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No. 6 Montana State looking to shake off Idaho loss against upstart Northern Arizona

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Posted at 10:06 AM, Nov 03, 2023

BOZEMAN — Montana State fell at Idaho 24-21 in a top-10 matchup last week. The No. 6-ranked Bobcats now look to bounce back against Northern Arizona at home this Saturday at 1 p.m.

With two losses on the season, both to top-10 opponents, the Bobcats are focused on what's in front of them.

Tight end Treyton Pickering explained how position coach Tyler Walker motivated the group on Monday morning by sharing a video from a team that had a similar regular season compared to Montana State's thus far.

"T-Walk showed us a clip (Monday) of the 2015 (North Dakota State) Bison," he said. "Ranked No. 1, they lost their first game. And then they lost a regular-season game. They were able to go on and continue to win out. And so I think the mindset is, everything is still in front of us."

The Bobcats' goals are still in front of them and capable of being achieved, such as a conference championship and home-field advantage for a majority of the playoffs.

However, a conference loss stresses the need to stay in the moment of the season week by week.

"It doesn’t take us out of the running for anything," Bobcats coach Brent Vigen assured. "But it really just has to put the focus on us, and us taking care of the week in front of us and not worrying about whatever happens in other cities across our conference."

Both losses for the Bobcats this season have come down to the final play of the game. The first loss came in week two versus No.1-ranked South Dakota State on an overturned touchdown call that would have given MSU the win as time expired.

"We’re right there with the best teams in the country, and we’re not playing our best games and still have an opportunity to win," Bobcats linebacker Nolan Askelson said. "I think we should have a lot of confidence moving forward, but definitely know we got a lot to work on, too."

MSU was shut out at the half 10-0 against Idaho, which put the Bobcats in a tough position to try to make a full comeback to win the game, especially with a huge disparity in time of possession. The Vandals possessed the ball for almost 42 minutes.

"We got three-and-out three consecutive drives," Vigen said, reflecting on the first half of the Idaho game. "They extended a couple drives in that sequence, just piled up those plays, and, you know, offensively we got on track in the second half."

Despite being on the field a majority of the first half, the defense was focused on winning the play in front of them and upholding their high standard. MSU held Idaho 100 yards below its season average.

"We just keep fighting," Askelson explained. "Backs against the wall, it doesn’t matter. We get backed up in the red zone, we’re going to make a play, hold them to a field goal, get the ball back. Like I said, we want to be a team that (has) a defense that they can lean on. If we’re going to be on the field the whole game that’s fine. Let’s go win the game."

The second half saw a switch, which speaks to how MSU can never be counted out and looks to carry that into its final three regular-season games.

"I think our mentality even from the first quarter was to be physical and try and dominate the game," Pickering said. "We knew that we’re a team like likes to wear people out. We knew that through four quarters we were going to compete, and I think just coming out we knew we had to do something."

Northern Arizona is 3-5 overall and 3-2 in the Big Sky Conference, but the Lumberjacks' record fails to reflect how they can bring any team in the conference down to the wire. They took down Montana in Week 4 and fell 31-30 to top-10-ranked Sac State in the following week.

The Lumberjacks beat UC Davis last week 38-21.

"We've got to expect their best and understand their best is good enough to beat anyone in this league," Vigen said. "Shoot, they’re a more than capable team that has our full attention in large part because of that game last year."

The game was a close 41-38 win for MSU in Flagstaff last season.

This week's game will be broadcast statewide on the MTN channel, KTVH in Helena and KTGF in Great Falls. Click here to find the MTN channel in your area.