BOZEMAN — Special teams — the good, the bad and the ugly — played a huge role in a huge Big Sky Conference matchup on a wet and rainy Saturday.
No. 3 Montana State gave up two touchdowns on returns, benefitted from an FCS record four safeties on errant punt snaps and yet nearly blew a 19-point lead in the second half. But QB Tommy Mellott shined as MSU defeated No. 5 Weber State 43-38 in just the second top-five matchup in the recorded history of Bobcat Stadium.
The Bobcats were without quarterback Sean Chambers, who was held out after aggravating an injury in practice earlier in the week. But Mellott carried the slack and finished with 273 rushing yards and accounted for four touchdowns.
MSU surrendered a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD by Abraham Williams and a 91-yard punt return for a score by Hudson Schenck, and also had a 39-yard field goal attempt by Blake Glessner blocked. But the Bobcats, led by Mellott had built a 43-24 advantage late in the third quarter.
To its credit, Weber State didn’t go away. A 1-yard TD run by QB Bronson Barron pulled the Wildcats within 43-38 with 6:49 left. Weber State converted a pair of fouth-and-10 plays on its final possession to try to steal the win, but a drop by receiver Ty MacPherson on another fourth-down play ended the drive.
With the win, Montana State improved to 7-1 overall and 5-0 in the Big Sky. Weber State (6-1, 3-1) suffered its first loss of the season.
Despite a slew of penalties and mistakes of their own, the Bobcats won their 17th-straight home game, setting a new school record and extending the longest active streak in the FCS. Weber State saw its streak of eight straight road wins snapped, which was also the longest active streak in the country.
Turning point: Trailing 24-9 in the second quarter, the Bobcats reeled off 18 straight points to take a 27-24 lead into halftime.
The biggest play occurred when Schenck, previously a special teams hero, muffed a punt that was recovered by MSU’s Tommy Sullivan. That set up a 15-yard touchdown pass from Mellott to tight end Derryk Snell with :59 seconds left before intermission.
Early in the third, Mellott got into the end zone with his third rushing TD — on the heels of another safety — to give the Bobcats a 36-24 advantage.
Stat of the game: Weber State gifted the Bobcats eight points in the first half, all on long snaps by sophomore Grant Sands that sailed over the head of punter Jack Burgess.
The four safeties set a new NCAA FCS single-game record, according to the Big Sky Conference.
Bobcat game balls: QB Tommy Mellott (offense). Mellott threw an early interception but was otherwise the best player on the field. He and Chambers typically trade QB duties, but Butte’s Mellott was in command all day.
LB Callahan O’Reilly (defense). O’Reilly, a Bozeman native, made the biggest play of the game when he sacked Barron on third down on Weber State’s final possession. MacPherson then dropped a pass on the following play and the Cats prevailed
KR Marqui Johnson (special teams). Lost in the shuffle of the special teams chaos was another solid day by Bobcats kickoff returner Marqui Johnson. Johnson had 206 yards on eight returns, an average of 26 yards a pop.
What’s next: Montana State won’t play at home until the 121st matchup against archrival Montana on Nov. 19. The Bobcats have a bye next week, then play at Northern Arizona on Nov. 5 and at Cal Poly on Nov. 12.
The Bobcats enter their bye week with a top-five ranking an unbeaten record in the Big Sky standings.