OGDEN, Utah — Jeff Choate and Montana State’s coaching staff drew up the formula to beat Weber State: Win the turnover battle, take advantage of scoring opportunities and force the Wildcats to play from behind.
The Bobcats did all of those things Saturday night at Stewart Stadium, but it still wasn’t enough to overcome No. 7-ranked team in the FCS in a 34-24 loss.
Montana State intercepted three passes and even returned one for a touchdown in the second half, which served as a renaissance of sorts for a defense that had forced just five takeaways all year.
“But we lost,” said safety/linebacker Brayden Konkol, who led all players with 13 tackles. “That kind of just brings us back down. It was nice to get the ball, but it’s better to get the win.”
It was a signature victory in the making, but Weber State showed its superiority.
“What I told them is that I’m disappointed in the outcome but I’m not disappointed in anybody in this room,” Choate said. “I felt like those guys fought hard.
“There’s a lot of guys in that room that are finishers and competitors and they want to win, and we’ll find a way to do that.”
The game represented a third chance for the Bobcats to beat a top 10 team. They’d already lost convincingly to both South Dakota State and Eastern Washington earlier in the year.
But this game seemed different, at least in the first half.
Interceptions by safety Jahque Alleyne and linebacker Dante Sparaco in the first quarter led to a 10-0 lead for the Bobcats — after a 7-yard touchdown run by Travis Jonsen and a 27-yard field goal by Tristan Bailey.
MSU eventually led 17-7 after quarterback Troy Andersen ran 71-yards for a touchdown on a well-timed draw play in the second quarter. But Weber State never went away.
Running back Treshawn Garrett scored on three 1-yard touchdown runs, two of which came in the second half as the Wildcats started to move the football with more success. In the first half Weber State had just 99 yards of offense. That number ballooned to 373 by game’s end.
Andersen and MSU, meanwhile, mustered just 221 yards and only seven first downs against a defense Choate had described earlier as the best in the FCS.
“They took over the game with their offensive line and their run game in the second half, and their defense was as stout as we thought it would be,” Choate said.
“We gave ourselves a chance. The script was, can we force turnovers and take advantage of opportunities, which we did in the first half, and can we not give the ball to them, and certainly that played out in their favor in the second half.”
MSU cornerback Greg Filer III returned an interception 27 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter that broke a 17-17 tie, but Weber State took its first lead on the last of Garrett’s scoring runs with 12:48 remaining.
The Bobcats still had a chance, though, trailing by seven points with the football with 5:49 left. That’s when the key play occurred.
Andersen was intercepted on the first play of that possession by Weber State’s Keilan Benjamin as Andersen and receiver Kevin Kassis miscommunicated on the route, which led to an easy takeaway.
That led to a 22-yard field goal by Trey Tuttle and a 10-point Wildcats lead.
“It’s a route (in which) Kevin has an option,” Andersen explained. “He can break out, he can break in or just sit down. I anticipated him coming in.”
Weber State backup quarterback Kaden Jenks, who rushed for an 8-yard touchdown in the second quarter, later suffered a gruesome right leg injury and was carted off the field. That forced the Wildcats to re-insert starter Jake Constantine, who had been pulled early in the game.
Despite throwing three interceptions, Constantine helped produce four second-half scoring drives that made the difference.
The Bobcats’ offense couldn’t muster much of anything, especially when it had to drive the length of the field.
Those struggles became more obvious as the game progressed.
“We had a hard time moving them off the ball,” Choate said. “Their front seven is very good, they play an aggressive style in the back end, don’t give you a lot of space at receiver, and it takes a special quarterback to be able to spot the ball that way.”
“You have to put together long drives,” Andersen said. “If you get one explosive play for 20 yards or so you still have 60 yards to go. You just have to stack good plays on top of good plays, and they did a good job of taking that away.”
MSU (4-3, 2-2 Big Sky) travels to Idaho State next week. Weber State (5-2, 3-1) plays on the road at North Dakota.
NOTES: Andersen rushed for 102 yards on 11 carries. … Bobcats P Jered Padmos averaged 50.1 yards on seven punts, while K Tristan Bailey averaged 58.6 yards per kickoff, helping to contain Weber State returner Rashid Shaheed. … Alleyne’s interception was his fourth of the season.