The Montana State Bobcats have been here before - in fact, they’ve now been here three straight years.
However, the Cats may not have been here with a team as loaded as the one they’ll send out for Saturday’s second-round Football Championship Subdivision playoff game against the Stony Brook Seawolves in Bozeman.
The No. 2 Bobcats (10-1) are playing at home in the FCS playoffs for the third straight season, and will take on the Seawolves at 5 p.m. Saturday at Bobcat Stadium.
And excitement couldn’t be higher in Bozeman right now.
MSU comes into Saturday’s game with a week of rest after beating rival Montana 16-7 two weeks ago in Missoula. The Cats haven’t lost since an Oct. 13 setback to Eastern Washington and come into Saturday’s game with the No. 3 defense in all of FCS football.
Montana State’s high-powered offense may have been held in check by the Grizzlies, but that hasn’t been the norm this season. MSU still averages 34 points and over 350 yards of total offense, and the bye week should have helped to get star wide receivers Tanner Bleskin and Jon Ellis healthy again. Meanwhile, junior quarterback DeNarius McGhee, the Big Sky’s Offensive MVP, is making his fourth career playoff start, while running backs Cody Kirk, Orenzo Davis and Trey Robinson are all healthy behind a much-improved MSU offensive line.
And though MSU is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, including Big Sky Defensive MVP Jody Owens at linebacker, and Buck Buchanon nominees Zach Minter (DT) and Caleb Schreibeis (DE), the Cats will not overlook a new foe in the Seawolves, and head coach Rob Ash’ team won’t rest on home field advantage either. MSU was bounced from the playoffs at home against North Dakota State in 2010, and had to survive an overtime scare against New Hampshire last season.
No, these Cats won’t take anything lightly.
And they would know better than to take the 10-2 Seawolves lightly anyway.
Stony Brook tied for the Big South championship and comes to Bozeman fresh off a 20-10 win over CAA power Villanova in New York last Saturday, a win that was impressive considering the Seawolves were without starting QB Kyle Essington, who led the FCS in passer rating this season.
But as good as Essington is, the Seawolves like to run the ball, control the clock and play defense. Tailbacks Miguel Maysonet and Iowa transfer Marcus Coker both went over 100 yards last week, and the duo have combined for nearly 2,500 yards this season, with Maysonet running for 1,700 yards and 19 TD’s.
Stony Brook averages 39 points per game on offense, while the Cats allow just 10 points on defense. And the matchup is the same on the other side as the Seawolves allow just 16 points per outing while the Cats average 34.
So, Saturday’s game will pit two teams with similar styles and similar goals against each other in a nighttime setting in Bozeman. The difference could be a rabid MSU crowd fired up to watch the Cats play a team which generally averages about 3,000 fans for its home games. But on the field, the issue for the Seawolves will likely be a Cat defense which is relentless right now, as well as a veteran QB in McGhee, who now knows what it takes to drive his team towards a national title.
And that’s the goal for the Bobcats, seeded third in this year’s playoffs – to get to Frisco, Texas, and it starts with the Seawolves on Saturday night.
Saturday’s game between the Bobcats and Stony Brook will kick off at 5 p.m. in Bozeman. The game can be viewed live on ESPN3 which is now available to all Optimum internet subscribers. The winner will advance to the FCS quarterfinals to take on either Sam Houston State or Cal Poly. If MSU wins, the game will be in Bozeman Dec. 7 or Dec. 8, regardless of the opponent.