MISSOULA — Tucker Yates likely extended his college football career at least one game.
The Montana State defensive lineman broke through the line of scrimmage to stop Adam Eastwood short of the end zone on a 3rd-and-goal play from the 1-yard line with 14 seconds remaining. Yates, a senior captain from Colstrip, stuffed Eastwood’s run and forced a fumble to seal the Bobcats’ 29-25 win at Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Saturday.
That thrilling win improved MSU to 7-4 this season and likely punched the Bobcats ticket to the FCS playoffs.
“I think you take a look at the body of work and you take a look at, you hear a lot about it, you hear about the bad losses, and you don’t see one on our resume. And I think if you take a look at how we ended the season, winning three straight on high note and obviously coming in here in a very hostile atmosphere and coming back, just the way it all happened, I think this team is destined for some great things, and I think we deserve a shot to keep playing,” said MSU director of athletics Leon Costello.
Costello isn’t alone in thinking the Bobcats are deserving of a playoff bid. UM athletic director Kent Haslam is on the selection committee and recently said the Cat-Griz winner would certainly be in the discussion.
Jim O’Day was the UM AD from 2005-12 and spent four years on the FCS selection committee. He, too, said the Bobcats deserve to be included in the bracket.
“One of the things you do look at, is you look at to see who are the hot teams,” O’Day said of the selection process. “(The Bobcats) have three wins in a row at the end of the year, and they are getting better.”
On Saturday, 25th-ranked Montana State won its third consecutive Cat-Griz game — the first time the Bobcats have done so since 1983-85. They closed the season with wins over Cal Poly, Northern Colorado and the Griz after consecutive losses to Weber State and Idaho State.
The Bengals saw their postseason chances dissipate with Saturday’s loss to Weber State. The Wildcats will be in the FCS playoffs alongside fellow Big Sky Conference co-champions Eastern Washington and UC Davis.
STATS FCS projects Montana State will join the postseason fray, too, and host a game in the first round of the FCS playoffs. The bracket is unveiled at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.
The Bobcats will likely be making their first playoff appearance since 2014, extending the season of Yates and his senior classmates who endured a coaching change — and ultimately a culture change — with Jeff Choate taking over the program after the 2015 season. Choate is now 3-0 in Cat-Griz games and has improved his overall record each year, from 4-7 in 2016 to 5-6 in 2017 and 7-4 this fall.
Costello extended Choate’s contract in February of this year.
“For me, and talking to coach Choate a lot, it’s everything we’ve been working for and building,” Costello said. “I’ve followed him and watching what he’s done and the coaches have done with this program, it’s one of the reasons why he received an extension last year, is because we could just see the things that he was doing, the culture he was building with the players and coaches, and it all came to fruition (Saturday). I think being in the playoffs would be kind of a cherry on top, but it’s the start of many, many great things. This is the expectation now, is getting into the playoffs, competing for conference championships, then ultimately the national championship.”