By Colter Nuanez EBS Contributor

PORTLAND/BOZEMAN – The No. 19 Bobcats hit the road to Portland, Ore. on Oct. 17, for their first matchup at Portland State since 2011 at Providence Park. Montana State’s road woes and defensive struggles continued as the No. 12 Vikings rushed for a school-record 465 yards in a 59-42 victory, MSU’s third loss of the season.

Mid-October typically brings a bye week for teams in the midst of brutal Big Sky Conference schedules. But Montana State elected to take a September bye in the season’s second week. Four games into the Big Sky slate and with four left in conference play, the Bobcats instead played a non-conference game on Oct. 24 against a completely overmatched East Tennessee State squad.

ETSU is a fledgling Football Championship Subdivision program – the Buccaneers had football until 2003 before cutting the sport for 12 years – and the visitors were at a disadvantage from the opening kickoff. ETSU has more than 80 freshmen on its roster and entered the contest with six straight losses. The Bobcats on the other hand have 17 seniors along with a star-studded junior class that includes captains quarterback Dakota Prukop and running back Chad Newell.

Montana State scored at will, notching touchdowns on its first five possessions and totaled 49 points before the end of the third quarter. MSU pulled its starters, giving way to the second and third strings as MSU cruised to a 63-7 victory.

After the ETSU game, MSU coach Rob Ash said the opponents on this autumn afternoon didn’t concern him. He’s only worried about his Bobcats as MSU prepares for the second half of league play.

“Right now it’s all about us,” Ash said. “I told the team all week that all I really wanted was for us to get better every day this week, and to be better at the end of the game than we were when we started, no matter who we’re playing. I think I can safely say we did that.”

Montana State wide receiver Justin Paige scores an easy touchdown during the Bobcats’ 63-7 victory over ETSU.

Montana State wide receiver Justin Paige scores an easy touchdown during the Bobcats’ 63-7 victory over ETSU.

The evening contained a slew of firsts, from the first career rushing touchdowns for redshirt freshmen running backs Tavon Dodd and Noah James to third-year sophomore Jayshawn Gates’ first kick return touchdown. Redshirt freshman safety DeMonte King notched his first interception and junior defensive end Jessie Clark recorded his first career sack.

“The list of firsts today was long,” Ash said. “First tackle, first fumble recovered, first touchdown, and a lot of those were by guys that don’t play a lot or maybe are scouts, but they have great passion for the game and love to compete.”

With a 44-38 loss at the University of North Dakota, Montana State is 4-4 with just three wins over Division I opponents and three games to play. The baseline for playoff eligibility is seven Division I victories, meaning MSU is statistically eliminated from the postseason.

The remainder of MSU’s schedule includes home dates against Southern Utah on Nov. 7 and Montana on Nov. 21, and a road trip to Pocatello, Idaho, on Nov. 14 to take on Idaho State.

“Our backs are against the wall,” said Newell, MSU’s junior captain from Billings. “Straight up, that’s how it is. We have to win football games.”

Colter Nuanez is the creative director and senior writer for “Skyline Sports” (skylinesportsmt.com), an online newsgathering organization providing cutting edge coverage of Montana State University and Big Sky Conference sports. The award-winning sportswriter has worked for newspapers and magazines across the West and has covered the Big Sky since 2006.