Montana State got the breaks it needed early in its upset bid of No. 7 Weber State in Ogden. But a horrific break to Wildcat quarterback Kaden Jenks proved to be a turning point in a memorable rally to keep Weber on the inside track to a third straight playoff bid with a crucial 34-24 win on Saturday at Stewart Stadium.
MSU snared interceptions on two of its first three defensive possessions, turning the takeaways into a 10-0 lead due also to All-American kicker Trey Tuttle missing two short field goals with a penalty in between.
Troy Andersen responded to his first interception of the afternoon by ripping off a 71-yard touchdown, the quarterback’s 10th rushing touchdown of the season to stake the Bobcats to a 17-7 lead in the second quarter.
But the competitiveness of the first half was largely overshadowed by the gruesome lower right leg injury suffered by Jenks. One possession after the redshirt freshman backup quarterback turned a Jordan Preator interception into an eight-yard touchdown for WSU’s first score, Jenks scrambled on a play near midfield.
A host of Bobcats gang tackled Jenks, the quarterback’s leg twisting to the point that his foot was 180 degrees from its natural position. He initially tried to exit the field under his own power but melted into the turf as the shock of the injury set in.
After a long stoppage, all of Montana State’s defensive players ran to the middle of the field to shake Jenks’ hand as he was carted off the field. Jenks had come in on the fourth offensive series of the game to replace starter Jake Constantine. From that point, Weber State out-scored Montana State 27-7 behind three short rushing touchdowns by senior Treshawn Garrett to move to 3-1 in Big Sky Conference play, 5-2 overall. Montana State fell to 2-2 in league play, 4-3 overall.
Following the shocking scene, Weber responded in impressive fashion. After a 2-of-7 start throwing the ball, Constantine returned to hit Justin Malone for a 22-yard gain and Devon Cooley for an 18-yard gain to set up Garrett’s first one-yard touchdown with 42 seconds in the first half. The senior’s first touchdown of the season cut the Montana State lead to 17-14 at halftime.
MSU built the first half lead thanks to an interception by Jahque Alleyne, his fourth of the season, to end Weber’s first drive and give the Bobcats possession inside the red-zone. Travis Jonsen, taking snaps at quarterback after playing wide receiver most of the year, scored a seven-yard touchdown to give Montana State a 7-0 lead.
MSU junior defensive end Derek Marks tipped Constantine’s pass at the line of scrimmage later in the first half and the ball landed in Buck end Dante Sparaco’s arms. The Bobcats turned their second takeaway into a 27-yard Tristan Bailey field goal to take a 10-0 lead.
Weber State got in on the takeaways as Jordan Preator intercepted Andersen and returned the ball 38 yards to the MSU 13-yard line. Two players later, Jenks scored an eight-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 10-7.
In what is becoming his customary fashion, Andersen responded from the thrown interception to rip off a 71-yard touchdown run with six minutes until halftime to give MSU its largest lead, 17-7.
Four minutes later, Jenks suffered his shocking injury. The heart-sinking moment seemed to spark the Wildcats. Garrett scored a touchdown before halftime then two more in the second half. The senior suffered an injury against Utah in the opener, giving way to redshirt freshman Josh Davis’ breakout season. But when Davis suffered a left ankle injury, the Wildcats turned back to Garrett, who finished with 81 yards on 21 physical carries.
Montana State junior Greg “Munchie” Filer III snared MSU’s third interception of Constantine, returning the pick 27 yards for his first career touchdown to give Montana State a 24-17 lead with 6:17 left in the third as MSU kept the momentum on its side despite Weber’s comeback efforts.
Davis, who rushed for 96 yards on 11 carries, ripped off a 24-yard run on Weber’s ensuing possession, hurting his ankle on the burst. Garrett’s 24-yard burst — the Wildcats rushed for 187 yards on 44 rushes — set up his second 1-yard touchdown to tie the game 24-24 with 3:50 left in the third.
On the first possession of the fourth quarter, a 25-yard reception by Rashid Shaheed was the big gainer of a 58-yard drive capped by Garrett’s third one-yard touchdown to give the hosts their first lead, 31-24 with 12:48 left.
Keilan Benjamin’s interception with 5:40 left thwarted what could’ve been a game-tying possession. Weber gained just nine yards but wound the clock down to 3:27 before Tuttle hit his second field goal of the game and 12th of the season, this one from 22 yards out to push WSU’s lead to 34-24.
Once Weber took the lead, Montana State’s offense stalled out. The Bobcats gained just 44 more yards on 19 more plays in the fourth quarter, earning just two more first downs against Weber State’s league-leading defense.
The Bobcats finished with 221 yards on 57 plays, mustering just seven first downs. MSU scored 17 points off turnovers and had Andersen’s 71-yard run. The drive that resulted in Bailey’s field goal was Montana State’s only possession that included a first down and a score on the same possession. Jonsen had a first down run to set up Bailey’s short field goal.
Andersen finished with 102 yards on 11 carries. Jonsen rushed for 45 yards on seven carries in his first extended action under center. The Bobcats rushed for 168 yards on 34 carries but averaged just 2.9 yards per carry outside of Andersen’s long touchdown run. Andersen completed 9-of-22 passes for 53 yards and two interceptions.
Constantine completed 14-of-20 passes for 161 yards after his rocky start. The Wildcats had373 yards of total offense and 17 first downs, possessing the ball for 33 minutes, nine seconds.
Montana State plays a second straight road game on October 27 at Idaho State. The Bengals fell 48-41 at FBS independent Liberty on Saturday to enter the matchup with an identical 4-3 record to the Bobcats. Weber State plays a crucial game at FCS independent North Dakota.
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