BOZEMAN — As if the Montana State football team didn’t have enough incentive jumping up a rung to face Texas Tech on Saturday, consider the last time the teams met in a season opener.
Who can forget the Red Raiders bringing their starters back to score a final touchdown in the waning moments of a 35-0 whitewashing in Lubbock on Sept. 17, 1938?
Talk prime bulletin-board material, stewing for 81 years no less.
The Associated Press certainly made note of the slight, reporting, “A merry mix of second-, third- and fourth-string Raiders held their own in the third (quarter), and the first outfit came back late in the game to add a final tally."
“Bobcats’ Lighter Team Outclassed”, read the headline over the same story in Butte’s Montana Standard the following morning.
The story did allow that the Bobcats at least looked good getting off the bus. The team wore blue-and-gold embroidered jackets advertising the Gallatin Gateway access to Yellowstone National Park.
“Montana State presented a well-dressed, willing outfit, but suffered from fumbles at the start and from a heavier, more spirited and faster Red Raider attack the rest of the way,” the AP continued.
It was small consolation at the time, but the romp set a tone for Texas Tech, which the AP described as “undefeated, untied and unheralded” after it rolled up 229 points to the opposition’s 26 in the first seven games — including a 19-13 win over previously unbeaten Montana.
The Red Raiders would finish the season unbeaten with a win over St. Mary’s in the Cotton Bowl.
Meanwhile, for the Bobcats, the contest was the beginning of a unique circuit of three games that required permission from the Rocky Mountain Conference and lasted nearly a month.
MSU opened practice Sept. 6 and left for Lubbock three days later, a full week before kickoff. Coach Schubert Dyche took 38 players, including 14 letter winners, and the team stopped for workouts in Casper, Denver, Trinidad, Colorado and Amarillo, Texas.
On deck were contests at New Mexico State and Utah. The Bobcats practiced for a week in El Paso, Texas, before their game in neighboring Las Cruces, New Mexico, and planned practices in Albuquerque and three other stops in Colorado en route to Salt Lake City.
The goal was to return to Bozeman for 8 a.m. classes on the first day of school Oct. 3.
In Lubbock, Texas Tech raced to an 18-0 lead after one quarter and was up 25-0 by halftime before sending in "the shock troops".
Afterward, in the lead up to the game at New Mexico State, Dyche said he was looking for a "speed merchant to put an individual threat in the offense." He also noted the Cats showed "a gaping weakness in the pass defense."
Two players quit the team after the game and went home. Another was sidelined for the season with an injury.
Presumably hoping to take his team’s mind off the thumping, Dyche took the Bobcats to Carlsbad Cavern on the way to New Mexico State. MSU nevertheless lost 27-7 in Las Cruces and 34-0 a week later to a powerful Utah squad.
But from there the season turned.
Montana State returned home to defeat Omaha, Western State and Portland to even its record heading into a Nov. 12 showdown against the hated Griz.
“Rapid October Development Makes Bobcats Dangerous,” read a banner headline in the Missoulian on the eve of a much-anticipated matchup.
Montana won 13-0, scoring touchdowns in the first and fourth quarters. The Bobcats wouldn’t score again the rest of the season, falling to Idaho-Southern Branch (now Idaho State) 16-0 and tying Colorado State-Greeley (now Northern Colorado) 0-0.
It was mostly a forgettable season.
Yet even if the Bobcats fall again 81 years later in Lubbock, here’s a factoid on which to hang their proverbial helmets.
Despite losing, they finished as league champions — in that case, winning of the RMC with a robust record of 1-0-1.