CHENEY, Wash. — Montana State picked up just its third ever win on the red turf at Eastern Washington, 38-35 in thrilling fashion. There were lots of performances to be happy about for coach Brent Vigen and the Bobcats. But the thrill of a Top 15 victory is tempered somewhat, by the loss of starting quarterback Tommy Mellott.
On the Bobcats second drive of the first quarter, Mellott scrambled for a first down up the middle but as he was sliding to the ground he collided with two EWU defenders and hit his head violently off the turf. After staying down for several minutes, he slowly stood up and shakily walked off the field with a head injury.
Mellott is arguably the most popular athlete in the state after leading the Bobcats on a magical postseason run last season, culminating in an appearance in the FCS national title game. A scary moment for his teammates on the sideline and fans watching in Cheney and all over on television.
“Any time a guy is down for the county like that, it’s a sickening feeling,” Vigen said. "Tommy is such a competitor and to get that pulled away on a competitive play. You know he's trying to make a play and but you know that's that's also the nature of this game we play and I'm certain he'll bounce back.”
But at Montana State, the motto is next man up. With Mellott down and decimated running back room, Sean Chambers and Elijah Elliott stepped up, combining for 316 yards rushing and three scores. Chambers was used in goal line rushing situations several times this season, but thrived in a more expanded role.
He rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winning 13-yard score with 3:26 remaining. He ran over and around defenders, on 28 carries. Chambers also threw a touchdown to Willie Patterson in the game. Through four games, Chambers leads the NCAA FCS in rushing touchdowns with nine.
Meanwhile, Elliot had a breakout game out of the backfield. A week after the sophomore logged just two rushing attempts in a loss to Oregon State, Elliot rushed 18 times for 156 yards and a touchdown.
"I think the coaches do a good job. Watch tons of tape and put us in the right moments, in the right situations, and those five guys up front and (Elliot),” Chambers said. “Those guys lead the way and they really help out. And when they get their number called, they run hard and they play hard.”
The defense was without several key pieces due to injury, including starting safety Jeffrey Manning Jr., who was ruled out just before kickoff with a head injury. Eastern Washington was able to take advantage with a 56-yard touchdown run from Micah Smith in the first half, and an 80-yard score from Freddie Roberson in the second.
But MSU’s defense stepped up when needed down the stretch. Sebastian Valdez forced a fumble which was recovered by Ty Okada which gave MSU a chance for the game-winning score. And Danny Uliulakepa picked off Gunner Talkington on Eastern Washington’s final drive, icing the game.
Eastern Washington has only lost 12 games in 12 years on the red turf at Roos Field, but now Montana State has wins in Cheney in back-to-back season. It’s a statement for MSU to start Big Sky Conference play, and what they hope is a turning point.
"We we made that very clear to our younger guys on this team is like hey we may have won here last year, but that hasn't been the case for a long time at Montana State,” Okada said. "And so we made it a priority and and now the tide is turning for sure"
Montana State (3-1) returns to Bozeman for two home games. Next week against UC Davis (1-3), and then homecoming with Idaho State (0-4).