BOZEMAN -- Montana State football coach Jeff Choate preached all week that Sacramento State was a dangerous football team, one deserving of a place in the FCS top 25 rankings.
On Saturday, the Hornets backed up Choate's claims, rolling to a 34-21 win at Bobcat Stadium to spoil MSU's Homecoming game.
"They were a step ahead of us, quite honestly. Every time we played man, they had a little pick route to get a guy open. Every time we played zone, they had the right call. You’ve got to compliment them. I think there were some things we left out there, but we were beat by a better team (Saturday), there’s no question about that," Choate said.
The statistical breakdown of Saturday's game doesn't show a lopsided victory, but the game wasn't really even as close as the final 13-point margin. The Hornets took a 34-14 lead into the fourth quarter after dominating the third period, a game segment MSU has grown accustomed to controlling.
Leading 21-14 at the halftime break, Sac State methodically drove the ball down the field on the first possession of the second half, capping the drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to BJ Perkinson from Kevin Thomson. Thomson added a 26-yard scoring strike to Marshel Martin later in the quarter to put the finishing touches on a 10-play, 94-yard drive.
"It’s really hard, because I’m pretty sure on those two drives we got them to third and fourth downs, as well," said Montana State defensive end Bryce Sterk, who entered the game with 8.5 sacks on the season but had just two tackles on Saturday.
"It’s really frustrating and that goes back to the quick passes and not being able to affect the quarterback. There’s sometimes when they run away -- I’m talking about me specifically -- they’d run away, so I felt like I couldn’t do much there," Sterk continued. "It is hard not to break down, and I think we did a little bit."
While MSU's defense couldn't get off the field -- Sac State converted nine of 13 third-down attempts in the game -- its offense wasn't able to stay on the field in the third quarter. The Bobcats ran just eight plays for 16 yards in the pivotal period.
Thomson, meanwhile, was sensational -- save for one interception on an underthrown pass -- for Sac State. The junior quarterback finished with five touchdowns on Saturday -- three passing and two rushing. He completed 23 of 30 passes for 260 yards and added 74 yards rushing on 11 carries. Thomson spread the ball around to eight different receivers, with Pierre Williams also adding a touchdown reception.
"He’s a really good player. He’s played a lot of football, he’s a mature guy, veteran guy," Choate said of Thomson. "I think the scheme fits him very well because he’s a capable runner and accurate passer. And they have a lot of weapons. … This is a really good football team. Compliments to Sacramento State, I think they outplayed us in all three phases (Saturday), and that would include quarterback play. We’ve got some work to do."
Thomson's counterpart, Montana State's Tucker Rovig, completed 16 of 29 pass attempts for 262 yards and one touchdown, but he was intercepted on the Bobcats' first trip inside the Hornets' 20-yard line.
MSU struggled to capitalize in the red zone again in the fourth quarter, failing to punch the ball in from the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter following Tyrel Thomas' interception of Thomson. Travis Jonsen and Troy Andersen -- who finished with 55 and 44 yards rushing, respectively -- both had goal-to-go opportunities but couldn't cross the goal line. Both players scored first-half touchdowns, while Jonsen also added 109 yards receiving on five catches.
"They just outplayed us," said MSU receiver Kevin Kassis, who finished with six receptions for 119 yards a late touchdown. "It happens sometimes. I’m sure there’s going to be some things on film that we’ll look back on and wish we had done differently or wish we executed a little better. That’s a good Sacramento State team, especially up front. They gave it to us (Saturday)."
No. 6 Montana State (5-2 overall, 2-1 Big Sky Conference) now heads into its open week. Sacramento State (4-2, 2-0) will almost certainly join the top 25 rankings before hosting eighth-ranked Montana next weekend.