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Focused Bobcats literally carried the day

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | November 20, 2022 8:22 AM

BOZEMAN — Bobcat fans showed up for a frigid College GameDay program, and then they got more amped up during Montana State’s 55-21 rout of Montana in Saturday’s Cat-Griz game.

If the MSU players had any distractions during the week, it certainly didn’t show. Second-year coach Brent Vigen avenged his lone Big Sky Conference loss — he’s now 15-1 in Big Sky games — with an impressive victory.

He shrugged off the revenge factor in favor of celebrating a convincing performance on a big stage.

“It is amazing,” he said. “Amazing for our program and amazing for this rivalry, I think. For our state, the Big Sky…. This is a huge day for everything Montana State.”

A record crowd at Bobcat Stadium cheered every tackle-breaking run by the Cats, who in their first three scoring drives threw the ball once — a throwaway by a hemmed-in Tommy Mellott.

By the end the Bobcats had thrown 10 passes and completed seven, for 122 yards. Mellott was 6-for-8 for 104 yards.

If MSU was ever “behind the chains,” it didn’t matter. Second-and-8? Elijah Elliott runs for nine. Third-and-9: Sean Chambers runs for 11. It was too much for the Grizzlies’ gambling 3-3-5 defense.

“It’s very unorthodox and extremely unique to prepare for in a week,” Mellott said. “Sometimes they’re not gap-sound, which shouldn’t happen at this level. But they play with a ton of passion and that’s why it’s been successful for them.

“Getting on the edge there is specific to our offensive line making a push. They blew them off the line every single play.”

And Mellott averaged 9.4 yards a carry.

“We’re really tough to defend right now and it’s a good place to be,” Vigen said. “Anytime you can put up the numbers like we did, and hold them down like we did — against a good football team — it was a good day today.

“I’m excited for our players, excited for our coaches, and obviously excited for our fans. They got to enjoy it and it’s only 4 o’clock. Watch out.”

Playoff-ready?

The Grizzlies ended the regular season 7-4, but with a 4-4 record in Big Sky games. That’s good for only sixth in the league, though one of the teams ahead of them, UC Davis, is 6-5 overall (but 5-3 in league).

The Big Sky could put five teams into the FCS postseason; it did it in 2021. But there are a handful of teams in Montana’s seven-win boat, including Delaware of the Colonial Athletic Conference, Youngstown State of the Missouri Valley and Chattanooga and Mercer of the Southern.

Meanwhile the Grizzlies haven’t beaten a team with a .500 record or better. Last year was the same — before they won the 2021 Cat-Griz game 29-10.

“In terms of this season probably the most aggravating thing is the inability to play consistently,” Grizzlies coach Bobby Hauck said. “Because at times we’ve played at a really high level. You know? And at times we haven’t. Certainly today we did not.”

The health of quarterback Lucas Johnson, who left the game late in the third quarter, is again in question. Playmaking sophomore Junior Bergen (hand) once again didn’t suit up.

Against this backdrop the Griz have to rediscover some momentum.

“If we get a game next week we better play better or we’ll be one and done,” Hauck said.

Touchdown Tommy Says

Mellott played around 15 plays in last year’s Cat-Griz, before supplanting Matt McKay as starter ahead of MSU’s first-round playoff game.

The legend really began there, and like Vigen the Butte product wasn’t buying into the revenge factor.

“We care about every game,” the sophomore said. “I wouldn't say I’ve been waiting all year or something like that — where all of a sudden I feel fulfilled because we beat those guys? No.”

QUICK KICKS: Nate Fouch had a game-high nine tackles for the Griz, and Patrick O’Connell was next with eight. … Henry Nuce, like O’Connell a Glacier High grad, had three tackles. … Rylan Ortt, the Missoula Sentinel product, had a team-high six tackles for MSU to go with his interception. … UM’s Patrick Rohrbach (Glacier) punted twice for a 44.5-yard average. … MSU did not punt, and scored on its first nine possessions Saturday before kneeling out the final 1:32. … Montana’s Malik Flowers fielded four kickoffs, but his longest return was 23 yards.

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