BOZEMAN — In the aftermath of his 113-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 56-21 victory over Norfolk State last Saturday, Montana State running back Lane Sumner was making his way from Bobcat Stadium to the locker room at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.
Suddenly, a voice called out.
“Hey Logan!” someone hollered in Sumner’s direction, obviously confusing him with fellow running back but virtual lookalike Logan Jones.
All Sumner could do was laugh, but it’s not the first time he and Jones have been mixed up for one another. You can also add Shane Perry to that mix — a trio of diminutive but thick running backs (in the 5-9, 190-pound range) vying for carries in an offensive backfield that has quickly become as deep as it is effective.
For some, keeping them straight is harder than it seems.
“We’re all kind of grouped in together,” Sumner said. “A lot times on tape (the coaches) will be like, ‘Who’s that?’ I’ve been called Logan, Logan’s been called me, we get called Shane …”
“It happens. It’s kind of funny. We’re all kind of shorter, stockier build, but we all kind of have our different little skill set. I think that’s what makes us a good group.”
Against Norfolk State, Sumner, Jones and Perry all eclipsed 100 yards rushing, which is something that had never happened in the prior 114 years of football at Montana State. What’s more, 26 of the Bobcats 39 first downs came on the ground, another school record.
Jones finished with 101 yards and two touchdowns, all in the first half. Perry had 111 yards. Sumner’s touchdowns were the first of his career. They spearheaded a 449-yard rushing performance behind a dominant offensive line.
It was a welcome sight for the Bobcats, who were without nicked-up tailback Isaiah Ifanse and on-again, off-again running back Troy Andersen. Jones, meanwhile, did all of his damage in the first half and didn’t play after halftime.
With Northern Arizona coming to town Saturday for the Big Sky Conference opener, right now it’s anyone’s guess as to who will be called on to carry the ball for the No. 7-ranked Bobcats this week.
But does it matter all that much? As coach Jeff Choate has said, MSU is going to need every running back in its stable.
“It’s kind of who’s available right now,” Choate said Monday. “We’re hopeful obviously to get some of these guys back, and we will eventually, but it’s a next-man-up mentality.
“Northern Arizona couldn’t care less how many running backs we have. In fact, they’re probably happy that we have the issue. We don’t worry about who’s not available. We try to take care of them, get them back as quickly as we can and get that next guy ready to go.”
For Sumner, a redshirt freshman, it was the most productive day of his short career. One of his touchdown runs went for 58 yards.
“The line really blew everybody off the ball. I just kind of had to not mess it up,” he said. “Hit my gaps, make my reads and do what I had to do.
“You’d get the ball and they were already two, three yards down the field. They were just blowing dudes off the ball. It was a lot of fun to run behind.”
Sumner, a fan of the Bobcats growing up, came to MSU last fall on the heels of a 1,500-yard season as a senior at Class B Huntley Project. He had the makings of a smart, elusive runner with the vision to read the blocks and see the holes being created in front of him.
So Saturday also served as validation for the work he’s put in to prove he can make his mark at the FCS level.
MSU linebacker Michael Jobman, who came out of Huntley Project a couple years ahead of Sumner, loved what he saw from the sideline.
“It was super exciting. Definitely was awesome to celebrate with him last week,” said Jobman, who had five tackles and forced a fumble against Norfolk State. “He stepped into the role. He definitely showed what he can do. I’m excited to see what he can do this week and from here on out.”
With Case Cookus at quarterback, Northern Arizona averages 40 points per game, so part of Montana State’s framework this week — as it is every week — will be to establish the run to set up the pass and manufacture a similar offensive output.
Whether that means Sumner or Jones or Perry — or Ifanse or Andersen or part-time Wildcat QB Travis Jonsen — is toting the football, the Bobcats’ want to keep grinding it out against Big Sky foe NAU.
The only question is how the fluidity Montana State’s run game will translate to conference play.
“They’re a good team. It’s a game that we definitely need to bring our A game,” Sumner said of NAU. “Right now we’re playing for the big goal.
“It’s never an easy opponent. We’re just going to have to prepare this week and come out ready to play.”