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FCS Championship: Montana State's 2021 season in review

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MSU SDSU football

Montana State's Danny Uluilakepa and Eric Zambrano celebrate during an FCS semifinal game against South Dakota State on Saturday at Bobcat Stadium.

BOZEMAN — Montana State's 2021 season in review:

Sept. 4: Wyoming 19, MSU 16

LARAMIE, Wyo. — Isaiah Ifanse rushed for 103 yards, his ninth career 100-yard game and the first by a Bobcat against an FBS opponent since Chad Newell at Idaho in 2016. in coach Brent Vigen's debut with the Bobcats.

After allowing Texas Tech 35 first downs in the 2019 season opener, the Bobcats surrendered just 17 to Wyoming. The 19 points Montana State allowed at Wyoming was the fewest against an FBS opponent since Montana State's 19-10 win at Colorado in 2006.

Blake Glessner's 53-yard field goal at Wyoming is tied as the sixth-longest in Bobcat history, and is the school's longest by a freshman.

Jeffrey Manning's interception marked the third time this century that a Bobcat making his program debut picked off a pass (joining CJ Adkins in 2000 and Jahque Alleyne in 2018). 

Matthew McKay's 200 passing yards in his debut marked the first time a Bobcat has hit that benchmark in a season opener since Dakota Prukop threw for 258 against Fort Lewis in 2015.

Sept. 11: MSU 45, Drake 7

BOZEMAN — A little home cookin', the first in over 600 days, helped Montana State to a win over Drake in a nonconference tilt at Bobcat Stadium.

Playing at home for the first time since beating Austin Peay in a December 2019 playoff game, the Bobcats led from the outset while dominating in every aspect of the game and improving to 1-1 on the season. A sell-out crowd of 19,797 watched Drake of the Pioneer League fall to 1-1.

The Bobcats dominated the opening half, going up 24-0 before Drake scored just before halftime. MSU got the rout started with a 29-yard field goal by freshman Blake Glessner. Before the first quarter was over, quarterback Matthew McKay tossed a horizontal pass to Willie Patterson who did the rest on a 23-yard score.

MSU pushed the lead to 16-0 on another McKay to Patterson hook up, this time from 31 yards as the junior from Tacoma, Wash., hauled in McKay's ball over his shoulder. As the half was winding down, Isiah Ifanse plowed up the middle behind the blocking of Justus Perkins and Zach Redd to score from 4 yards out. But the Bobcats left a few extra ticks on the clock and Drake was able to go the length of the field and score on a 2-yard toss from Ian Corwin to Cross Robinson with 11 seconds remaining in the half.

After a slow start Ifanse closed out the half with 33 yards on 12 carries. McKay was sharp early, hitting 13 of 16 passes for 160 first-half yards. As he was in the season opener at Wyoming, Lance McCutcheon was the top receiver, getting six balls for 76 yards.

Overall, McKay connected on 19 of 25 yards and had three touchdown tosses. In addition, the transfer from North Carolina State made good decisions while running for 61 yards on eight keepers. Ifanse led the Bobcats with 60 yards on 19 yards. McCutcheon finished with seven catches for 121 yards.

Sept. 18: MSU 52, San Diego 10

BOZEMAN – Montana State took the lead on the opening drive of the game and controlled its entire contest against San Diego as the Bobcats rolled to a 52-10 non-conference win over the Toreros in front of 19,107 fans at Bobcat Stadium. 

MSU's first three offensive drives led to touchdowns. A 7-yard TD pass from Matthew McKay to Derryk Snell opened the scoring, McKay's 65-yard connection with Elijah Elliott broke the game open, and Isaiah Ifanse 9-yard burst behind his offensive line put the 'Cats ahead for good as they jumped out to a 21-0 advantage by the end of the first quarter. 

The Bobcat defense wouldn't be outdone by MSU's offensive effort on Saturday. Ty Okada returned an interception 72 yards to the opposite end zone for MSU's first defensive points of the game. Troy Andersen replicated the effort with a 40-yard pick six to put the Montana State up 35-0 just before the end of the first half. 

Jaharie Martin ended a 3-play, 75-yard drive with a 1-yard TD to extend MSU's advantage to 42-0 before San Diego got on the scoreboard for the first time. The Toreros scored a touchdown near the end of the third quarter, but MSU responded on its next drive. The 'Cats went on an 11-play, 75-yard drive capped by a two-yard touchdown pass from Casey Bauman to Treyton Pickering for MSU's final points of the day. The Toreros added a field goal midway through the fourth quarter to end the scoring. 

Montana State racked up 540 yards of total offense and held San Diego to just 204 yards.

Sept. 25: MSU 30, Portland State 17

PORTLAND, Ore. – Montana State dialed in during the second half of its Big Sky Conference opener and closed out a road victory over the Portland State Vikings at Hillsboro Stadium. 

The Vikings kept the Bobcats at bay early as PSU jumped out to a 10-3 lead after the first quarter. PSU totaled 163 yards passing in the opening 15 minutes of the contest, while MSU was held to just 85 total yards. 

A Simeon Woodard interception slowed down the Viks on a second quarter drive and three first-half field goals by Blake Glessner kept the Bobcats within striking distance as they trailed 10-9 at halftime. 

MSU was forced to punt following its first drive of the third quarter, but a Bryce Leighton punt pinned Portland State at its own 8. After a three-and-out, MSU's Coy Steel returned the Viks' resulting punt 45 yards into the red zone. Isaiah Ifanse found the end zone for the Bobcats for the first time to give MSU a lead with 9:08 remaining in the 3rd quarter. 

Portland State responded with a 10-play, 75-yard drive as the Viks regained the advantage, 17-16. However, the Bobcats went ahead for good on the ensuing drive. Montana State went 75 yards over the course of eight plays, with 53 yards coming through the air to Lance McCutcheon, which included a 20-yard touchdown pass from Matthew McKay to put the 'Cats up by six points again.

Oct. 2: MSU 40, Northern Colorado 7

BOZEMAN — Isaiah Ifanse rushed for 114 and a touchdown and Elijah Elliott added 107 yards, lifting Montana State to a win over Northern Colorado. 

The 12-ranked Bobcats' fourth straight win pushed them to 2-0 in the Big Sky Conference and 4-1 overall. Elliott's total was a career best for the freshman while Ifanse's yards came a week after gaining 217 at Portland State. Overall, the Bobcats totaled 276 yards on the ground and 276 more through the air, while holding UNC to 233 combined yards. 

The Bobcats put this one away in the first quarter. They jumped to a 17-0 lead and were never challenged against the Bears (1-1 and 2-3) from Greeley, Colo. 

MSU benefited from the strong foot of kicker Blake Glessner who connected on four field goals. 

In front of 20,127 fans, McKay did all the passing for the Bobcats, finishing with 15 completions on 23 throws for those 276 yards.

Oct. 9: MSU 47, Cal Poly 7

BOZEMAN — Matthew McKay threw a pair of touchdown passes and Isaiah Ifanse rushed for two scores and caught a pass for another as No. 11 Montana State jumped to a 35-0 halftime lead en route to a victory over Cal Poly.

Before a Homecoming crowd of 19,847, the host Bobcats scored in the first quarter on a nine-yard pass from McKay to Treyton Pickering.

A 28-pound second-quarter Bobcat outburst began with a seven-yard run by Ifanse. He followed with a one-yard run for a 21-0 Montana State lead. 

After a 74-yard romp down the right sideline by backup quarterback Tommy Mellott, Ifanse reached the end zone once again on a 12-yard pass from McKay to Ifanse.

Callahan O'Reilly returned an interception 39 yards for another touchdown and a 42-0 Bobcat lead less than five minutes into the third quarter.

Oct. 15: MSU 13, Weber State 7

OGDEN, Utah – After allowing a 97-yard touchdown drive on Weber State's opening possession, Montana State's defense clamped down to hold the Wildcats to just 172 yards the rest of the contest and held on late for a victory at Stewart Stadium. The Bobcats improved to 6-1 overall and 4-0 in Big Sky Conference play. 

It took Weber State a little over 4 minutes into the game to go up 7-0 after a nine-play drive ended with a 9-yard rushing touchdown by Josh Davis. However after a 3-and-out on its opening drive, the MSU offense drove 78 yards in 10 plays and capped off an over 5-minute stretch with a Matthew McKay 4th-and-goal sneak into the end zone. 

The end of the first quarter saw a score of 7-7 and it remained that way through the entirety of the first half. Both defenses controlled the line of scrimmage, with MSU's Ty Okada coming up with a critical fourth down pass breakup as Weber State drove into MSU territory at the start of the second quarter. 

Blake Glessner  converted on a 46-yard field goal to put the Bobcats ahead 10-7 with 7:35 remaining in the third quarter. 

The next possession again saw Montana State take advantage. Weber State fumbled the ball on its first play of the ensuing drive and Callahan O'Reilly recovered it at the Wildcat 33-yard line. Two Isaiah Ifanse carries completed a first down for MSU before bringing Glessner back out. He would knock in a 32-yard attempt and the Bobcats edge increased to 13-7 with 3:50 to go in the quarter.

Oct. 23: MSU 27, Idaho State 9

BOZEMAN, Montana – Montana State senior Taylor Tuiasosopo, a guard for most of his stellar career as a Bobcat offensive lineman, summed up his team's mood entering its game against Idaho State. 

With usual starting right tackle TJ Session injured, Tuiasosopo in that spot, and Cole Sain starting at guard, the Cats plowed through Idaho State for 242 rushing yards. The result was a game that flowed unevenly but ended as a resounding Bobcat win. 

In addition to the regulars sidelined with injury, MSU was missing starting nose tackle Chase Benson, easily the Big Sky's dominant interior lineman, along with starting linebacker Callahan O'Reilly and cornerback Tyrel Thomas.

Montana State's knockout blows came early in the fourth quarter, when Lance McCutcheon caught a 27-yard touchdown pass with 14:54 to play to stretch the Bobcat lead to 20-6, and Willie Patterson hauled in a 65-yard touchdown pass two minutes later to seal the win.

Nov. 6: MSU 23, Eastern Washington 20

CHENEY, Washington - Isaiah Ifanse continued to make history with his legs and Montana State's defense held the most explosive offense in the FCS to 20 points, 17 first downs and 314 total yards in the Bobcats' win at Eastern Washington.

Ifanse rambled for 217 yards, his second 200-yard rushing game this season and his third as a Bobcat. His 14th career 100-yard rushing game is fifth in school history. He gained at least 40 yards in each of the first three quarters, then at closing time in the fourth he gashed the Eagles for 75 yards. The sensational junior gained three more yards on the ground than EWU quarterback Eric Barriere, who many consider the Payton Trophy frontrunner, accumulated through the air.

Montana State's defense held the Eagles to 314 yards, the EWU's lowest total of the season by 123 yards, and 20 points, 14 points less than it scored in any previous 2021 game. Eastern led 13-7 with 164 total yards after the first quarter, but scored only seven points with 150 total yards from that point forward.

The Bobcats accumulated yards in the first half, but missed on a pair of scoring opportunities. After the Cats moved inside the Eagles 10, Blake Glessner missed just his fourth field goal of the year from 27 yards. Then with 3:43 to play in the first half, Matthew McKay fired just behind Lance McCutcheon on a fourth-down conversion attempt. On the second play of the ensuing possession, though, Eastern was flagged for a holding penalty in the end zone. That gave the Bobcats a 16-13 lead they took into the intermission.

Nov. 13: MSU 20, Idaho 13

BOZEMAN – Third-ranked Montana State scored a touchdown with just over two minutes left in the game to break a 13-13 tie and pick up a win over Idaho in a hard-fought battle.

Zach Borisch was 8-18 passing for 157 yards and a touchdown and also ran for 70 yards on 23 carries to lead the Idaho offense. Terez Traynor caught two passes for 39 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown pass.

Tre Walker tallied 11 total tackles and Marcus Harris grabbed an interception to lead the Idaho defense. 

The Vandals battled from the opening kick. Holding the potent Montana State attack to just three touchdowns on the day. 

MSU scored a touchdown in the first quarter, but the Vandals got on the scoreboard with 10:33 left in the second quarter on a 40-yard field goal from Logan Prescott. 

Montana State extended their lead to 13-3 with 5:17 to play in the first half.

Nov. 20: Montana 29, MSU 10

MISSOULA - Kevin Macias kicked five field goals and Montana held the Bobcats to 204 total yards.

The Grizzlies struck early, when quarterback Cam Humphrey connected on a 74-yard touchdown pass to Junior Bergen on the game's second scrimmage play. That was the only touchdown scored by either offense until late in the fourth quarter.

After that 35-yard field goal by Blake Glessner, Montana drove from its own 25 to the Bobcat 25, and Macias connected on his first boot to boost UM's lead to 10-3. He made two more in the second quarter, one with 12 seconds remaining, then hit another early in the third quarter. "He had a big impact on the game," Vigen said. "If any of those field goals (aren't made) it changes the game."

The Grizzlies out-gained MSU 236 yards to 88 in the first half, with Cam Humphrey throwing for 213 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He was 11-for-17. UM's defense forced four straight three-and-out possessions sandwiching halftime, two before the intermission and two directly after.

While Humphrey finished the day with 220 passing yards on 13-for-22 passing, the Cats did intercept him twice. Troy Andersen snagged one, Jeffrey Manning the other. MSU quarterback Matthew McKay threw for 108 yards on 12-for-25 passing. Neither team's ground game got untracked. MSU rushed for 96 yards, with Isaiah Ifanse gaining 50, while UM's Xavier Harris led his team with 41. The Grizzlies totaled 51.

Montana State's lone touchdown came in the game's final minute. McKay found Nate Stewart in the end zone from 20 yards out.

Dec. 4: MSU 26, UT Martin 7

Doing what they do best, the Montana State Bobcats ran past UT Martin on Saturday, finishing off their win with 387 yards on the ground while holding the visiting Skyhawks to just 178 total yards. 

The Bobcats were sparked by freshman quarterback Tommy Mellott's first start as he scored twice and finished with a career-best 180 yards rushing. Just as he's done all season, Isaiah Ifanse had another stellar day with 176 yards of his own and a fourth quarter touchdown that put the game out of reach. 

The Bobcats (10-2) got on the scoreboard first as Mellott, who hails from Butte, scored in the second quarter from 1 yard out behind the line surge generated by left tackle Lewis Kidd and left guard Zach Redd. Those two, along with Justus Perkins, Taylor Tuiasosopo and Rush Reimer spent most of the day carving holes in the UTM defense. Overall MSU totaled 438 yards as Lane Sumner also got in the running action finishing with 30 yards of his own. 

A Blake Glessner field goal made it 10-0 before UTM's Jay Woods returned a fumble 68 yards just before halftime to give the Skyhawks (10-3) their lone trip to the end zone. 

Glessner's second field goal was the lone score in the third quarter and made the score 13-7. In the fourth quarter, Mellott ripped off his longest run by dashing up the middle before swerving to the left sideline, breaking a tackle at the 35 and jogging into the end zone to complete a 73-yard run. MSU's final score came on Ifanse's 17-yarder. Ifanse, who led the Big Sky Conference in rushing this fall, now has 1,459 yards on the season. His total is third on MSU's all time single-season list and is just one yard behind Don Hass who rushed for 1,460 yards in 1966. Ryan Johnson leads the list with 1,537 yards in 2001.

In front of a crowd of 15,327, Mellott, who came into the game with just four pass attempts on the season, finished the day with eight completions on 20 attempts for 51 yards.

Dec. 11: MSU 42, Sam Houston 19

HUNTSVILLE, Texas – Tommy Mellott scored three touchdowns and Montana State's defense limited Sam Houston to a season scoring low in a quarterfinals victory. 

Mellott scored two rushing touchdowns and caught a scoring strike in addition to his two touchdown runs. He gained 76 yards on the ground and 165 through the air. The Cats rushed for 190 yards, holding Sam Houston to 79.

Senior receiver Lance McCutcheon caught two passes for 98 yards, becoming the sixth Bobcat to surpass the 1,000-yard mark in a season. Isaiah Ifanse became MSU's single-season rushing record-holder by gaining 105 yards. 

Tre Webb, Simeon Woodard and Jeffrey Manning Jr. each picked off passes for MSU. Troy Andersen led the Cats with 11 tackles, while Callahan O'Reilly registered 10. Daniel Hardy had two sacks, while Brody Grebe and Ben Seymour each logged one.

The Bobcats exploded out of the gates, marching 75 yards for a touchdown on the game-opening drive. After a 3-yard rush by Willie Patterson, Mellott found McCutcheon for a 31-yard gain. After a five-yard gain by Patterson and a defensive pass interference, Mellott rushed for two yards and then Willie Patterson threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Mellott on a play that resembled the Eagles' Philly Special in the Super Bowl.

The game tilted in MSU's favor on the ensuing possession. On third-and-5, Tre Webb intercepted a pass at the 24, and on the next play Mellott found Patterson for a touchdown.

The teams traded punts, then after the Bobcat defense stopped Sam Houston on fourth down, the Cats marched 55 yards for a touchdown. Mellott capped the first half trifecta, scoring from 1 yard out. That gave MSU a 21-0 lead with 14:24 to play in the first half.

Dec. 18: MSU 31, South Dakota State 17

BOZEMAN — Montana State put together a complete game to defeat South Dakota State nd punch its ticket to the FCS national championship.

The game, in front of a roaring crowd of 20,457 that seemed to never sit down or quiet down, was the first semifinal battle in Bozeman since the Bobcats were champions in 1984. 

As he has done since taking over the quarterback duties three games ago, Tommy Mellott sparked the Bobcats (12-2), running for two scores and throwing for two more. Meanwhile, the Bobcat defense was able to shut down the Jackrabbits high-powered offense, getting a pair of sacks from senior All-America Daniel Hardy and an interception by Simeon Woodard, his fourth of the season. All-American senior linebacker Troy Andersen led all players with 10 tackles. 

Mellott's 17-yard scoring pass to senior Lance McCutcheon iced the game, giving MSU its 31-17 advantage in the fourth quarter. On the final play of the third quarter, Mellott squirted through for a 3-yard score, breaking the halftime score of 17-all as SDSU was unable to find the end zone in the second half. 

The game, played under gray clouds with a temperature in the 20s but no wind, served as the final home game for MSU's seniors, but with a trip to Frisco on the docket, it wasn't their final game wearing the Bobcat Blue and Gold. 

Mellott finished the game with 155 yards rushing and two scores and a career-best 233 yards passing and two other touchdowns.

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