BOZEMAN -- Travis Jonsen isn't normally a fan of attending Montana State football's press conferences. Saturday was different.
Jonsen was all smiles, laughing and joking with media members after playing his part in Montana State's 49-31 win over Northern Arizona, which saw the Bobcats outscore the Lumberjacks 35-3 in the second half.
"It was fun. I just love seeing everybody go out there and have fun. The o-line was having a blast out there, especially when we kept pounding and pounding them, telling them we're going to keep running the same play over and over and over again," said Jonsen.
Jonsen did the majority of his damage from the quarterback position, directing the offense from the wildcat formation. He finished with 13 carries for 105 yards and two touchdowns, while adding five receptions for 36 yards. Saturday was the first time Jonsen rushed for more than 100 yards in a single game, which makes sense considering he's a wide receiver.
"I just saw a hole, saw the offensive line push and bounce to the second level, so I just followed my pullers. The o-line really did the whole thing for me, they made my job easy. I just followed them, found the crease and do what I do," Jonsen said.
It wasn't all smiles for MSU on Saturday, though, as Northern Arizona built a quick three-score lead in the first half behind two Bobcat turnovers. Tucker Rovig was intercepted by NAU linebacker Taylor Powell on the first play of MSU's third drive, a play that resulted in a 29-yard touchdown for the Lumberjacks and a 7-0 lead.
Five minutes of game time later, Joe Logan punched in a 3-yard touchdown that boosted the lead to 14-0, then MSU running back Logan Jones fumbled the third play of the second quarter, leading to Case Cookus' 23-yard touchdown pass perfectly thrown over the shoulder of receiver Hendrix Johnson in the end zone. NAU built a 21-0 lead before MSU had advanced past the Lumberjacks' 40-yard line.
"It was kind of a sloppy game, given the atmosphere, and credit Northern Arizona, they had a good game plan," said Montana State head coach Jeff Choate. "As usual, keep chopping wood, carrying water and doing what we do, and we ended up with 58 carries, 443 yards and 39 first downs. In spite of the fact that we kicked the ball around and didn't play very well for a half, we were able to put some things together and close this thing out in a pretty dominant fashion in the end."
Montana State (4-1, 1-0) took advantage of two brilliant punts from Jered Padmos, the first landing at NAU's 5-yard line, the second at their 3, with the latter leading to an errant Northern Arizona punt that Jahque Alleyne returned 23 yards to the Lumberjacks' 14. Jonsen rumbled into the end zone on the very next play, putting MSU on the board.
The Bobcats added another touchdown on the first play of their next drive, with Rovig firing a pass to Coy Steel, who was sandwiched between two defenders, but remained on his feet for a 49-yard touchdown. Steel was injured on the play, but left the field on his own accord.
Though Northern Arizona managed a touchdown before the half, taking a 28-14 lead into intermission, Montana State's defense was smothering in the second half. After giving up the 28 points and 275 yards of offense in the first 30 minutes, Kane Ioane's defense flexed its muscles in the final 30, allowing only 162 yards and the three points, while making pivotal stops on third down. Northern Arizona was 2-of-16 on third downs Saturday.
"I think Kane (Ioane) did a really nice job of saving some things for the second half," said Choate. "We gave them a couple different fronts and pressure looks that we hadn't shown them in the first half, and (Cookus) wasn't quite as comfortable knowing where to go with the ball."
Montana State's offense took advantage, once again dominating on the ground, tallying 263 rushing yards in the second half and 340 total. Lane Sumner sparked the rushing attack early in the third, and despite fumbling at the goal line, Montana State managed to score after Rovig dove on the ball to cut the NAU lead to 31-21, a score that would carry into the fourth quarter.
MSU ran the ball on 22 consecutive plays in the quarter, with Troy Andersen, Jonsen and Shane Perry all rushing for touchdowns during that span, with Jonsen's second touchdown giving the Bobcats their first lead of the game, 35-31, with 7:53 to play. NAU fumbled the ensuing kickoff, leading to Perry's touchdown, then Cookus was intercepted by defensive lineman Armandre Williams two plays later, setting up Perry's second score of the quarter. At that point, the rout was on.
"It's funny because this is my fourth year here, and a couple years ago I don't know if we would have come back. I truly don't believe that we would have come back and won," said MSU junior offensive lineman Lewis Kidd. "We might have got a couple scores, but it just shows the maturity of this team, how much we've grown, how much the coaching staff believes in us and how much trust they're putting into us."
"We've been there before, a bunch. Our guys don't flinch. College football is a really, really long game with tons of momentum swings," said Choate. "If we can get the thing into the second half, specifically the fourth quarter, I really like the character of this team."
Montana State looks to build on its four-game winning streak and move to 2-0 in Big Sky Conference play when it travels to California to face Cal Poly (2-2, 1-0) next Saturday, Oct. 5 at 6 p.m. (MDT).