BOZEMAN — One trend that stood out entering Montana State’s homecoming game Saturday was Weber State’s ability to score points in bunches early in games.
The Wildcats came in having outscored opponents 123-34 in the first half. It was the Bobcats’ goal to shut down Weber State’s offense, especially in the opening two quarters.
Mission accomplished. MSU became the first team to hold the Wildcats without a first-half touchdown this year. Instead, Weber State relied on three Trey Tuttle field goals and the Bobcats took a one-point lead into intermission.
“One of the things we did a really good job of was eliminating the explosive plays and making them earn it,” MSU coach Jeff Choate said. “Unfortunately we didn’t do a good enough job of getting off the field on third downs.
“We played a lot of snaps in the second half in particular, and our tackling started to fade. I think that was kind of the tale of the tape on the defensive side of the ball.”
Led by quarterback Stefan Cantweell, the Wildcats were much more efficient in the second half. They scored two third-quarter touchdowns and added another Tuttle field goal to claim a 25-17 victory.
Montana State’s offense failed to cash in on its early opportunities. It, too, settled for three first-half field goal attempts, but kicker Gabe Peppenger missed two of them. The Bobcats were also forced to punt three times in the second quarter and possessed the ball for just 3:36 of the third.
While MSU was unable to sustain drives, Weber State found a way to move the chains for a majority of the game. The Wildcats had drives of 16, 11, 10, 11 and 12 plays, all of which resulted in either touchdowns or field goals.
The Bobcats’ touchdowns — a 64-yard throw from Chris Murray to Lance McCutcheon just before halftime and a 25-yard throwback pass from receiver Kevin Kassis to Murray in the fourth — weren’t enough.
In all, Weber State possessed the ball for 40:01, leaving just 19:59 for MSU’s offense to operate. The Wildcats converted 9 of 16 third downs while the Bobcats moved the sticks on just 4 of 12 third-down tries.
WSU tight end Andrew Vollert caught five passes for 48 yards. Four of his receptions went for first downs.
“Weber State is known for coming out in the first half and putting it on teams,” MSU cornerback Bryce Alley said. “We had to make sure we stopped them. We held them to three field goals (in the first half). We’ve just got to continue that on to the next half.”
“Play after play after play,” Alley said. “We’ve just got to get off the field. They stayed on the field for the whole third quarter, or just about.”
It was a reversal of fortune from the Bobcats’ 49-21 victory a week earlier at North Dakota. In that game, MSU had nearly 40 minutes of possession time and converted 12 of 16 third downs.
On Saturday, Weber State ran a combined 21 plays on its first two second-half drives, both of which resulted in touchdowns.
“We knew they were going to come out swinging (in the second half) and we wanted to do the same,” defensive end Derek Marks said. “We knew we had to hit them. They were just executing plays and we just couldn’t get off the field.”
Not so special
Bobcats coach Jeff Choate pointed to poor special teams execution as a culprit in the loss.
Beyond Peppenger’s two missed field goal tries in the first half, punter Jered Padmos averaged just 35.5 yards on four punts, and Weber State began those ensuing drives with an average field position of the 33 yard line.
Wildcats punt returner Xequille Harry had 45 yards on two returns, while kickoff returner Rashid Shaheed had 51 yards on two run-backs.
“Special teams hurt us in the first half in particular, not just the missed field goals,” Choate said. “I thought we kicked poorly, punted poorly and gave them some short fields. Now, we played well enough on defense to mitigate that, but you can’t do that.”
Tuttle, Weber State’s freshman placekicker, was good on field goals of 28, 21, 31 and 24 yards. Tuttle is off to a great start to his career: He is now 10 for 10 on field goal attempts this season.
Tuttle is now 6 for 6 from 20-29 yards and 3 for 3 from 30-39 yards. He also made a 45-yarder against Cal earlier in the year.
Against the Bobcats, Tuttle averaged 62.9 yards on seven kickoffs, and forced four touchbacks.
‘A great Bobcat’
Before addressing the ins and outs of the Weber State loss in his postgame news conference, Choate took a moment to acknowledge Montana State hall of famer Joe Tiller.
Tiller, a star lineman for the Bobcats in the early 1960s and a former head coach at Wyoming and Purdue, died Saturday in Buffalo, Wyoming, at the age of 74.
“I had the opportunity to meet Joe last year at homecoming. He was at our Friday walkthrough,” Choate said. “He was just a gracious, humble man. For all the things that he’d accomplished you would have never known it. He was a great Bobcat, a heck of a football coach and an even better person. He was one of the first guys to congratulate us after we beat the Griz last year in Missoula.
"When I found out about that news (about Tiller's death) it definitely hit me in the heart.”
Tiller was inducted into the Montana State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1998. After an All-America season in 1963, Tiller became an assistant coach with the Bobcats in 1966. Thirty years later he coached Wyoming to a Western Athletic Conference title. He guided Purdue to the 2000 Rose Bowl.