CHENEY, Wash. — Earlier this week, Montana State (8-1, 6-0) head coach Brent Vigen said they were going to need a full team effort to take down No. 5 Eastern Washington (7-2, 4-2), and that's exactly what they did to pull past the Eagles 23-20.
“I think our guys just knew that they’re going to make some plays, and however that goes, we have to keep after them," Vigen explained. "We didn’t need to reinvent ourselves to beat this team, and we just needed to play well and defensively we really did that today."
On Eastern's opening drive, Montana State's Ty Okada made two-big time plays to force the Eagles to go three-and-out. The Bobcats on the other hand wasted no time finding the end zone on their opening series with a 65-yard keeper from Matt McKay.
"For him to be able to pop that run early, and finish that run, he hasn't really had a run of that nature yet all season, so that was a huge play for him to get him going," Vigen added.
The Eagles answered accordingly with two back-to-back scoring drives led by Eric Barriere. With ten minutes left in the first quarter, Freddie Robertson ran a quick slant, which translated into a 19-yard score. The Eagles went for the two-point conversion but were shut down by the Bobcats.
Barriere then connected with Tololo Limu-Jones with three minutes to go in the first for an 18-yard reception to take their first lead of the afternoon, 13-7.
In the second quarter, Matt McKay connected with his favorite wide receiver Lance McCutcheon for a deep pass down the left sideline. The senior broke two tackles for a 67-yard score to retake the lead 14-13. He finished with a game-high 150 receiving yards on five catches.
With a minute to go in the first half, the Bobcats found themselves at fourth and goal on Eastern's three-yard line. McKay threw a pass intended for McCutcheon, but the Eagles' secondary forced a turnover on downs.
Two plays later, Eastern was called for holding in the endzone resulting in an automatic safety for Montana State to take a three-point lead at the half, 16-13.
It wasn't until the fourth quarter Montana State added to their lead with a quick two-play drive that started with McKay's 52-yard pass to McCutcheon to put them on Eastern's 43. On the following play, Isaiah Ifanse broke free to put the Bobcats up 23-13. While that was his lone rushing touchdown of the game, Ifanse rushed for 217 yards on 32 carries.
"Isaiah is a hard guy to bring down," Vigen stated. "For him to be on that other side of 30 again with his carries, I think that is what it took today. He needed to be able to make some plays and break some tackles, and he did just that."
Eastern answered back two drives later with a one-yard rushing touchdown by Dennis Merrit to cut Montana State's lead to three, but the Bobcats finished on top 23-20.
Montana State returns to Bobcat Stadium next Saturday for their last home game of the regular season against Idaho (3-6, 2-4) with kickoff set for 1 p.m. Mountain Time.