OGDEN, Utah — Quarterback Troy Andersen and coach Jeff Choate both conceded that Montana State’s offensive performance Saturday on the road against No. 7 Weber State wasn’t good enough to pull off an upset victory.
The Bobcats did take advantage of some short fields given to them by two key defensive takeaways in the first quarter, but when it came to sustaining longer drives, they came up empty. In the end, Weber State prevailed 34-24.
MSU had 17 offensive possessions but managed only 221 total yards and just seven first downs. Aside from Andersen’s 71-yard touchdown run on a perfectly timed quarterback draw play in the second quarter — which gave the Bobcats a 17-7 lead — their longest scoring drive covered just 17 yards.
“We struggled pretty much the whole game,” Choate said of the offense. “Outside of Troy’s long run … we knew yards were going to be at a premium. It was really about first downs more than touchdowns in this game, and trying to get the ball into field goal range and take advantage of Tristan (Bailey’s) ability to make kicks, and make them earn everything they got.”
Interceptions by safety Jahque Alleyne and linebacker Dante Sparaco in the first quarter led to two MSU scores — a 7-yard run by Travis Jonsen out of the wildcat formation, and a 27-yard field goal by Bailey. But MSU had taken possession each time inside Weber State’s 20.
Otherwise, the Bobcats’ average starting field position was their own 31-yard line, and moving the football proved difficult. MSU converted just three of 15 third-down plays.
In crunch time in the fourth quarter, Montana State’s offense managed just 44 yards in five possessions. Weber State’s defense lived up to the billing Choate bestowed on it as the best in the Big Sky Conference, if not the FCS.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats’ offense produced four scoring drives in the second half to prevail.
“We knew it was going to be a physical battle. They’re a great defense and they really buckled down in the second half and took away a lot of our stuff,” said Andersen, who finished with 102 rushing yards to become the first FCS player to gain more than 80 against WSU’s defense this season.
“It’s definitely tough. Any time you’re against a defense like that, especially when you get down late, it’s a little frustrating when you can’t get anything going.”
Not so special
Coming into the game, Montana State knew it had to win the special teams battle in order to have a chance. Weber State thrives on typically flawless special teams execution, whether in the return game or covering kicks.
In particular, WSU sophomore Rashid Shaheed has already returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in his short career, while freshman Josh Davis returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown the week prior in a win over Eastern Washington.
Afterward, Choate thought the Bobcats did a good job taking away the Wildcats’ special teams strengths, thanks to precise placement on kicks by Bailey and punter Jered Padmos, who averaged 50.1 yards on seven punts and twice pinned WSU inside its own 20.
“I thought we did a really good job of moving the ball around. Our guys covered their tails off. I was proud of Tristan and Jered and the job that they did in terms of trying to move the ball around and keep them off balance, and the guys that were covering kicks,” Choate said.
Shaheed’s longest kickoff return was 39 yards, but it was wiped out due to an illegal block penalty against Weber State.
“I thought that was a little bit of a nonfactor in the game. The special teams thing, which was so huge for Weber coming in, was mitigated for the most part.”
Pick and run
In the midst of Weber State’s second-half revival, Montana State cornerback Greg Filer III stepped in front of a Jake Constantine pass and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown to give the Bobcats the lead again at 24-17 in the third quarter.
It was Constantine’s third interception of the game, but stood as his only big mistake in the second half after re-entering the game when fellow quarterback Kaden Jenks suffered a broken ankle before halftime.
Filer’s return served as the last points the Bobcats scored.
“We were in man (coverage), and I saw the receiver run in and my eyes went to the backfield,” Filer said. “The ball was coming and there was green grass out in front of me. I feel like it was a big momentum swing, but we just didn’t capitalize.”
It was MSU’s first interception return for a touchdown since Mac Bignell did it against Idaho State last season.
The Bobcats face another stiff test this week on the road at Idaho State. The Bengals, led by quarterback Tanner Gueller, are coming off a 48-41 loss at FBS Liberty on Saturday, but are still in a good position in the Big Sky standings.
MSU is now 4-3 overall and 2-2 in the league, while Idaho State is 4-3 and 3-1.
Choate said his team will shake off the Weber State loss and move forward.
“They’re disappointed. They put a lot into this,” he said. “From an emotional standpoint this can be a tough deal. But our job is to love these kids up.
“What I told them is that I’m disappointed in the outcome but I’m not disappointed in anybody in this room. 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.”