BOZEMAN, Montana — Montana State head coach Jeff Choate has gone out of his way to talk about Lane Sumner since the day he arrived on campus for individual camp a year before actually becoming a Bobcat. And Choate has made sure to mention Shane Perry even if he’s not asked about the walk-on since the day Perry started gashing the MSU defense as the scout team running back during the most recent spring session.
In Montana State’s 56-21 win over Norfolk State —MSU’s third straight win vaulted the Bobcats to No. 7 in this week’s STATS FCS Top 25 poll — Choate’s charges rushed for 449 yards. That single-game total equaled the third-best total in program history.
“I really can’t say enough about those guys, (senior) Logan Jones, Shane Perry and Lane Sumner,” Choate said following the 20th win of his career at MSU. “Logan went out of the game (and is doubtful this week as Montana State prepares to host Northern Arizona). Shane and Lane hadn’t played a lot of football for us. The offensive line picked up their end of the bargain and those guys continued to operate. I’m really proud of that group of guys.”
With star sophomore Isaiah Ifanse out for what amounted to the 10th straight quarter and do-everything playmaker Troy Andersen sitting out to prepare for Big Sky Conference play, MSU still set a school record with three running backs surpassing 100 yards in a single game.
“It makes you nervous when you go into a game…for the better part of two and a half games, we haven’t played our best two guys,” Choate said. “We have been able to go 2-0 in that stretch. Hopefully we get those guys back going into league play.”
Senior Logan Jones continued a hot streak that saw him rush for 256 yards on 26 carries by rushing for 107 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries in the first half against NSU. But he injured his shoulder and did not return for the second half.
Choate is apt at maintaining and accentuating the new redshirt rule where a player can participate in four games or less without having to burn a year of eligibility. DeMareus Hosey, a talented and highly recruited true freshman from Houston, rushed for 40 yards and a touchdown in three games of action but did not play against NSU.
With Ifanse, Andersen and senior Karl Tucker II all on the shelf, Jones out for the second half and Hosey saving his eligibility at least for Big Sky play, Sumner and Perry picked up the slack.
“That was nuts,” MSU senior captain Kevin Kassis said following the win. “There’s guys going down but a lot of guys stepping up. A lot of good running backs. We are really fortunate to have guys who can step in and do a good job for us.”
Sumner, a 5-foot-8, 193-pounder from Huntley Project, first caught Choate’s eye at individual camp heading into his senior year of high school. During a camp-wide conditioning competition that has the goal of finding the fastest player at camp. Sumner, who won back-to-back Class B state titles in the 100 meters, won the competition.
“It was really cool coming from a pretty small school to Montana State, to a culture that is 100 percent focused on winning with guys who really love the game and want to be around it,” Sumner said in August.
“I just have to produce when I get the chance.”
Sumner showed that speed on a 58-yard touchdown rip that helped him finish with a game-high 113 yards on just 11 carries. He also scored a three-yard touchdown run earlier in the fourth quarter, the first score of his Bobcat career.
“Lane has a very similar skill set that Logan does,” Choate said during fall camp leading up to the season. “Lane is a lot faster than you think he is. He has really good balance and vision, very fast runner, smart kid and a guy who has a big ceiling in this program.”
The powerful, explosive Sumner rushed for 1,592 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior. The year before, he rushed for 994 and 13. He ran 11.0 seconds in the 100 meters as a senior. And that level of success helped him transition to Montana State relatively seamlessly.
“It never really crossed my mind that I couldn’t do it,” Sumner said in an interview in August. “But I was never cocky. I kept my head down and just played just like I have always thought would be the best way to do it.”
“For me, it was just the details. Everything is super focused. I expected it to be faster. I expected it to be harder to produce at this level. But the focus we put on the smallest things like where you have your hands, what foot you step with first, the size of the step, the small details was what I found to be the most surprising. It makes you think a lot more.”
Perry is a 5-foot-10, 190-pound walk-on out of Danville, California. After joining the Bobcats in August of 2017, Perry has consistently turned heads with his smooth yet powerful running style, his natural instincts and his field vision. On Saturday, he rushed for 111 yards on 13 carries with a long of 25 yards. He was the only one of the breakout trio who did not score a touchdown.
“No hesitation at all,” Choate said when asked about giving Perry a team-high number of carries. “I think that kid has really earned the opportunity he’s gotten here. Walk-on kid who is knocking on the door of getting money and deservedly so. I’m really impressed with his work ethic and his determination to be a part of this program and contribute.”
Perry rising to the occasion did not surprise his teammates.
“Shane Perry, I mean, he has been balling this camp,” Jones said on August 22.
Ifanse’s status remains uncertain for MSU’s Big Sky opener against Northern Arizona in Bozeman on Saturday. So does Andersen’s status. Sophomore Tucker Rovig is expected to start his second straight game at quarterback.
Montana State will lean on its powerful offensive line and an offense where several other players will also rotate in as Wildcat or option quarterbacks. MSU leads the conference in rushing yards per game with an average of 258.8 yards per outing. NAU is giving up 168.2 yards per game on the ground.
Regardless of who’s available, Choate will stick to Montana State’s offensive DNA.
“I had somebody tell me we just have a bunch of white bowling balls and they all look the same, we just keep rolling them out,” Choate said. “We are hopeful to get some of these guys back. And we will eventually. But it’s a next man up mentality. Northern Arizona could care less how many running backs we have. In fact, they are probably happy we have the issue. Nobody cares about your problems. Most people are just happy you have them.”