Game Recap

Led by seniors, Bobcats outlast Idaho in regular-season home finale

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BOZEMAN, Montana — After the third score by Tommy Touchdown on an afternoon where points were tough to come by, Daniel Hardy, Amandre Williams and the Bobcat defense found themselves in the perfect place.

As the Bozeman sun set and the Bobcat Stadium lights started turning on, Montana State continued its charge toward a conference title.

Despite a struggle for most of the contest against a tough, hard-hitting Idaho team playing with nothing to lose, the ‘Cats were not about to let the narrative of a storybook season get altered on senior day.

Tommy Mellott’s third rushing score on a day where Montana State’s offense was largely absent otherwise helped give MSU a lead with two minutes, 16 seconds to play. And on the first snap of the ensuing Idaho drive, Williams, Hardy and fellow senior Chase Benson hit UI road-runner quarterback Zach Borisch so hard, his helmet popped off.

That play ignited the fans in the Sonny Holland end-zone and the roar of a sixth straight sellout crowd did not stop from that moment on as Montana State avoided a pitfall with a showdown on the horizon.

“There’s nowhere else we would rather be,” Hardy, a senior defensive end that has been the soul of MSU’s Big Sky Conference-best defense, said after rolling up two sacks and three tackles for loss to keep pace with the Big Sky Conference leaders.

“Who’s going to make a play? Who’s going to pop? Who’s going to get the crowd into it?”

The Bobcats strangled Borisch and Idaho’s unorthodox read option offense one last time before the final result was determined. With a touchdown lead in hand, Hardy and fellow senior defensive lineman Byron Rollins sacked Borisch for the fifth time, forcing a turnover on downs to secure Montana State’s ninth consecutive victory, 20-13, sending the south end-zone crowd into bedlam in the process.

Montana State running back Isaiah Ifanse (22) breaks an Idaho defenders tackle/by Brooks Nuanez

“Credit to Idaho,” Vigen said. “As a staff, we know they had good players and it hadn’t all come together for them this year collectively. They were able to cause us problems if we allowed them momentum. And unfortunately, we did allow that.

“All of a sudden, we are in a dog fight and there aren’t a whole lot of positives in the third quarter. But I think this team believes. We understand it’s about the end result. Did we want to make it look prettier? Sure, but we found a way in the fourth quarter to put the offense, the defense and the special teams all together and find a way to win the game.”

The win means Montana State enters next week’s rivalry showdown against the No. 9 Montana Grizzlies with a perfect 7-0 record in league play. The Bobcats are within reach of their first Big Sky Conference title since 2012 and a third consecutive playoff appearance is a certainty.

“I told the guys this morning, really good, great teams, are the product of the guys at the end of their roads having their best years,” Vigen said. “We are a product of that.

“The 19 guys who celebrated senior day, the guys who are playing meangful snaps, they are playing the best years of their careers. And that’s what has allowed us to get to this point. I think they are bound and determind to not have this be their last home game. And right now, I believe that’s the truth.”

MSU’s ninnth straight victory did not come easily against a talented yet underachieving Vandals squad that entered the game fresh off their second conference win of the season.

Idaho has had a quarterback carousel spinning since the truncated spring season began earlier this year. Idaho went 2-4 in the spring with a combination of former UConn/West Florida transfer Mike Beaudry and freshman C.J. Jordan taking most of the reps.

Beaudry, Jordan and freshman Gevani McCoy — who hails from Lawndale High, the same place that produced former Bobcat electric quarterback Chris Murray — all suffered injuries leading up to Saturday contest in Bozeman.

Montana State linebacker Troy Andersen (15) tackles Idaho running back Roshaun Johnson (24)/by Brooks Nuanez

Borisch, a shifty, elusive athlete from the Tri-Cities, has played intermittently and when required. Saturday, he was Idaho’s only option. And that proved to be a good thing for the Vandals.

The slight yet hardened and tenacious running signal caller kept the Vandals in the game against the No. 3 team in the Football Championship Subdivision. The product of Kamiakin High in Kennewick, Washington rushed for 108 yards on Saturday and finished with 23 carries for 70 yards because he lost 38 yards on MSU’s five sacks.

“We have tough guys up front, tough guys who give a lot of effort so we knew it would be a hard-fought battle,” Borisch said. “Even when we thought Mike (Beaudry) was going to start earlier in the week, we thought it was going to be a fight like that.

“But we still came in with the thought we would control it and make it a short game. We almost did.”

Before Saturday, Borisch had thrown nine passes all season. Saturday, he attempted 18 passes, completing eight for 157 yards. He more than doubled his season and career passing yard total.

And he out-paced MSU junior quarterback Matt McKay, who finished 9-of-14 for 104 yards. Three of those completions went to senior Lance McCutcheon for a total of 61 yards.

“We have to throw the ball better, for sure,” Vigen said. “We only threw it 16 times. But it doesn’t always look the way it’s planned.”

The struggle to control the clock started for both sides in the first quarter. Idaho’s first possession ate up almost six minutes of clock but no points. Montana State responded with a 10-play, 78-yard drive spurred on by Isaiah Ifanse and McCutcheon carrying the torch as they have all year.

Montana State quartberack Tommy Mellott (16) vs. Idaho/by Brooks Nuanez

Mellott, a multi-facetted athlete from Butte, America, capped that opening march with a nine-yard touchdown run. That was a harbinger of things to come, both in his production and struggle the game would become.

On the fiest play of the second quarter, McKay threw his third interception of the season, settling the stage for Idaho to control the action.

The Vandals turned that takeaway into a field goal. The ensuing MSU possession, McKay and Mellott split time at quarterback and Mellott’s 23-yard touchdown run gave the hosts a 13-3 lead.

But Borisch’s 30-yard touchdown pass to Trez Traynor in the final minute of the first half cut the MSU lead to 13-10. And when the Bobcats failed on a fourth down try on their first possession of the second half, the upset alert was on.

That first fourth-down try ended with Mellott getting stuffed on the Idaho 34. The Vandals turned the opportunity into a 13-play march that resulted in a missed field goal. MSU went 3-and-out on its next possession.

A poor punt by Bryce Leighton and a subsequent penalty put Idaho in field goal range, allowing the visitors to tie the game at 13 late in the third quarter.

On the final play of the first half, MSU redshirt freshman right tackle T.J. Session went down for the second time this season. He did not return.

An exact moment was not a part of Ifanse not returning to the game, but he did not take a carry in the second half. He still finished with 84 yards rushing, putting him over 1,200 for his junior year and contributing to a day MSU rolled up 258 yards on the ground. But after halftime, he could be found in street clothes on the sideline.

Early in the second half, MSU redshirt freshman tailback Elijah Elliott also got knocked out of the game.

Montana State quarterback Matt McKay (1) throws deep vs. Idaho/by Brooks Nuanez

When McKay, who had been struggling to that point already, scrambled before taking a wallop from Idaho All-American linebacker Tre Walker (the preseason Big Sky Defensive MVP) and did not return, the Bobcats could’ve hit the panic button.

Instead, Vigen and his staff turned to Mellott and running back Lane Sumner behind MSU’s still dominant offensive line. That battery helped MSU get to midfield, allowing Leighton to again pin Idaho deep. When Vigen elected to put with eight minutes left, that pinned the visitors inside their own 10.

Borisch and the UI offense went 3-and-out. Caleb Lightbourn, Idaho’s strapping 6-foot-4, 235-pound punter, had his first shank of the day during a battle of field position, pooching a punt 28 yards and giving MSU possession 37 yards from the end-zone.

Sumner, a standout from Class B Huntley Project, rushed for 34 yards on MSU’s final scoring possession, setting up Mellot’s three-yard game-sealer with just over two minutes to play. That helped Montana State emerge once again in what seems like an unforgettable season.

Now the Bobcats travel to Missoula to take on the omnipresent Grizzlies in the 120th battle for the Continental Divide Trophy.

“Next week mode, for sure,” Andersen said after finishing with a team-high 17 tackles. “It’s a big one, which everybody knows. On to the next.”

Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.

Montana State quarterback Tommy Mellott (16) celebrates a touchdown vs. Idaho/by Brooks Nuanez
Montana State quarterback Matt McKay (1) throws deep vs. Idaho/by Brooks Nuanez
Montana State offensive tackle TJ Sessions (72) pass blocks vs. Idaho/by Brooks Nuanez
Idaho head coach Paul Petrino/by Brooks Nuanez
Montana State wide receiver Lance McCutcheon (86) high points a pass vs. Idaho/by Brooks Nuanez
Montana State running back Isaiah Ifanse (22) looks for space vs. Idaho/by Brooks Nuanez
Montana State running back Elijah Elliott (13) evades an Idaho defender/by Brooks Nuanez
Idaho quarterback Zach Borisch (13) evades a sack from Daniel Hardy (44)/by Brooks Nuanez
Montana State running back Lane Sumner (24) meets a Idaho defender in the hole/by Brooks Nuanez

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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