BOZEMAN — Good football teams have to win in November.
Montana State team captain R.J. Fitzgerald stated that on Monday this week as the team focuses in on their final stretch of games to close out the regular season — a road that could lead them to their first Big Sky Conference Championship since 2012.
That journey starts Saturday down in Flagstaff as the Bobcats travel to Northern Arizona.
“For most of our guys this is the first time they’ll have played in the Skydome, and a new venue always brings its own challenges," head coach Brent Vigen said during Monday's presser.
The last time Montana State made the more than 924-mile trek to Northern Arizona was in 2017, a location where the Bobcats haven’t seen much success.
The program has not only lost three straight inside the Walkup Skydome but are four of 18 overall in that building.
“It’s pretty loud, and their fans are right on top of you," fullback R.J. Fitzgerald recalled. "I think that’s one of the things where I vividly remember is the fans were like right on top of you and saying stuff, so it’s going to be one of those things that’s going to be a tough place to play, tough environment. I know they’re going to be rowdy and ready to go.”
As cliché as it sounds, that’s why Montana State isn’t overlooking the Lumberjacks’ 3-5 record.
A big reason why is that even though the injury bug has been biting NAU’s locker room since Week One, the team still has several playmakers on the field, including last year’s Big Sky Freshman of the Year RJ Martinez.
“I think he’s athletic enough to extend plays and athletic enough to make some plays with his feet if he chooses to pull it down," Vigen explained. "They’re pretty lopsided with their passing yards versus their running yards at this point, so how he goes is certainly a driving force for them.”
With such a pass-heavy offense, Montana State is excited to finally get strong safety Rylan Ortt back in their secondary who missed an extra three games due to issues in his reinstatement process with the NCAA.
“As we’ve talked about before Rylan was our starter out of the spring. It doesn’t discredit Rhedi [Short] and Kendric [Bailey] who have played in front of him, but we feel Rylan will allow our defense to take a step forward," Vigen added.
As far as NAU’s defense goes, their secondary has Montana State’s full attention, which is led by Morgan Vest, an all-conference selection and team leader in tackles (66).
"We positioned ourselves well, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter really how you positioned yourself," Fitzgerald said. "It matters what you do moving forward and good football teams have to win in November. Every team is trying to finish out the season strong, so obviously we’re just going to have to go out there every single week and just play our hardest and play the best to our ability.”
Montana State at Northern Arizona kicks off Saturday at 2 p.m. MT, which will be televised on the Montana Television Network.