Chase Benson

Montana State defensive lineman Chase Benson eyes Southern Utah quarterback Chris Helbig on Saturday in Bozeman.

BOZEMAN — Baseball has its Mr. Octobers. College basketball has its Mr. Marches.

It’s still too early to declare Montana State’s Jeff Choate as Mr. November, but the early returns from the polling station known as Bobcat Stadium are promising.

On Saturday, the 14th-ranked Bobcats brushed off two debilitating October defeats and improved their November record under Choate to 8-3 with a festive, backs-against-the-wall 42-7 Big Sky Conference trouncing of hopelessly overmatched Southern Utah.

Nobody favoring blue and gold needs to be reminded that three of those victories are against the Evil Empire. A fourth was last year's FCS playoff game against Incarnate Word.

In short, the games that matter most.

The Bobcats pummeled Southern Utah early and often in their November 2019 debut, rolling to a 42-0 halftime lead before shifting into auto-pilot in a stark contrast to the team notorious for sluggish starts.

“Very refreshing,” Choate described it.

Déjà vu?

A year ago, the Bobcats similarly responded from two deflating October defeats to close out the regular season with three victories, a 7-4 mark and a playoff berth that resulted in an eighth win.

After a gut-punch loss at Idaho State, the run began with an early-November shootout win over Cal Poly (49-42). Saturday’s win comes on the heels of a brutal loss at now-No. 23 North Dakota.

“It was important for dudes to stay positive, so that was the mindset,” MSU defensive lineman Amandre Williams said. “It was a big week of preparation. Definitely an attitude change, for sure.”

That’s also the mental shift the Cats made a year ago, and after whipping Cal Poly, they followed with a win against Northern Colorado.

Guess who they play this coming Saturday?

Naturally, MSU hopes the rout of Southern Utah is the start of a path similar to 2018, though the deck is stacked less favorably if mostly because instead of two games remaining now they have three.

And with their 6-3 record, they’ll almost certainly need to win two — meaning either at potent UC Davis or at home against the surging Griz, dangerously assuming victory in Greeley, Colorado — to earn a second consecutive playoff spot.

Seven wins typically sufficed in an 11-game season.

Eight will almost certainly be needed for this year’s 12-game slate.

But Saturday, the Bobcats bounced back from their worst game with one of their best, even if it was against a tepid 2-8 opponent that too-often mastered the dubious art of blown coverage.

In putting up those 42 first-half points, equaling the fourth most in school history, the Cats made the T-Birds look like a pay-for-play NCAA Division II or NAIA foe.

The Cats, who’ve allowed one offensive touchdown by the starting defense in two games, were that good. The Thunderbirds, on this day at least, were that challenged.

“It just came down to fundamentals and some of the things we hadn’t done the last two games,” MSU linebacker Josh Hill said. “It feels good; we just haven’t put our best football out there. It was motivating for our team especially after last week. We’re a better football team than this (that) and we know it and it showed.”

After last week, the Cats were discouraged and backed into the proverbial corner, just as they were a year ago. And just like last season, they came out baring their claws at home.

“One of the things we talked about coming out … was we wanted to be the most excited team that played when we took the field on Saturday,” Choate said. “I think our energy was very good from the jump and that definitely carried through.”

A year ago, such energy carried through the end of a 4-0 November. Can it happen again?

Certainly the aura of Mr. Novembers was there Saturday.

MSU Hall of Fame quarterback Dennis Erickson and his two national-title pedigree was on hand for the ceremonial coin toss, and he remained on the Bobcat sideline to offer some juju. Former Los Angeles Rams/Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, whose son Brandon is SUU’s first-year defensive coordinator and went 52-6 in four years playing at Montana, was pacing the T-Birds’ sideline.

In the press box, legendary former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler’s son was scouting for the Oakland Raiders.

They’ve all known their share of November success. Often it was due to rebounding from October disappointment.

“We’ve been on a win streak for a while and kind of got humbled,” Hill said. “I think it made us take the next step, though, as a football program.”

Now we’ll see.

The month that makes or breaks football seasons and coaching reputations, just like October for baseball and March for college basketball, is here.

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Email 406mtsports.com and Lee Montana newspapers Executive Sports Editor Jeff Welsch at jeff.welsch@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @406sportswelsch

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