BOZEMAN — Montana State came into its showdown with Southeast Missouri looking to make a statement. Troy Andersen set an early tone and the rest of the Bobcats followed.
No. 13 MSU defeated the 12th-ranked Redhawks 38-17 on Saturday in a matchup rife with early national implications. The game served as the annual Gold Rush home opener at Bobcat Stadium, and MSU rode a wave of emotion — and Troy Andersen’s unique skills — to take an early two-possession lead.
A series of self-inflicted wounds by Montana State helped Southeast Missouri rally back to tie the game before halftime, but the Bobcats left no doubt by scoring 28 unanswered points in the third quarter.
Andersen, playing at a high level on both offense and defense, affected the game in a big way, and it was all Bobcats in the early going.
Coy Steel, a sophomore wide receiver, made the first big play when he came off the edge to block a punt on the Redhawks’ opening possession, and two plays later the all-purpose Andersen, lining up in a triple-I formation, took a shotgun snap and raced left for a 38 yard-touchdown.
Andersen’s impact continued, as he sacked quarterback Daniel Santacaterina on the Redhawks’ next series to force another punt. Later, MSU’s Tristan Bailey made a 34-yard field goal to put the Bobcats ahead 10-0.
“He’s a spark,” said receiver Kevin Kassis, who had six catches for 85 yards. “I could go on and on about Troy. He’s a selfless dude who just wants to make this team better, and he does. We wouldn’t be the same without him.”
But second-quarter mistakes hurt Montana State.
Early in that quarter, punter Jered Padmos couldn’t handle a low snap and Southeast Missouri took over at the Bobcats’ 9-yard line. Three plays later, Santacaterina found sure-handed wideout Kristian Wilkerson with a jump-ball in the end zone to make the score 10-7.
MSU answered with a 62-yard burst by running back Isaiah Ifanse on the following drive, which set the Bobcats up at the Redhawks’ 7. But that’s when things unraveled. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on left tackle Mitch Brott pushed MSU back, and Bailey later misfired on a 39-yard field goal attempt.
MSU was set up inside the 10 and came away with no points.
It came to a head with just seconds left before halftime, as an interception by MSU safety Jahque Alleyne on a Hail Mary heave by Santacaterina was nullified by a roughing-the-passer call on Bryce Sterk. That spotted the Redhawks 15 yards, and kicker Kendrick Tiller snuck a 55-yard field goal try just over the crossbar to tie the game 10-10 at the break.
“Disappointment, frustration, but I didn’t feel like we were deflated at all” at halftime, Bobcats coach Jeff Choate said. “I think our guys knew that they’d done some good things in the first half, outside of dropping the snap on a punt and then having that mistake at the end of the first half where we got the roughing-the-passer penalty that put them in field goal range.
“But I was pleased with the way our guys responded in the second half.”
As Choate indicated, MSU let some opportunities slip away but its struggles were short-lived.
Andersen began the second half at quarterback, and raced 44 yards to set the Bobcats up inside SEMO’s 10. One play later true freshman running back DeMareus Hosey, in for the hobbled Ifanse, was in the end zone on a 9-yard run and the Bobcats were back in front 17-10.
Casey Bauman’s night wasn’t over. He came back in after the Redhawks punted on their ensuing series and hit Kevin Kassis with a 38-yard pass down the sideline. That eventually set up a 2-yard run from Andersen and the Bobcats had a little wiggle room ahead 24-10 with 7:12 remaining in the third.
Choate referred to that sequence, which was set up by a 35-yard kickoff return by Logan Jones, as a prime example of team football.
“That’s how teams play and rise together,” Choate said. “You get a chunk kickoff return, you hit three big plays, score a touchdown, your defense goes out, gets a stop, we get the ball back on a short field, we go and score. That’s what it’s all about — playing team football together.
“I really think that’s something that I’m going to point to our guys tomorrow, how when we didn’t do that, how detrimental it was to our success, and when we were able to, all three sides, lift each other up, what a good football team we can be if we choose to do that.”
MSU added to its lead on its next possession, as Jones took a quick pass from Travis Jonsen and raced down the sideline for a 55-yard touchdown and a 31-10 lead.
Karl Tucker added a short scoring run later in the third quarter and the Bobcats, leading 38-10, never looked back.
Andersen finished with 102 rushing yards and two touchdowns, he caught a pass out of the backfield, and finished with two tackles (both for loss), a sack, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry on defense.
Sterk had three sacks to lead a front seven that put the hurt on Santacaterina. The Bobcats’ defense had six total sacks and an interception — safety JoJo Henderson picked off a pass in the second quarter.
“Going into this game the D-line knew the QB was the heart and soul of their offense,” said Sterk, who has four sacks through two games.
“As the game progresses you saw him get more and more jittery in the pocket and he wants to scramble and get rid of that ball quicker, which is why they had a lot of dropped passes in the third and fourth quarter.”
MSU (1-1) hits the road next week to play Missouri Valley Football Conference foe Western Illinois.