Game Recap

Bobcats use surges of momentum to dispatch of visiting Bears


BOZEMAN – Montana State got the fast start it was seeking in its 40-7 win over Northern Colorado, but that was almost for naught at a sun-splashed Bobcat Stadium on Saturday afternoon in front of a capacity crowd.

The Bobcats, now 4-1 overall and 2-0 Big Sky, started stalling out in the second quarter after leaping out to a 20-0 lead. The Bears scored and were poised to do so again as the half closed out.  

Enter Eric Zambrano.

The athletic 6-1 sophomore cornerback picked off Dylan McCaffery’s pass at the MSU 14-yard line and returned it all the way back to the UNC 47. The momentarily dormant MSU offense, which had gone three-and-out on two straight series, sprang back to life at once and covered the 47 yards in just three plays capped by Isaiah Ifanse’s 17-yard TD run to turn what could’ve been a 20-14 game back into a 20-point lead at 27-7.

Montana State cornerback Eric Zambrano (1) returns an interception vs. Northern Colorado/by Brooks Nuanez

“Really athletic play for sure,” MSU head coach Brent Vigen said. “Not only the catch, but the return. You need guys to step up and make plays like that, especially when things are – not falling apart by any means, but not quite going our way. That was the pivotal play in this game.” 

“Felt unreal. Very shocking,” Zambrano said. “I know I can make those plays and there’s only more to come.

“I was bailing and I saw the quarterback just scrambling and he threw it my way and I was like, ‘okay, that’s me and picked it and took it to the crib.”

No. 11 MSU’s defense returned to form after allowing 104 yards on two second quarter drives.  The first unit allowed less than 100 yards other than that. 

MSU junior linebacker Callahan O’Reilly also had an interception in the first quarter and like Zambrano’s it set up a TD, this one by his former Bozeman High teammate Lance McCutcheon, who had another stellar day at wide receiver. 

“He’s just become a big time playmaker for our offense,” O’Reilly said of McCutcheon. “Anytime they throw the ball up to him there’s a good chance he’s coming down with it and he’s been making a lot of explosive plays.  It’s just awesome to see.”

McCutcheon finished the day with 104 yards on four catches. 

“Good buddy of mine, I went to high school with him, obviously, he was my quarterback,” McCutcheon said of O’Reilly. “To see him out at linebacker making plays makes me feel good to see one of my best friends from high school balling.”

Montana State wasn’t perfect, a fact not lost on first year head coach Vigen. A personal foul possibly cost MSU a touchdown on its fifth possession. Two possessions later the Bobcats were at the UNC 8 when another personal foul forced a field goal. Instead of what could’ve been a 28-0 lead it was 20-0.

“I think we’ve got a team that is continuing to mature and is continuing to grow its belief in each other,” he said. “We need to come back on Monday and learn each week. I think if we were perfect now, where would we go? These games are going to get more and more difficult as we go forward.”

Montana State linebacker Callahan O’Reilly (47) tackles a Northern Colorado ball carrier/by Books Nuanez

Quarterback Matt McKay continued his stellar play with a 15 for 23, 276 yard performance.  With two TD passes and no interceptions he raised his TD to interception ratio to 11-to-1 on the season.  His passer rating is nearing 180.

MSU was as balanced as it could possibly be with 552 total yards split 276-276 between the pass and run games.  Ifanse and Elijah Elliott both cracked the century mark running the ball.  It was the 12th such game for Ifanse and the first for the impressive Elliott, who broke off a nifty 56-yard run in the third quarter that featured at least two moves that befuddled UNC defenders and extended the run. 

 Ifanse is now sixth in 100-yard games. His 114 yards moves him past Chris Murray at No. 8 on the all-time list at Montana State. He’s just eight yards behind former Denver Bronco’ Tony Boddie for the seventh spot and 23 yards behind Matt Engelking for sixth. 

Freshmen were all over the stat sheet for the Bobcats. True frosh Andrew Patterson caught his first pass and it was doozy. Just as McKay was about to be hit he found Patterson on a crossing pattern and as McKay was hitting the turf, Patterson was off to the races for a 44-yard score.

Freshman Danny Uluilakepa filled in for senior star Troy Andersen and finished with nine tackles and a pass breakup. Andersen had three first tackles-for-loss. 

Montana State running back Elijah Elliott (13) looks for space vs. Northern Colorado/by Brooks Nuanez

Freshman receiver Jaden Smith made his presence felt by hauling in four passes for 75 yards, including a 17-yarder that helped set up Ifanse’s touchdown just before halftime.

Fellow frosh Tommy Mellott had four carries for 20 yards from the quarterback spot, including a 10-yard run on a third-and-nine play on MSU’s first series of downs. It was MSU’s only third down conversion out of six tries in the first half. 

Tru Wilson was a bright spot for the Bears with 11 carries for 60 yards. It was a rough day for UNC quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, who transferred from Michigan to play for his dad, former NFL star and Stanford All-America Ed McCaffrey. The senior transfer was just 14 of 24 for 99 yards with a TD and three interceptions. 

The Bobcats are home again this Saturday to face Cal Poly for their homecoming game, which starts at 2. The Bears will host No. 6 Eastern Washington.

Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.

Montana State quarterback Matt McKay (1) throws from the pocket vs. Northern Colorado/by Brooks Nuanez
Montana State wide receiver Lance McCutcheon (86) fights for yards after the catch vs. Northern Colorado/by Brooks Nuanez
Montana State linebacker Troy Andersen (15) shoots the gap vs. Northern Colorado/by Brooks Nuanez
Montana State wide receiver Lance McCutcheon (86) breaks a tackle on a touchdown run vs. Northern Colorado/by Brooks Nuanez
Montana State defensive back Ty Okada (7) breaks up a screen play vs. Northern Colorado/by Brooks Nuanez

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