I would’ve wanted Brent to win one, it would’ve been some other game than today but if they would’ve won, I would’ve been happy for them.

“He’s a heck of a person and I think he’ll be a great head coach. Today demonstrated how he prepared that football team.”

Vigen expressed similar disappointment but expressed it in his trademark tempered, steady manner.

“Certainly a lot of emotion; a weird, weird drive from Cheyenne; I’ve taken that drive hundreds of times and getting on that bus this morning…there are a lot of guys on that sideline that are like brothers, players, they are like sons.

“But at this point, I’m a Bobcat and none of that mattered. We are on different teams. I’m a competitor just like all of our guys are. First head coaching experience to be in War Memorial Stadium, it was that way for a reason and we made it about our guys and they played their tails off. That’s what I wanted it to be about and it was.”

Montana State defenders, featuring linebacker Troy Andersen (15), tackle a Wyoming ball carrier/by Garrett Becker – Montana State Creative Services

The last time Montana State won an FBS game, Mike Kramer’s lost 35-24 to Division II Chadron State the next week. Montana State wants to move on from Saturday’s letdown as soon as possible, at least when it comes to MSU’s new head coach.

“We have the makings of a real good football team and I’m proud of how we competed today,” Vigen said.

“We have a bunch of good players on this team who have an expectation to win football gams and we didn’t get that done today so we have to do all we can to get that W next week.”

The Bobcats host Drake for its annual Gold Rush game on Saturday night at Bobcat Stadium.

Photos by Garrett Becker – Montana State Creative Services. Main photo courtesy of Wyoming Sports Information. All Rights Reserved.

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

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