BOZEMAN — Jeff Choate had high hopes for Isaiah Ifanse when Montana State recruited him out of Bellevue High School in suburban Seattle.
The hard-running Ifanse has already made Choate a true believer in his first season as a Bobcat.
Ifanse rushed for 227 yards and three touchdowns in MSU’s 49-42 victory over Cal Poly on Saturday at Bobcat Stadium. He scored on runs of 74, 29 and 28 yards, and averaged 10.3 yards on 22 carries.
He became the team's second 200-yard rusher this season, joining quarterback Troy Andersen, who had 211 at Portland State on Sept. 22. Ifanse's single-game total is the seventh-most in MSU history and the most ever by a freshman.
“Bad dude, man. He is. I love that kid,” Choate, the Bobcats’ third-year coach, said following the victory. “He’s going to be something special and we’re fortunate to have him. I think there’s a bright future for that young man on this team.”
But the future might be here already.
Ifanse, all 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds of him, broke MSU’s single-game freshman rushing record previously held by Aaron Mason, who ran for 192 yards in a game versus Northern Arizona in 2006. Ifanse is now just 147 yards shy of Chris Murray’s single-season freshman mark.
As a team the Bobcats rushed for 430 yards, the fourth-highest single-game total in school history. Andersen, who suffered a right knee injury in the second quarter but returned after halftime, had 104 yards on the ground, including touchdown runs of 51 and 49 yards.
“Our O line did a great job just rolling off the ball, just killing them in the run game,” said Andersen, who wore a brace on his knee after returning in the second half. “When you can open up the run game you can run anything after that. It was awesome to have that.”
“We love the way (Ifanse) runs,” left tackle Mitch Brott offered. “He’s an aggressive runner, he never wants to go down, he always fights for the extra yards.”
For an offense whose strength is so clearly centered on running the ball, it was a clinic. The only thing Choate bemoaned was the fact that the Bobcats surrendered 21 fourth-quarter points and saw what was once a four-touchdown lead all but evaporate.
MSU’s players concurred.
“We preach finishing so much around here,” said safety Brayden Konkol, who was in on 14 tackles while defending Cal Poly’s persistent triple-option offense. “All offseason, every workout, practice … we’ve just got to be finishers, and that wasn’t it today.”
“Cal Poly obviously (wasn’t) going anywhere,” Choate said. “I think it’s a great lesson for these young men that you have to finish everything you do.”
The Bobcats and Mustangs completed just 15 passes between them, but their combined rushing total amounted to 799 yards.
Cal Poly senior fullback Joe Protheroe finished with 215 yards and two touchdowns. It marked his seventh consecutive 100-yard game and the 21st of his career, a continuation of his school record. It was his fourth career 200-yard game, and his third this season.
Mustangs quarterback Khaleel Jenkins had a career-high 138 rushing yards and accounted for four touchdowns.
Had it not been for Andersen’s 49-yard touchdown run with 7:16 remaining — and had Cal Poly continued its offensive momentum — the Bobcats might have been staring down the barrel of overtime.
“You better maximize your possessions against this team,” Choate said. “Clearly, we had a very difficult time stopping them on the run. Their option game was as advertised. I thought they operated at a very high level.
“We gave up some explosive plays, which is uncharacteristic for us. Even when we were up two scores and three scores I’m thinking, ‘Thank God.’ I didn’t want to get into a score-for-score game with these guys because I don’t know if we’re going to get the ball back the way they eat clock up.”
Case in point: The Mustangs’ first touchdown of the fourth quarter — a six-yard run by Jenkins that was part of four-TD stretch in less than 22 minutes — was the result of a 19-play, 92-yard drive that consumed 8:57.
But the Bobcats gave themselves enough of a cushion.
Travis Jonsen contributed in several aspects, and scored on a three-yard touchdown run in the second quarter during a time when Andersen was being evaluated for his injury.
Running back Logan Jones, playing in just his second game of the year, found the end zone for the first points of the game. MSU scored on its first three drives, and on six of its first eight.
The victory snapped the Bobcats' two-game losing streak. MSU (5-4, 3-3 Big Sky) hosts Northern Colorado next week. Cal Poly fell to 3-6 overall and 2-4 in the league.
NOTES: Neither CB Tyrel Thomas nor WR John D’Agostino played for the Bobcats. Both were out with injuries. … True freshman QB Casey Bauman appeared in one series before halftime, completing one pass and leading MSU into field goal range. But K Tristan Bailey was short on a 49-yard attempt. … LB Matt Shotwell, Cal Poly’s leading tackler, did not play.