By Colter Nuanez
Explore Big Sky Contributor
BOZEMAN – All the headliners were gone. Many wondered what would become of the Bobcats.
The Montana State University football team lost the most successful senior class in school history following the 2013 season. Two-time Big Sky Conference Offensive MVP DeNarius McGhee, the maestro behind three straight conference title runs, was gone. Three-time All-Big Sky running back Cody Kirk and four-time, all-league wide receiver Tanner Bleskin also departed from the offense, and the 2014 Bobcats knew they’d have to replace record-setting defensive end Brad Daly – the Buck Buchanan winner – as the top defensive player in the FCS.
A team that claimed shares of the Big Sky crown from 2010–2012 was picked to finish third in the conference in the preseason polls. No one knew if sophomore quarterback Dakota Prukop could be the next star gunslinger. Defensively, the Bobcats knew they could rely on seven seniors, but linebacker Alex Singleton and cornerback Deonte Flowers were the only stars.
Behind impressive production from Prukop, the Bobcat offense lit up scoreboards. MSU set a school record with 496 points. On the road against the University of California-Davis, the Bobcats scored a Division I-best 77 points and piled up a school-record 737 yards.
By the end of the season, Prukop had nearly 1,000 yards rushing, 3,211 total yards and 30 touchdowns. A stout offensive line and diverse production from running backs Shawn Johnson, Anthony Knight, Gunnar Brekke and Chad Newell helped MSU rank second in the league in rushing. Mitch Herbert, Justin Paige and Jayshawn Gates burst on to the scene as freshmen wide receivers.
The Bobcats finished 8-5, remaining in the Big Sky title race until the final game of the regular season, when they lost big to the University of Montana 34-7. MSU still managed to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth time this decade, but a porous defense that allowed 34 points per game and allowed the third-most passing yards per game in the FCS proved to be the Bobcats’ demise. South Dakota State scored 47 points in a driving snowstorm on Nov. 29 in Bozeman to end MSU’s season.
“Coming into the season, everyone outside our family had question marks about this team,” said Newell after rushing for 111 yards and a school-record five touchdowns against SDSU. “This group has been together since January, and we’ve put in a lot of hours and a lot of sweat. Sometimes, things just don’t turn out like you plan.”
Colter Nuanez is a freelance sportswriter living in Bozeman. He is the co-founder of Bobcat Beat (bobcatnation.com), a newspaper-style journalism website that covers Montana State University athletics. For more information contact Nuanez at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Bobcat_Beat.