BOZEMAN — To win at the line of scrimmage on either side of the football is to give yourself a chance to prevail in any game, playoffs or not. Montana State has been winning the battle up front for the past several weeks, and Friday night was no exception.
MSU’s offensive line paved the way for tailback Isaiah Ifanse and the running game to amass 279 rushing yards, while its defensive line harassed quarterback JaVaughn Craig all night in a 24-10 quarterfinal playoff win at Bobcat Stadium.
The victory lifted Montana State into what coach Jeff Choate described as “rarified air.” The Bobcats will next play in the semifinal round for the first time since their national championship season of 1984.
“Both sides of the line of scrimmage, that’s what we’ve built this program on,” Choate said. “It’s a style that travels, and it’s a style that wins games in November and December. That’s (our) heart and soul and our DNA.”
Ifanse broke a 60-yard touchdown run on MSU’s opening drive and finished the game with 196 yards on 26 carries to break his own school record for a single-game postseason rushing total. Ifanse set the previous record of 139 yards last season in a first-round win over Incarnate Word.
MSU’s 279 team rushing yards are the third-most in a playoff game in school history. Ifanse’s 26 carries are also third-most by a individual in the Bobcats’ postseason record book.
Defensively, Montana State’s line had a good night, forcing Craig into errant throws that produced two interceptions. The Bobcats limited the Governors to fewer rushing yards (18) than they had attempts (19), sacked Craig four times and stopped Austin Peay on 13 of 14 third-down plays.
Safety Brayden Konkol, who intercepted a pass off a deflection on Austin Peay’s first drive of the second half, spoke about MSU’s ability to affect the quarterback and stuff the run.
“Our D-line, our front seven … they’re so good that it’s almost sometimes boring as a safety,” Konkol said, eliciting laughter from the postgame media hoard. “You don’t really get a lot of tackles. But that definitely helped us.”
Brott’s streak continues
Senior left tackle Mitch Brott started his 49th consecutive game on Friday, which tied the MSU school record. Brott, who has started every game of his career since arriving from Billings West High School, is tied at the top of the list with his predecessor at left tackle John Weidenaar (2012-15).
Brott will break the school record and be the first MSU player to start in 50 career games, consecutive or otherwise, when the Bobcats play in the semifinals next week.
“That’s my brother,” said left guard Lewis Kidd. “Love that guy. Kind of a grumpy old man, but he’s awesome. We love him in the O-line room. He’s a great role model, great leader, great football player.
“To see him accomplish that and being able to play next to him on the line gives you something to look up to.”
The game also marked Kidd’s 31st consecutive start.
Montana State was the least-penalized team in the Big Sky Conference in the regular season, but was uncharacteristically flagged nine times for 90 yards against Austin Peay.
The teams combined for 18 penalties, which at times slowed flow of the game, especially in the first half. There were 183 yards of penalties by game’s end.
There were also four plays that were reviewed by the officials, which stunted things further.
“We were penalized a tremendous amount tonight, and that definitely took us out of our offensive flow,” Choate said. “The game almost reminded me of the Western Illinois game (on Sept. 14) to a certain degree, where we were really kind of in control of the game, but there were these things that kept happening to make you go, ‘Well, they’re going to get their opportunity again.’
“We were able to overcome ourselves to a certain degree tonight. By no stretch of the imagination was that the cleanest and best football game that we’ve played all year, and we’re going to have to be better moving forward. But we can be.”
The Bobcats were penalized a season-high 12 times for 121 yards at Western Illinois, a 23-14 victory.