BOZEMAN — The Bobcats trailed by three touchdowns Saturday as their vaunted running game got bottled up.
But Montana State didn’t overreact. It stayed true to its identity and kept working — what coach Jeff Choate describes as chopping wood and carrying water — as running lanes began to open.
The Bobcats sprung to life and trounced Northern Arizona, 49-31.
By game’s end, MSU had put on a rushing clinic: 340 yards on 58 attempts and six touchdowns. The Bobcats had 244 second-half rushing yards and scored five unanswered touchdowns on the ground after intermission.
They averaged 4.4 yards per rush in the first half and 6.8 per rush in the second behind a blocking scheme that adjusted and got stronger as the game progressed.
“When you’re a team that knows it can run the ball, that’s always going to be something you’re going to lean on,” Choate explained afterward. “I always laugh when people (say) you can’t go down big if you’re a running team. Well you can if you rip off that kind of run production.”
The Bobcats scored their first third-quarter touchdown when quarterback Tucker Rovig alertly pounced on a fumble in the end zone. MSU rushed for 64 yards on that drive, including a 34-yard dash by Lane Sumner.
Rovig threw the ball three times on the next possession but the Bobcats quickly had to punt. That’s where things seemed to change for MSU’s offense, as coordinator Matt Miller called 22 consecutive running plays in the fourth quarter.
The Bobcats threw the ball just once in the final 15 minutes — a nine-yard completion from Rovig to Kevin Kassis for a first down that helped set up Shane Perry’s second and final touchdown run of the day.
“There’s nothing more demoralizing as a defense when a team just lines up and says, ‘We’re doing it again,’” Choate said. “I was really impressed with our guys being able to go operate.”
After five weeks, MSU is averaging 275.0 rushing yards per game, which ranks No. 1 in the Big Sky Conference and sixth in the FCS.
A busy day
Safety Jahque Alleyne had an eventful day for the Bobcats. It was his 23-yard punt return in the second quarter that helped produce a 14-yard touchdown run by Travis Jonsen, which gave the team life.
Alleyne later muffed a punt that led to a field goal and a 31-14 NAU lead.
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Alleyne finished the game with 25 punt return yards, 26 kickoff return yards, and a team-high 8 tackles (with two for loss) on defense.
But his day ended early when he was called for targeting with 1:42 remaining in the game when he hit Lumberjacks receiver Stacy Chukwumezie. By rule, Alleyne was ejected, and he must sit out the first half of this week’s game at Cal Poly.
Steel not reserved
MSU scored late in the first half when Rovig found Coy Steel with a 49-yard touchdown pass. It was Steel’s team-high fourth TD catch of the season.
Steel caught the ball and was sandwiched between two NAU defenders, but he kept his feet and ran the final 25 yards to the end zone.
Injured on the play, Steel laid down on his back in the end zone for several minutes as he was tended to by MSU’s athletic training staff. He finally was helped to the locker room and did not return.
“Our team knows how good and valuable Coy Steel is,” said Jonsen, who finished with a career-high 105 rushing yards as a wildcat QB and scored two touchdowns. “I hope he gets better. I know he’ll get better soon.
“I never have any doubt in Coy, and he’s just one of the guys that grinds hard every single day, doesn’t complain, just goes out there and plays for everybody.”
Punter Jered Padmos put together another strong performance, averaging 47.9 yards on eight punts while pinning NAU inside its 20 three times (and inside the 10 twice).
Padmos’ ability to control field position for the Bobcats in the first half helped keep them in the game.
The graduate of Jefferson High School in Boulder is averaging 46.9 yards per punt this season, which ranks second in the Big Sky Conference.
“Jered was great. He’s been that guy for a long time for us,” Choate said. “We had to punt a bunch early on, and once we found our groove on offense (we took) a lot of pressure off of him, but he was still able to do some really good things for us.”