Montana State falls to 0-2 after dropping home opener Sept. 9

By Colter Nuanez EBS Contributor

BOZEMAN — Jeff Choate preaches a collection of tenants that he emphasizes whenever he gets a chance. Among the Montana State second-year head football coach’s favorite is to stress trusting the process.

Since Choate took over in December of 2015, he has completely overhauled the Bobcat roster. Of Montana State’s 104 active players, 60 have joined the program in the 18 months Choate has been at the helm.

In Montana State’s home opener Sept. 9 against No. 4 South Dakota State, the Bobcats started 10 freshmen or sophomores. Behind a breakout performance from sophomore quarterback Chris Murray, the Bobcats took the highest ranked non-conference opponent to ever step foot inside Bobcat Stadium down to the wire before eventually losing, 31-27.

In front of a raucous standing room only crowd of 19,817 — the seventh-largest in the stadium’s history — Murray dazzled, throwing for 311 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 107 more yards. But Montana State’s youth and inexperience showed throughout the game as crucial penalties, special teams errors and one untimely interception eventually doomed MSU.

The loss to South Dakota State drops Montana State to 0-2 this season. In two seasons under Choate, MSU has shown vast improvement defensively. The Bobcats have recruited at an elite level for the Football Championship Subdivision. Those factors are starting to appear on the field, but the process is far from complete.

With reigning Big Sky Conference champion North Dakota looming on Sept. 23, practicing the tenant of patience is as crucial as ever for the evolving, youthful Bobcats.

“It’s not going to get any easier but I know this: we are improving. I know we are,” Choate said.

During the annual “Gold Rush” game, Montana State fell behind 17-0 early before the offense finally found its footing. A week after getting blanked in a 31-0 loss at No. 24 Washington State — the shutout marked the first time MSU did not score since 2006 — the Bobcats piled up 492 yards of total offense behind Murray’s virtuoso performance.

But two missed field goals by normally solid senior kicker Luke Daly, a holding penalty that negated a long Kevin Kassis touchdown catch and an SDSU fake field goal that turned into a touchdown doomed MSU.

Jason Eck, Montana State’s offensive line coach during the 2015 season and now in his second season at SDSU, suggested to SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier to call a fake field goal. Chase Vinatieri, an all-state receiver in high school and the nephew of future Hall of Fame kicker Adam Vinatieri, took the pitch, made two moves in the open field and sprinted his way to pay dirt for what proved to be the game-sealing touchdown.

“This one stings without question,” Choate said. “That’s the highest ranked team to ever come in here out of conference. It was an opportunity for us to really have a program-defining win. It’s hollow. This is a hollow feeling right now because our guys know the opportunity was there.”

Montana State has a bye the week of September 16. MSU plays at North Dakota on Sept. 23.

Colter Nuanez is an independent journalist living in southwest Montana. He is the co-founder of Skyline Sports (skylinesportsmt.com), an online newsgathering organization that provides comprehensive coverage of Montana State and Big Sky Conference athletics. He is also the co-host of the Tootell & Tatonka Show on ESPN radio in Missoula. He can be reached at Colter.Nuanez@gmail.com.