Troy Andersen scored three touchdowns last season in Montana State’s dramatic win over Montana and two the year before. This time, the junior linebacker had a chance to make an impact on the defensive end.
But he appeared in warmups with his No. 15 jersey worn over a hoodie, not shoulder pads. Due to a leg injury, he missed MSU’s rivalry game.
The Bobcats were ready, though. Without Andersen, the Bobcats allowed No. 3-ranked Montana (9-3, 6-2 Big Sky) just 241 yards of total offense as No. 8 MSU (9-3, 6-2) won the 119th rivalry game 48-14 on Saturday at Bobcat Stadium.
“We wanted to step up to the plate, play hard for him,” MSU defensive lineman Derek Marks said. “He wanted to be out there and make plays. We missed him, but he was happy on the sideline, giving us good energy and leading us.”
Bobcats head coach Jeff Choate had called Andersen one of the most impactful players in the Big Sky, as he’s been a two-way weapon for the Bobcats. He had rushed for a team-high seven touchdowns on 6.9 yards per carry to go with 48 tackles, third best on the team, and 6.5 sacks.
Choate knew the Bobcats might be without him since Sunday. So they game planned accordingly. Four MSU players ran for touchdowns and two, Isaiah Ifanse and Logan Jones, rushed for over 100 yards.
“He’s made sacrifices physically … and sacrificed his body for this organization,” Choate said of Andersen. “One of the things we need to do is step up on his behalf.”
MSU in line for first-round bye
By winning Saturday, the Bobcats put themselves in great position for a seed in the FCS playoffs. The top eight teams in the field receive first-round byes, and MSU learned the importance of that the hard way last season.
After getting thumped by No. 1 North Dakota State in the second round, Choate has continually pointed out how big a difference it makes if a team can take the first week off and play at home the next.
Entering the matchup ranked eighth and beating the No. 3 Grizzlies, the first top-10 win in the Choate era, creates an optimistic outlook heading into Sunday’s selection show at 10:30 a.m. The Bobcats have nine wins and six in the Big Sky, one of the top leagues in the country this season.
When asked about his team’s playoff resume, Choate said it speaks for itself.
“It’s always good to go into the tournament hot,” he said. “Coming off a victory can give you some momentum and hopefully can be a catalyst for us to continue our run. I think this is a really good football team, and I think if we play like we did today, I think we’ve got an opportunity to make a nice run in the playoffs.”
Ifanse sparks MSU run game
Until last week, Ifanse, a sophomore running back, struggled to stay healthy this season. He didn’t play in Games 3, 4, 5 and 9. He took six combined carries against Sacramento State and North Dakota.
In the past two weeks, Ifanse has broken out and returned to the explosive runner he was a year ago. Against Montana, he broke free often, pounded up the middle for tough yards and gave MSU’s offense a spark. He finished with 171 yards and three touchdowns on 21 attempts.
Late in the second quarter, Ifanse took a direct snap and rushed for a first down on third and 1. Four plays later, he took another direct snap, burst through the line of scrimmage and scored on the 38-yard run.
Once UM’s defense was worn down, Ifanse found the end zone two more times in the fourth quarter.
“He was a catalyst for us,” Choate said. “Certainly some of the plus-one run stuff we were able to do with him took away some of the sting of not having Troy. But Isaiah’s a special back. He showed his ability again today, and was critical in our ability to continue to run the ball.”
Bobcats neutralize Sneed
Montana’s seniors didn’t want to be known as the class that never beat the Bobcats four years in a row for the first time since the mid-1970s. Sneed nearly led Montana to a comeback victory over MSU last season before a fumble at the goal line gave the Bobcats the victory.
But MSU had the right game plan for Sneed, who was statistically among the best quarterbacks in the country before he missed two games due to injury. He completed 20 of 34 for 195 yards and one interception.
MSU’s pressure was going to be pivotal on Sneed. The Bobcats sacked him six times and didn’t allow a TD pass.
“We saw some things on film they were susceptible to and tried to take advantage of those things and wanted to hit (Sneed) because he’s a good player,” Marks said. “We wanted to hit him, affect him, get him off his game, and I thought we were able to do that a little bit.”