PORTLAND, ORE. — It was a beautiful day for football in the city of roses, as Montana State traveled to Portland to take on the Portland State Vikings Saturday afternoon.
However, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses for the Bobcats to start the game. This one would be a test for MSU as they kicked off Big Sky conference play. It wasn’t Drake or the University of San Diego. However, they would overcome a 10-9 deficit at halftime to win 30-17.
“Really pleased with how we responded in the second half," Bobcats head coach Brent Vigen stated. "Portland State gave us fits today. The quarterback is a tremendous player. Their defense, like we talked about all week, is challenging to handle. Our guys didn’t veer off the plan."
In the first half, the Bobcats looked the opposite of what fans had seen in the first three weeks. Uncharacteristic penalties, a struggling pass game, and a defense that allowed over 160 yards in the first quarter.
"Their coverage schemes produce trouble, and we just couldn't produce first downs," Vigen explained. "Too many three-and-outs. Two many poor first-down plays. It was a combination of things. Credit certainly goes to Portland State with what they were able to do."
PSU quarterback Davis Alexander started the game out on a tear. In the first quarter, he completed 9 of 12 pass attempts for 132 yards. With two minutes left in the quarter, he threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Nate Bennett, who made a terrific leaping grab to give them a 10-3 lead.
Montana State’s defense would bottle up the Vikings’ offense the rest of the first half. In the second quarter, the Bobcats would have a couple of drives but would be forced to settle for Blake Glessner field goals from 41 and 39 yards in the second quarter to trail 10-9 heading into halftime.
With 9 minutes left in the third quarter, Montana State forced the Vikings to punt. Bobcats wide receiver Coy Steel would muff the punt, recover it, find an open space behind some blocking and return the kick 45 yards deep into PSU territory. There was also a penalty by the Vikings on the play and MSU found themselves at the PSU 9-yard-line. On the very next play, Isaiah Ifanse rushed in for a touchdown.
The Vikings wasted no time to answer back. Senior running back Malik Walker capped off a 10 play 75-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run. With the extra point good, MSU trails 17-16.
The Bobcats offense picked up the tempo on the next drive. It only took them three and half minutes to score on a 20-yard pass from quarterback Matt McKay to senior wide receiver Lance McCutcheon who came back to an underthrown ball to make the grab. That put the Bobcats up 23-17 after the extra point with 1:06 left in the third.
"I thought we kind of settled in and found from a schematic perspective the runs that were producing and kind of rode them," Vigen explained about the Bobcats' improved second-half performance. "I think we wore them down, so that push becomes a little greater as you go along."
As the Vikings appeared to be headed towards another scoring drive, MSU freshman outside linebacker Brody Grebe strip-sacked Alexander, and senior defensive lineman Chase Benson hopped on the fumble to give the Bobcat the ball.
On the very next play, McKay hit his favorite target McCutcheon once again on a 46-yard pass to put the Bobcats at the 29-yard-line of PSU. The drive would end in a touchdown as McKay threw it to redshirt freshman running back Jaharie Martin for a 9-yard touchdown pass.
Montana State would hold on from there to win by the same score.
"I think we felt like we hadn’t played real well, but we were in a good position," Vigen concluded. "I love how we were able to close that game out - defensively making the stops we did, offensively scoring, and then finishing on the field at the end. Pleased with the effort, but plenty to improve upon.”
Junior running back Isaiah Ifanse dominated on the ground for the Bobcats. Ifanse rushed for 217 yards on 30 carries and one touchdown.
Wide receiver Lance McCutcheon continues his terrific play. He had 8 receptions for 161 yards and a touchdown. His ability to catch the ball no matter where it’s thrown continues to stand out.
Daniel Hardy is a one-man wrecking back on defense. He finished the game with 7 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, and 1.5 sacks.
At 1:05 p.m. Montana State takes on the University of Northern Colorado at Bobcat stadium next Saturday, Oct. 2.