SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — When he’s taking snaps as a wildcat quarterback, Montana State’s Travis Jonsen rarely gives up the ball.
The Bobcats will run sweep motion across the formation, but Jonsen almost always fakes a give to the passing player — perhaps Logan Jones or Kevin Kassis — and runs the ball forward looking for (and finding) a hole.
Jonsen has made a living on this play especially in the past two games.
In a win against Northern Arizona on Sept. 28, Jonsen rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns, helping MSU erase a three-touchdown deficit. And on Saturday against Cal Poly, Jonsen had 85 yards and two more scores on the ground — including a 9-yard, game-winning touchdown in overtime — in a 34-28 victory over Cal Poly.
Jonsen is now averaging 7.0 yards per carry, and it’s as if the opposing defenses can’t stop him even though they know what’s coming.
During MSU’s only overtime possession on Saturday — following a missed 48-yard field goal by Cal Poly — anyone that was paying attention inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium knew Jonsen was going to keep the football.
It didn’t matter. Jonsen, who also had a 51-yard pass reception against Cal Poly, wasn’t to be stopped.
“I think he makes defensive coordinators not look too good. I’m sure they’re expecting that,” Kassis said following the win. “Just a solid kid, a solid guy, a solid player who makes plays. They know what’s coming, but he’s going to make a play, and it paid off.”
Jonsen was a highly touted quarterback coming out of Servite High School in the vaunted Trinity League in southern California. He initially signed with Oregon, then transferred to the junior college ranks before matriculating to Montana State before the start of the 2018 season.
A broken foot curtailed his chance to become the Bobcats’ full-time quarterback, but he has carved out a unique and invaluable role as a team captain. And MSU is reaping the reward with a 5-1 overall record and a 2-0 mark in the Big Sky Conference.
“We just don’t flinch,” Jonsen said Saturday after scoring the winning TD. “Like last week. NAU, we were down 21-0. It’s a crazy feeling how these guys don’t flinch. We’re so confident. When we say we’re going to win, we’re going to win.
“We got to overtime and the defense said they were going to stop them, they stopped them. We said we were going to score, we scored. I love my team, I love how they have faith, and it was a great win.”
It had been nine years since the Bobcats last played an overtime game before Saturday’s win, and it was just their 10th OT game in the past 37 seasons.
The last time MSU went beyond regulation it defeated Idaho State on the road by a 26-23 score on Oct. 30, 2010. Earlier that month, the Bobcats won a 64-61 thriller in overtime at Sacramento State.
Montana State is now 8-2 in OT games since 1982.
The Bobcats were in command against Cal Poly, leading 28-7 at the end of the third quarter. But three consecutive touchdowns by Cal Poly in the fourth quarter forced the extra session
“They came back on us and we had to fight,” said MSU defensive lineman Derek Marks, who made a key tackle behind the line of scrimmage during the Mustangs' one overtime possession. “I’m just proud of the way we competed and the way the guys stuck together and didn’t flinch again.
“We need to clean some things up, obviously, and stay out of these close games. But I’m proud of the way we competed and of the way we rose up in the end and came up victorious.”
Running back Isaiah Ifanse returned to the active lineup against Cal Poly and produced 69 rushing yards on 10 carries. He had consecutive runs of 17 and 16 yards during a third quarter drive that ended with 4-yard touchdown run by Jones and a 21-7 lead.
Ifanse hadn’t played since being injured in the first half of a victory over Southeast Missouri in Week 2.
“I think that definitely provided a spark for us. Obviously he’s a very special runner and you see that,” Bobcats coach Jeff Choate said of Ifanse, who didn’t play in the fourth quarter.
“Really, I thought (Cal Poly) had a great game plan to take away our inside zone game. A lot of edge pressure that put us in some bad spots, got some negative plays. But I thought we operated how we needed to operate to go win a game.”
The game was Montana State’s first on grass since a 27-24 victory at Northern Colorado during the 2017 season, and it was just its fifth game on a natural surface since 2010.
“It’s a different surface, but this is a really good surface,” Choate said. “I really didn’t feel like it was an issue at all.”
Cal Poly’s Spanos Stadium and Nottingham Field at Northern Colorado are the last two grass fields remaining in the Big Sky Conference.
The Bobcats play at UNC on Nov. 9, giving them two grass games in the same season since 2009.