FARGO, N.D. -- It wasn't the result Jeff Choate had hoped for, but it was a good example of the bar he's trying to set.
Saturday's FCS semifinal game in the Fargodome, a 42-14 thumping at the hands of North Dakota State, was an admittedly disappointing result for Choate and his Montana State Bobcats, but the 2019 season in its entirety was proof MSU is moving forward with Choate's longterm plans.
"This has been an interesting journey over the last four years. We went through a stretch where we lost, in my first season we lost six straight Big Sky Conference games," said Choate. "To rise from the ashes to a place where, I think we deserve to be in consideration on the national stage, but we don’t deserve to be in the national championship game yet.
"That big prize is still out in front of us, but I just think this is a tremendously resilient group of young men, and I think they really care about each other. That was on display repeatedly throughout their careers and throughout this season.”
Montana State's roster officially lists 18 seniors, including the likes of record-breaking offensive tackle Mitch Brott, whose 50th start Saturday set a program record, and Montana contributors Brayden Konkol, Josh Hill, Jered Padmos and Logan Jones. Senior defensive lineman Derek Marks knows the impact his class has left on the program, and expects it to elevate the program to new heights in the near future.
“It’s been a fun four years. I think the thing that’s impacted me the most is the relationships and the guys in the room — the guys that we’ve had on staff leading us, just a great group of men leading us, a great group of guys around us, and we really bought into each other and wanted to keep taking the next step as a program, and I think we’ve done that each year that I’ve been here," said Marks.
"It’s just going to continue. The standard continues to raise, the standard for the offseason, the standard for our culture," he continued. "Guys fight for it every day and we talk about the fights that we have every day, ignoring the outside noise and just fighting to get better. Everyone has bought into that, so I think it’s going to continue moving forward.”
Bobcat players and coaches saw where the bar lies Saturday -- with the dynasty NDSU has created -- but Choate knows his first four years with the program have proved the Bobcats can't rise to a national championship contender without facing adversity along the way.
“Like I told our guys (Friday) night, success has a lot of tests and one of them is failure. We’ve got to continue to push forward. I know that the three seniors that are with me up here," Choate said, motioning to safety Brayden Konkol, Marks and receiver Kevin Kassis, "they’ve been through a lot with me, we’ve been through a lot together. I’m so proud of them. I know they’re going to go on and not allow a game to define who they are as men.
"That’s what this is, football is a game. One of the things we talk about in this program is never letting a game define us as men. We’re not going to allow setbacks to defer us from our future goals and our aspirations, whether it’s what these young men go on to do with their lives, or what we continue to do in pushing our football program forward.”