atmosphere inside Bobcat Stadium last Friday night was electric. Actually, it’s
been that way most of what has been a magical season for the Montana State
University football team.
But Friday night was special, as the Cats
were playing a nationally-televised night game at home in the Football Championship
Subdivision quarterfinals. And right from the start, you could feel how special
the night was.
But as special as the night was, as loud an
hostile as the nearly 17,000 Bobcat fans were, and as rough as the elements
were for the visiting Sam Houston State Bobcats, who hail from Huntsville,
Texas where it was a balmy 71 degrees last Friday, things once again didn’t go
The Bearkats ousted the Bobcats from the
playoffs for the second straight season, and they did it in dominating fashion.
Once again, MSU had trouble stopping SHSU’s
option attack, and that wound up opening up the passing game for SHSU’s Brian
Bell, who torched the Cats on several deep balls. On offense, a fast and
physical SHSU defense out-played a young and inexperienced MSU offensive line,
and the result was, the Cats couldn’t get the run game going and star
quarterback DeNarius McGhee didn’t have enough time to make enough big plays
with his arm, or his feet.
In pretty much every phase of the game, the
Bearkats out-played MSU, and they did it for the second straight season.
And while many fans walked out of Bobcat
Stadium crushed, with their hopes that 2012 was going to be the year MSU
ascended to new heights, dashed by the spectacular performance by SHSU, the
final score and the game itself doesn’t tell the entire story of just what’s
going on in Bozeman these days.
Montana State won 11 games this year, the
most since its last national championship season, which came in 1984. The Cats
possessed one of the top-ranked defenses in the FCS, they had, at times, an
explosive offense, they garnered both the Big Sky Conference’s offensive and
defensive MVP awards, and they had to FCS First-Team All-Americans.
And that’s just the short list of how good
Bobcat fans had it this season – a season which also included two home games in
the playoffs, a road win over rival Montana and a team which stayed inside the
FCS Top 10 from start-to-finish.
Now, knowing many Bobcat fans like I do, in
years past, all of that which I just listed would have been the top of the
mountain, and Friday night’s loss wouldn’t have really stung that much.
But MSU is in a different place now, and
just getting to the playoffs isn’t enough anymore. If you don’t believe me,
just ask McGhee.
“It’s championship or bust,” McGhee said
after Friday night’s loss to the Bearkats. “We didn’t get it done. Everyone
gave their all, that’s all we can ask for, but we didn’t get it done. This
program, our expectations are extremely high and we would never lower our
expectations. So, I have to say it’s championship or bust.”
And with as good as the Cats were this
season, and have been since head coach Rob Ash stepped on to MSU’s campus six
years ago, McGhee, his team and fan base has every right to feel that way
because it’s been building for some time now. The Cats have shared three
straight Big Sky Conference championships, they’ve had a winning season every
year since Ash arrived in Bozeman, they’ve beaten the Griz two straight times
in Missoula, and they’ve been to two straight FCS quarterfinals.
Indeed, MSU has become a championship
And that’s why though it’s disappointing
for Bobcat fans that their team didn’t go further in the playoffs as the No. 3
overall seed, they should still sit back and reflect and enjoy the ride.
And it’s been quite the ride these days in
Bozeman. From all of the tremendous players Ash has recruited to play for the
Cats, to all the exciting wins, and all the wonderful renovations recently made
to Bobcat Stadium, the MSU program is barely recognizable from the team that
was fielded say 12 years ago.
The program is in such a different place
right now and it seems to only be getting better. I know some Cat fans will
disagree because of the most recent playoff loss, but there’s no denying that
MSU is not only headed in the right direction, but in my opinion, is already
Just as Friday night was heartbreaking to
so many, Cat fans can also look at 2012 as one of the best seasons the program
has ever had, and can say that MSU was just three wins away from a coveted FCS
national championship. And the Cats were there for the second straight year.
Not many programs in the country can pay claim to that kind of success right
now, and that should be just as gratifying, if not more, than the loss to Sam
Houston was disappointing.
And with the way MSU has been going as of
late, with how many games the Cats have been winning, and the consistency in
which the program has seemed to achieve in recent years, something tells me
Friday was not the end of anything. I’m more inclined to think the ride in
Bozeman is still speeding up and things are only going to get better.