GRAND FORKS, ND – In three trips to the Alerus Center since North Dakota joined the Big Sky Conference in 2012, Montana State had averaged 50 points per contest.
But Saturday, the Bobcats (5-3, 2-2 Big Sky Conference) offense didn’t have any answer for the Fighting Hawks defense, falling 16-12 to drop back-to-back conference games.
“Offensively we struggled the entire day, we really did not find our traction regardless of what we tried to do,” said Bobcat head coach Jeff Choate. “Congratulations to the University of North Dakota. Hard-fought game, tough environment, I thought those guys had a good plan.”
The Bobcats took a 12-10 lead in the fourth quarter on a one-yard touchdown from Troy Andersen after a 49-yard run took him near the goal line.
The decisive sequence came with under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The Bobcats failed to return a punt which rolled down to the one-inch line. After three runs couldn’t give MSU room to work with, Jared Padmos was forced to punt in the shadow of the goal post.
The kick was blocked a recovered by Jayson Coley in the end zone for a special teams touchdown, which gave North Dakota a 16-12 lead with 4:12 remaining, which the Fighting Hawks would hold on to.
It was tough sledding for MSU, which only converted eight of 18 third down attempts. Quarterback Tucker Rovig went 13-for-26 through the air for just 77 yards passing.
One play that was indicative of the entire afternoon for MSU came when Rovig found Travis Jonsen wide open downfield in stride behind the defense – but the usually sure-handed Jonsen dropped the ball, which would likely have led to a touchdown and a 10-7 lead.
Rovig put the blame on himself.
“I thought it was actually a bad ball,” Rovig said. “I thought I could’ve put it a yard more inside and it would have been caught.”
The Bobcats opened scoring on a 21-yard field goal from Tristan Bailey with 5:02 left in the first quarter.
North Dakota answered on the ensuing possession on a double pass trick play in the opening quarter. Nate Ketteringham threw a lateral to Brock Boltmann, who found Travis Toivonen deep for a 36-yard touchdown.
The Bobcats rushed 28 times for 256 yards, but 97 of those yards came on two runs of 48 and 49 yards, only one of which resulted in a touchdown.
Andersen had another great two-way game with 12 tackles and 2.5 sacks on defense and 64 yards rushing and a touchdown on offense. True freshman DeMareus Hosey rushed 10 times for 76 yards, including a 48-yard run in the first quarter which led to the game-opening field goal.
North Dakota quarterback Nate Ketteringham was 27-for-36 through the air for 220 yards.
“It’s really disappointing, with all the time and preparation we put into it, it stings a lot,” Bobcat offensive lineman Lewis Kidd said. “It’s going to weigh on us a little bit, but as coach Choate says, it’s a 24-hour rule. Let it bother you or affect you for 24 hours, but after that, wash it out and move on to the next one.”
Montana State returns home next Saturday to face Southern Utah (2-7, 1-4), which earned it’s first Big Sky win of the season 59-34 over Idaho State on Saturday. Kickoff is set for noon at Bobcat Stadium.