All week long players and coaches from Montana State and Stony Brook talked about how physical their second round FCS playoff game was going to be.
When the two teams finally met Saturday evening, the play followed the script masterfully.
Montana State, on the strength of its defense and a couple long pass plays, outlasted Stony Brook 16-10 in front of a Bobcat Stadium playoff record crowd of 15,257.
“This was a tall order and I’m very, very excited we were able to win because that was a high-quality, playoff-experienced, physical football team we won against today,” Montana State head coach Rob Ash said following his 50th victory with the program. “They deserve a lot of credit because they’ve brought the program a long ways and they are certainly one of the top programs in the country in FCS football.”
Montana State’s defense was up to the task Stony Brook presented. The Seawolves’ entered the game averaging 288 rush yards per game. Stony Brook came equipped with two talented backs, one of which — Miguel Maysonet — is expected to be named the FCS’ best offensive player on Dec. 17.
When the final stats rolled off the printer, the Bobcats’ defensive masterpiece was captured in numbers. Stony Brook was held to 123 yards rushing at just over three yards per carry. Maysonet had 83 yards; Marcus Coker, the other half of the running duo, went for just 56. Neither made their way to the end zone.
“I thought our defense was outstanding,” Ash said. “First of all, I thought Jamie Marshall and the defensive staff put together a game plan that was solid against a very complicated run game, a very physical run game. The way we were able to stop them despite the fact that they were a big, strong, physical team was a fantastic performance.”
It was only fitting that the defense put the finishing touches on the Bobcats’ six-point win.
Following Rory Perez’ missed 45-yard field goal — his only blunder of an otherwise strong performance — Stony Brook took over at its own 24 with one minute, 41 seconds remaining. Needing a touchdown to beat Montana State, Kyle Essington threw incomplete on first down. Bobcats’ defensive end Brad Daly then beat gigantic right tackle Michael Bamiro and sacked Essington. On the following play, Daly accomplished the feat again, meeting teammate and fellow end Caleb Schreibeis at Essington.
“I was going against the biggest human I’ve ever seen in my life,” Daly said, drawing uproarious laughter from the press corps. “I knew I had to get around him, because I knew there wasn’t any way to go through him. I had to rush the edge and I was lucky enough to get around him.”
Replays showed Essington fumbled, but he was called down on the field. Though not available during the regular season, replay is used in the FCS playoffs. After a lengthy delay, the referees reviewed the play and decided Essington was not down and the ball was awarded to the ‘Cats effectively ending the game.
Schreibeis was credited with the strip, Daly with the recovery and the Bobcat sideline just about cleared onto the field in celebration.
“It’s the dream play for a (defensive) end, to end the game on a sack. Those are some of the best feelings in the world,” Daly said
The win ensures Montana State a rematch with Sam Houston State to be played Friday night at 6 p.m. on ESPN2. Sam Houston State beat MSU in last year’s second round 49-13 in Huntsville, Texas.
Following an epic drive from Stony Brook — the ‘Wolves used 15 plays to go 77 yards in eight minutes — that resulted in a missed Wesley Skiffington field goal, the ‘Cats’ used just four plays for their only touchdown.
DeNarius McGhee dropped back and found Tanner Bleskin — five yards clear of his defender — streaking down the center of the field. The pass slowed Bleskin down some, but he was able to zig, zag and outrun the Seawolves’ defense to the end zone for the games’ first score.
The 69-yard completion was the ‘Cats longest pass play of the year and it came with 33 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
“We saw that their safety (Reyes) continued to sit on everything and we ran it earlier in the game; we ran a sit route and he sat there and we wanted to complete that,” McGhee said. “The next time he sat on it and we tried to go over the top of him. Bleskin did a great job of giving him a nice move.”
Stony Brook responded quickly. On the last play of the first quarter, Essington — somewhat of a surprise starter — found Kevin Norrell for 46 yards to the Bobcats’ 29. The duo hooked up again on the next play for 15 yards. The drive stalled from there and Skiffington kicked a 38-yard field goal to get Stony Brook on the board. It wouldn’t be until the 11:53 mark of the fourth quarter that Stony Brook would score again as the Bobcats controlled the Seawolves’ ground game and consistently turned them back on third downs.
“I think you’ve got to give the other team some credit,” Stony Brook head coach Chuck Prior said. “When you play against good football teams, you can say, maybe we made the mistake or maybe they caused the mistake. Today we made a few key mistakes in the red zone that could have changed opportunities or changed the scoreboard.”
Sandwiched between the Stony Brook scores were two Rory Perez field goals. The first followed a Maysonet fumble forced by defensive tackle Craig Ashworth. It took Montana State seven plays to drive 46 yards before Perez connected on his first attempt from 48 yards.
The next Perez make was on Montana State’s first drive of the second half and was generated by another long connection between McGhee and Bleskin. Bleskin was covered well on the 45-yard gain, but readjusted and corralled the pass near his feet and collapsed to the turf at the one yard line. From there Cody Kirk lost two yards on first down, then McGhee threw two passes into heavy traffic, both fell incomplete and Perez came on to kick a 21-yard field goal to give the ‘Cats a 13-3 lead with 11:33 left in the 3rd quarter.
“We felt like their defense was run-oriented — oriented to stop the run — so we had to call a play that was more vertical downfield to soften them up a little bit,” Bleskin said.
“It’s great,” the junior wide receiver said. “You want to enjoy everything and it’s important to enjoy it, but at the same time, another hot team is coming in here. So we’ve got to move on and take the next step.”
Kyle Sample can be reached at email@example.com or at 582-2690. He is on Twitter @kylesample_bdc