First Look

FIRST LOOK: Montana State focused on Drake after narrow Wyoming loss


BOZEMAN, Montana — Montana State missed a golden opportunity to spring an FBS upset Saturday in Laramie.

Despite the disappointment of Brent Vigen’s first game as MSU’s head coach squaring off against a Wyoming Cowboys squad that Vigen helped guide for seven seasons prior to his debut.

But Montana State’s 19-16 loss in which Wyoming scored the go-ahead touchdown with 47 seconds left is squarely in the past as the Bobcats prepares for their annual “Gold Rush” home opener against a Drake program with plenty of crossover with Montana State.

“In looking back through the film, very much what we thought walking off the field,” Vigen said. “We played very hard and we did a lot of things well and didn’t seize control of the game. We had opportunities offensively to open the lead up and we had a couple of chances in the fourth quarter where the defense had the chance to close the deal. Neither of those things happened.

“A lot of things to correct but a lot of things to praise at the same time so the way we respond is important. We are on to Drake, on to Gold Rush and excited for the opportunity in front of us.”

Montana State held a lead for the first three quarters of Saturday’s game while also earning an upper hand along the lines and in total physicality. Senior defensive tackle Chase Benson led a charge that held Wyoming’s vaunted rushing attack to 3.5 yards per carry.

The Cowboys didn’t reach double digits in total first downs until minutes into the fourth quarter. Montana State dictated the point of attack for most of the action while also fully bottling up WYO dual threat quarterback Sean Chambers, once a Vigen protégé.

Montana State cornerback James Campbell (4) tackles a Wyoming ball carrier Saturday/by Garrett Becker – Montana State Creative Services

But Wyoming tight end Treyton Welch caught a 21-yard touchdown pass with 47 seconds left to help the hosts escape in front of a near-sellout crowd at War Memorial Stadium, costing a Bobcat squad with a brutal Big Sky Conference slate what would’ve been a landmark road victory over a regional FBS foe.

“It was an opportunity for us to beat a good team in an electric environment and we put ourselves right on the edge to do that no matter who we would’ve played,” Vigen said. “When you are going through it and in the moment, that’s what it’s all about. Not who it was, where it was, none of that.”

None of that matters now. The ebbs and flows of college football are officially back. Montana State must now ready itself for Saturday’s sure to be sold out home opener against Drake under the Bobcat Stadium lights.

The Bulldogs have some recent history with Montana State (and Montana), both in a pair of non-conference games in the early 2010s to the lingering influence of Rob Ash, the former MSU skipper who spent 18 previous years as Drake’s head coach before taking the Montana State reigns in 2007 and spending nine seasons leading MSU..

Ash led the Bulldogs to at least seven wins 10 times, at least eight seven times and 10 wins in 2004 during one of four Pioneer League championship campaigns. Ash also helped lobby to get the Pioneer playoff eligibility. At Montana State, Ash won a program-record 70 games and helped MSU earn shares of three consecutive Big Sky titles between 2010 and 2012.

Ash’s departure from Drake opened the door for Chris Creighton, who led the Bulldogs from 2008 until 2013. He led Drake to consecutive Pioneer League titles in 2012 and 2013, respectively. The ‘Dogs lost 34-24 the second game of the 2012 season to a Bobcat squad with a No. 4 national ranking.

Drake also took on Montana in Missoula in 2018, Bobby Hauck’s first season back at the helm for UM. That contest was under the direction of head coach Rick Fox, who took over when Creighton took the head job at Eastern Michigan. He led Drake to four 7-4 seasons in five years before resigning.

The Bulldogs are 8-8 since, including a 2-3 mark during the spring season.

“Try to look at it big picture much like I think teams have to look at us; big picture, of a couple years now, I know they were able to play in the spring and had some mixed results,” Vigen said. “They went head to head against San Diego, who we play the next week and that was a back and forth affair. I think back to 2019, they played South Dakota State and North Dakota and certainly hung around. I think back to 2018, they played Iowa State late in the season.

“They are a very capable program…They will be prepared to play us. They utilize a lot of different weapons on offense. And on defense, they pose some problems and play sound. It will be a good test.”


Location: Des Moines, Iowa

Founded: 1881. The school is named after Civil War general Francis Marion Drake, its co-founder.

Enrollment: 5,221. Drake is ranked as the third-best regional university in its class by U.S. News and World Report. The school had an endowment of $220 million in 2020.

Notable alumni: Zach Johnson, golfer; Billy Cundiff, NFL placekicker; Terry Branstad, U.S. ambassador to China

Stadium: Drake Stadium seats 14,557, the highest capacity in the Pioneer League. It’s best-known as the home of the Drake Relays, one of the premier track meets in the country, and also hosted the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships in 2018.


Stepsis served as Drake’s defensive coordinator from 2014 until 2018. When Fox abruptly resigned, Stepsis took over as a head coach for the first time. Stepsis played at Ashland, a Division II school in Ohio where Montana State offensive coordinator Taylor Housewright as an All-American quarterback in 2012. Stepsis played at Ashland with his career culminating in 1999.

Drake head coach Todd Stepsis/ by Drake Athletics

After his playing career ended, Stepsis spent a season at Division III Oterbein and nine more as the defensive coordinator at D-III Capital University in Bexley, Ohio. He spent six seasons between 2008 and 2013 as the defensive coordinator at Division II Saginaw Valley State before joining Fox’s staff in 2014 as the defensive coordinator, a position he held until Fox’s resignation in 2018.

In two seasons as the head coach at Drake, Stepsis is 8-8. The Bulldogs finished 6-5 in 2019 and went 2-3 during the truncated spring season.

The offensive line coach on Stepsis’ staff is Steve Flynn, the older brother of former Montana State All-American J.P. Flynn. Steve Flynn was a graduate assistant at Montana State on Ash’s staff.



The Oklahoma prep 6A-1 Offensive Player of the Year from Tulsa, led his Jenks High School team to a runner-up finish in the state playoffs. As a true freshman at Drake, Corwin was one of the top freshmen in the country. He claimed a STATS FCS Player of the Week by throwing for 255 yards against Marist. He finished as a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman in the FCS after throwing for 2,101 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2019.

Ian Corwin

During the spring season, Corwin hardly played because of injuries. He appeared in four games but didn’t do much statistically.

He’s a dual-threat who, while not elite when it comes to mobility, is enough of a threat to be accounted for in the zone-read game and when extending plays with his legs.

Corwin went 8-of-11 for 180 yards and a score while rushing for two more touchdowns in Drake’s 45-3 win over West Virginia Wesleyan last week.

“Offensively, we feel like their quarterback can make some plays,” VIgen said. “He’s a guy who can get out of pocket and create some problems. “


The Naperville, Illinois native was Drake’s bell cow during the spring season, marking his first time filling that role.

The power back rushed for 301 yards and scored two touchdowns. In 2019, he managed 243 yards and a touchdown. In 2018, he totaled 146 yards, including gaining 73 all-purpose yards in Drake’s loss at Montana in Missoula.

Robinson rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown last week.


Caden Meis

The former prep All-American lacrosse player is the other half of Drake’s one-two punch out of the backfield. He rushed for 208 yards and two touchdowns in the spring. In 2019, he rushed for 194 yards and caught an 11-yard touchdown.

Meis rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown last week.

“Running backs, they have two guys who put up yards,” Vigen said. “Robinson is a good-sized kid who has really good feet. The other guy can hurt you, too.”



The fifth-year senior defensive back was the first Pioneer Football League Defensive Player of the Week this season.

Alex Rogers

Last week, Rogers collected his first career interception midway through the second quarter with Wesleyan driving into Bulldogs’ territory. He intercepted the pass at the 8-yard line and returned it 18 yards.

The Bulldogs converted the turnover into a touchdown seven plays later. Rogers added three tackles (two solo) in the victory as Drake’s defense held West Virginia Wesleyan to179 total yards.

He had 62 tackles and three tackles for loss in 2019 while earning honorable mention All-Pioneer honors.


Hoper did not play football his first year out of high school in 2018. In 2019, he was a fringe contributor for the Bulldogs.

Jake Hoper

In the spring of 2021, he blossomed, earning second-team All-Pioneer League honors. He rolled up 18 tackles and 3.5 sacks to lead the Bulldog front.

“They return some guys who play well up front,” Vigen said. “I think for us, we can’t get in our own way. We did that a little too much on Saturday against Wyoing. That’s going to be a big challenge.

“They don’t make huge mistakes. They are going to be sound, they are going to be in the right places and to ultimately beat a team like that, you have to be consistent and you can’t get in your own way. That’s the biggest thing for us.”

Photos courtesy of Montana State Athletics; and Drake Athletics. 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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