Bobcats Ride Big Plays to 29-18 Win over UND - KFBB.com News, Sports and Weather

Bobcats Ride Big Plays to 29-18 Win over UND

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The message was simple in and around Montana State's locker room after the Bobcats' 29-18 win over North Dakota in the Big Sky opener for each team on Saturday.

"One and oh," said Rob Ash, describing the most important takeaway from the grind-it-out affair in blustery Bobcat Stadium. "That was the phrase I kept hearing as the players were filing into the block house. We're on a mission every week to win the next game. That's our mind set."

That mindset  led to game in which the outcome never seemed in doubt but the lead never felt comfortable. "I thought their defense was very good," Ash said, "probably a little faster than we saw on film. They closed on the edge really well."

Montana State scored first when Luke Daly drilled a 34-yard field goal mid-way through the first quarter, but that drive underscored rather than alleviated MSU's uneven offensive start. A bad center snap on the game's second play kicked the Bobcats out of their first drive, and a penalty in the red zone forced the team to settle for a field goal rather than scoring a touchdown on the second.

Montana State's defense, on the other hand, started strong. "They did get going a little bit, but I thought overall our defense was amazing," said junior defensive tackle Taylor Sheridan.

North Dakota didn't garner a first down until in the game's first 13 minutes, and didn't cross midfield until late in the second quarter. By then, a big play and a solid drive essentially sealed the game.

First, the Bobcat defense struck. On the second play of the second quarter, Bobcat safety Khari Garcia stepped in front of a Joe Mollberg pass and dashed 45 yards for a touchdown. It was Garcia's second pick this year, and with it extendes MSU's record to 19-0 under Rob Ash when the defense scores.

Next, it was the offense's turn. After the defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, a 24-yard punt gave the Bobcats possession near midfield. Dakota Prukop found freshman receiver Justin Paige in a crease for a 28-yard gain on the drive's second play, and on the fourth Shawn Johnson scored from 16 yards out. After the failed extra point, MSU's lead was 16-0.

The teams then engaged in a bizarre turnover exchange. First, UND appeared poised to score after a 54-yard pass from Mollberg to Dev Ferguson. But Eryon Barnett stripped the ball, and Rob Marshall recovered and returned it to midfield. On third-and-10, though, Prukop scrambled and was sacked, the ball popped loose, and Will Ratelle grabbed the loose ball and raced 21 yards for the touchdown. MSU's lead was trimmed to 16-7.

On the ensuing possession, Prukop engineered a text book drive. He marched the Cats 73 yards, capping the possession with a 26-yard scoring pass to freshman receiver Mitchell Herbert. A late field goal gave MSU a 26-7 lead, and the North Dakota offense that averaged less than 10 points and nine first downs in its first four games was stressed beyond its ability to respond.

But UND kept fighting. The Green and White got a third quarter field goal and a fourth quarter touchdown while the MSU offense went into keepaway mode. UND finished with more first downs than the Cats - 17 to 16 - but MSU out-distanced the visitors 329 to 293 in yardage.

Still, the Bobcats raised their record to 3-2 overall, 1-0 in Big Sky play, while UND falls to 2-3 and 0-1. MSU faces its first road game since August next week, travelling to Sacramento State for a 7 pm MT kickoff on Saturday.

#GoCatsGo

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