BOZEMAN — Neither Isaiah Ifanse nor Troy Andersen played for eighth-ranked Montana State against Norfolk State on Saturday.
It didn’t matter against the overmatched Spartans, as the Bobcats — spearheaded by the unlikely three-headed attack of Logan Jones, Shane Perry and Lane Sumner — rushed for 449 yards in a 56-21 win at Bobcat Stadium.
Jones, Perry and Sumner became the first trio of running backs to each rush for more than 100 yards in Bobcat history. Jones, a Kalispell Glacier product, started the onslaught for MSU, gaining 101 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries. Both of his TDs came in the first quarter, the first tying the game at 7-7 and the second giving the Bobcats a 14-7 lead they would never relinquish.
Perry was next in line, and the walk-on sophomore was similarly effective, carrying the ball 13 times for 111 yards.
And Sumner, a former Huntley Project Red Devil, finished off the game, totaling 113 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries.
“I can’t say enough about, really, Logan Jones, Shane Perry and Lane Sumner,” said MSU coach Jeff Choate. “Logan went out of the game, Shane and Lane hadn’t played a lot of football for us, and they just stepped in, the (offensive) line picked up their end of the bargain and those guys continued to operate. Really proud of that group of guys.”
After Norfolk State took a 7-0 lead on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Juwan Carter to Anthony Williams, the MSU ground game went to work. The Bobcats carried the ball five times for 61 yards on their ensuing drive, capping the possession with a 16-yard TD from Jones.
The Bobcat defense gave the ball right back to its offense on NSU’s next possession. Amandre Williams recovered a fumble Michael Jobman forced, and the offense had a short field. Two plays later — both Jones carries — and the Bobcats were back in the end zone.
MSU’s next possession unearthed the buried lead: Tucker Rovig got the start at quarterback, replacing Casey Bauman, who started the first three games of the season.
“Took all the reps this week in practice and had a really good week of preparation. This was just a really good (week of) practice as a whole team and offensively, just clicked overall,” said Rovig, adding that he found out last Sunday that he would be playing in this game.
He put together a solid performance, completing 21 of 27 passes for 221 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Two of his touchdowns — a 34-yarder to Coy Steel and an 8-yard pass to Travis Jonsen — came in the second quarter as MSU built a 28-14 halftime lead.
Rovig poured it on in the third quarter, hitting Steel for his second touchdown of the day and finding Kevin Kassis for another TD.
“He commanded the offense really well (Saturday),” Jonsen said of Rovig. “He did a good job leading in the huddle and commanding the offense.”
“(Rovig) and I had a conversation on Wednesday, I basically said, ‘Hey, you’ve let this thing slip through your hands twice now. This opportunity may not come again. You’ve just got to believe in yourself and go play,’ and I think he did that,” Choate said. “Really proud of the way he performed (Saturday). That’s to take nothing away from Casey, but I think Tucker operated at a really high level.”
“I’m just a guy that continues to want to seek improvement. I always want to get better and better in every single thing that I do,” Rovig added. “I feel like that’s something that helps me as the season goes on, as practice goes on, whatever it may be, I just feel me, personally, I just get better and better."
MSU’s offense more-or-less clicked on all cylinders Saturday, totaling 670 yards and no turnovers. The Bobcats were 7 of 11 on third downs, 3 of 3 on fourth downs and scored on all five of their red zone appearances.
The defense was another story. While the front seven was again dominant — Bryce Sterk had 3.5 sacks as he continues to build his resume for the Buck Buchanan Award — but Norfolk State was able to find some success in the passing game. Carter completed 21 of 32 passes for 243 yards, including a long of 57 yards, and two touchdowns.
Choate promised the defense will self-analyze in advance of next weekend’s Big Sky Conference opener against Case Cookus and Northern Arizona.
“We’re 3-1, but as I told our guys just now, you know what we get for that in Big Sky play? Not a doggone thing,” Choate said. “0-0, that’s our record right now, and we’ve got to go to work. And we’ve got to go to work with a higher degree of focus and intensity.”