FARGO, N.D. -- Saturday afternoon's postgame press conference was an emotional one for Brayden Konkol, Derek Marks and Kevin Kassis -- three of Montana State football's 18 seniors. Minutes removed from the 42-14 FCS semifinal loss to top-ranked North Dakota State, the trio of seniors was struggling with the concept it had just suited up for the final time in a Bobcats uniform.
It was the end of an impressive four-year run for Konkol, Marks, Kassis and the rest of the senior class. Head coach Jeff Choate's first full class, this year's seniors oversaw a turnaround that started with four wins in 2016, improved to five in 2017, and vaulted to eight and 11, respectively, the past two seasons, which ended in the second round and semifinals of the FCS playoffs.
Montana State coaches, players and fans know how far they've come but saw Saturday how far the program has yet to go to reach the elite status. The outgoing seniors are confident the program will get there.
“Nothing but success. They’re going to face adversity like every team does, but setbacks never define this team and this university," said Marks, who finished his senior season with 56 tackles, 15.5 for loss. "I expect a lot of big things, and they expect big things of themselves. Each team is unique, each team is different. Each team has has been different all four years I’ve been here, so I’m just excited to see how they come together next year and work together this offseason.”
Four of MSU's outgoing seniors hail from the defensive line -- Marks, Bryce Sterk, Jason Scrempos and Marcus Ferriter -- while five more -- Konkol, Greg Filer III, Jahque Alleyne, JoJo Henderson and Damien Washington -- played in the defensive backfield.
The Bobcats' offense loses record-setting offensive lineman Mitch Brott, who started his 50th career game Saturday, as well as a pair of play-making receivers in Travis Jonsen and Kassis. Their confidence in MSU's offense remains steady, thanks in part to the growth of quarterback Tucker Rovig.
“He’s taken a lot of criticism and stuff, and I think a lot of guys would turn away from that, but I think Tucker embraced it," said Kassis. "You can just see, not even from just a passing standpoint, but his control in the huddle, his leadership. I think guys respect that and are going to gravitate toward that going forward."
Choate said it multiple times Saturday: "I think we definitely moved forward in our ability to compete at this level, but we still have work to do."
And the 18 seniors got the program this far. It seems fitting 20 juniors take over the reins in 2020 with hopes of taking the next step.