OGDEN, Utah — Still riding high from leading his team to a 24-17 road victory over Montana last Saturday, Montana State quarterback Chris Murray on Tuesday took home one of the Big Sky Conference’s four major postseason awards.
Murray was named the Big Sky’s freshman of the year, which crystalized into history the impact the first-year signal-caller had on the Bobcats in 2016.
“I was impressed with Chris’ poise down the stretch,” Bobcats coach Jeff Choate said in a release from MSU. “He grew to understand his role and the importance of valuing the football.
“He is one of the more explosive players in the conference regardless of class or position. I’m excited about his future here at Montana State, and I’m excited to watch his development.”
The Big Sky also doled out its offensive player of the year award, which went to co-recipients Gage Gubrud and Cooper Kupp, the dynamic quarterback/receiver combo at Eastern Washington. The defensive player of the year honor went to North Dakota safety Cole Reyes, while the newcomer of the year nod went to Weber State tight end Andrew Vollert.
Though he struggled in the passing game, Murray set a Montana State freshman record with 860 rushing yards, and also ran for 12 scores. Murray was named the Bobcats’ starting quarterback midway through the season, and he finished with a team-high 1,638 yards of total offense.
Murray came off the bench in an Oct. 1 game at Sacramento State to rush for 187 yards and three touchdowns, giving a glimpse of his potential.
Against Montana, Murray had 142 of the Bobcats’ 368 rushing yards and scored a pair of touchdowns without turning the ball over in the upset win.
Murray’s teammate, left guard J.P. Flynn, was named first-team All-Big Sky while running back Chad Newell, linebacker Mac Bignell and safety Bryson McCabe were picked for the second team.
Defensive tackle Zach Wright, cornerback John Walker and special teams stalwart Joey Michael were the MSU players named honorable mention.
Montana failed to put any players on the All-Big Sky first team for the first time since 1984, but placed defensive end Caleb Kidder and offensive tackle David Reese on the second team, while defensive end Ryan Johnson, linebackers Josh Buss and Connor Strahm, and offensive tackle Jackson Thiebes were named to the third team.
UM’s honorable mention picks included quarterback Brady Gustafson, receiver Jerry Louie-McGee, guard Devon Dietrich and safety Justin Strong.
EWU’s Gubrud and Kupp were the first teammates to be picked as co-offensive MVPs. Gubrud passed for 4,071 yards and 40 touchdowns, and was the team's leading rusher with 463 yards and four more scores.
Kupp, the reigning offensive player of the year in the FCS, repeated as MVP after catching 91 passes for 1,297 yards and 12 touchdowns. Kupp is now a four-time first-team Big Sky selection.
The Eagles finished the regular season 10-1 overall and 8-0 in the Big Sky to earn a share of the league championship with North Dakota (9-2, 8-0).
UND’s Reyes won the defensive MVP award on the strength of 58 tackles, five tackles-for-loss, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. He also broke up eight passes and had a safety.
Weber State’s Vollert helped his team to a playoff berth for the first time since 2009 by leading the Wildcats in receiving yards with 757 yards, an average of 13.3 yards per catch. Vollert also caught six touchdown passes.