BOZEMAN — Troy Andersen’s interception return for a touchdown on Saturday against San Diego featured him hurdling a wide receiver on his way to the end zone.
The play was impressive in its athleticism and impact, but the rarity of the feat was muted a bit considering Ty Okada’s pick-6 came about 10 minutes before and marked the first such play for the Montana State defense in nearly four years.
MSU’s offense built a three-touchdown lead in the first quarter, but the linebacker and nickel cornerback handled all the scoring in the second to spur a 52-10 victory at Bobcat Stadium.
The Montana State defense was unrelenting all afternoon, but the two touchdowns punctuated the effort.
“I think we understand the scheme. I think our guys are playing within it,” Bobcats head coach Brent Vigen said. “Everybody’s got a job, and they trust it. And they trust each other and they’re playing at 100 miles an hour.”
That much was evident as Montana State (2-1) limited the Toreros (0-3) to 204 yards of total offense. Saturday’s contest was San Diego’s third consecutive loss to a Big Sky team to start the season. USD lost 28-17 to Cal Poly and 53-7 to UC Davis in the first two weeks, respectively, before coming to Bozeman.
In addition to the two flashy and disruptive defensive plays, the Bobcats defense notched two sacks (1 1/2 from Daniel Hardy, and half of one by Andersen) and 12 tackles for a loss. MSU’s front six continued the trend of pressuring opposing linemen and quarterbacks, a trend Vigen hopes continues once the Bobcats start conference play next week at Portland State.
“I think that’s been the constant on third down, we’re getting after all these quarterbacks,” he said. “If we can keep doing that, it makes it really hard on the offense, getting behind the chains, and knowing that come third down, we’re going to come after you.”
Okada’s interception return was measured at 72 yards and gave Montana State a four-score lead. After securing the underthrown ball, he had a lot of open field in front of him, but a block from fellow defensive back Jeffrey Manning Jr. against Toreros quarterback Mason Randall truly sprung him toward the end zone.
“It takes the whole defense to make that stuff happen, everyone doing their jobs,” Okada said of his first career interception.
It was the program’s first interception return for a score since linebacker Mac Bignell returned a pick 18 yards against Idaho State on Oct. 28, 2017. Okada held that superlative for just a short while before Andersen claimed it for himself.
“Especially to share (those plays) with a player like Troy, an incredible, great teammate, great player, to share that with him is awesome,” Okada said.
The teams traded scoreless drives — including a missed 41-yard field goal from MSU kicker Blake Glessner — before Andersen intercepted a Randall pass thrown into an area without a receiver. The linebacker jumped over the tackle attempt by San Diego wideout Christian Brown and received a block downfield by defensive lineman Sebastian Valdez on his way to the score.
Andersen, a former running back who has 2,263 yards and 33 rushing touchdowns in his career, looked at home as he rumbled toward the end zone for the first interception return touchdown as a Bobcat.
“This one was fun. I dropped a pick last week so I wanted to make up for it,” Andersen said. “It’s always fun running into the student section.”
Montana State added to its lead in the third quarter with a 1-yard rushing touchdown from Jaharie Martin and a 43-yard field goal from Glessner.
Backup quarterback Casey Bauman also found tight end Treyton Pickering for a 2-yard touchdown pass in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.
The Bobcats showed off the versatility of their offense while building a 21-0 lead in the opening quarter. Matthew McKay threw touchdown passes to tight end Derryk Snell and backup running back Elijah Elliott for seven and 65 yards, respectively. On MSU’s third drive, McKay ran four times for 54 yards to help get the unit inside the 10. Isaiah Ifanse then scored on a nine-yard rush.
“I loved the energy our offense came out with,” Okada said. “To see them come out there with that kind of energy and execution and get the job done like that, it’s a lot easier as a defense to play fast, play physical.”
Ifanse also had a 74-yard rush to open the second half and set up Martin’s touchdown. He finished with 109 yards rushing on 10 attempts, the 10th time in his career he’s gained more than 100 yards on the ground.
San Diego got on the board late in the third against a backup unit of MSU defenders. Backup quarterback Judd Erickson found tight end Michael Gadinis for a 19-yard score to avoid the shutout. Toreros kicker Brandon Eickert contributed a 28-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to account for the final margin.
The Bobcats emerged from non-conference play with two lopsided wins and a narrow loss to an FBS team in Wyoming. The defense, in particular, played well throughout. Andersen said the defense intends to lead the way to make Big Sky play similarly successful.
“I think we’ve eliminated explosive plays for the most part, which is a big thing, kind of making them earn everything they get,” Andersen said. “We have a lot to build on and a lot to get better at, but I think it’s a good start.”