Chadron State could hardly breathe beneath the Bobcat Stadium lights. And it hardly had anything to do with the smoke hanging in the Gallatin Valley night.
The Division II Eagles ran into a fast and fierce Montana State defense and the host Bobcats thrived off the energy of a record crowd of 20,767. The Bobcat defense got off the field on 13 of 14 Chadron State third down tries, allowed just nine first downs and gave up a total of 135 total yards. Offensively, DeNarius McGhee completed 29 passes, including four for MSU touchdowns as No. 4 Montana State opened the 2012 campaign with a 33-6 home win.
“Our defense was amazing tonight,” said MSU sixth-year head coach Rob Ash, who earned his 40th career win Thursday night. “Our defense is so quick, they are built for speed. We have a lot of speed at every position, including the interior linemen. It’s tough for the quarterback to hold the ball at all when those guys are coming after you.”
Senior defensive tackle Zach Minter sat out the first quarter for a violation of team rules. Once the All-America entered the game, his presence was immediately felt. On his first snap, he hurried CSC quarterback Jonn McLain, forcing an errant throw and shoving the sophomore Eagle to the turf in the process. On the evening, Minter finished with 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss, leading an MSU pass rush that had McLain and back up Brandon Gorsuch under duress all evening. The duo combined to complete just 9-of-24 passes for 35 yards.
“We have something to be proud of,” said the Glendale, Ariz., native. “We played very well as a defense today. We were assignment-sound, we flew to the football and we had fun. It was a great night for our defense. We ran a couple of stunts, but we really focused on getting four-man pressure because that’s what we pride ourselves on. We did what we had to do to get it done.”
Montana State ended the afternoon with two sacks and five quarterback hurries, but McLain was under pressure every time he dropped back before being benched in the fourth quarter.
“They played some line games with stunts and stuff,” McLain said. “To be honest, their schemes didn’t confuse us. They didn’t throw anything crazy at us that we hadn’t seen on film. They are just good at what they did and fast and that’s the story.”
Offensively, MSU sputtered at the start. The Bobcats went three-and-out on their first two possessions. But after a third straight defensive stand and electricity in the atmosphere, MSU started to roll.
McGhee led a 10-play, 50-yard drive capped by a five-yard touchdown pass to senior running back Tray Robinson.
On CSC’s next possession, the MSU defense again stood strong. But MSU sophomore Shawn Johnson fumbled the ensuing punt deep in Bobcat territory. The Eagles need just 10 yards for a touchdown, but had to settle for a field goal instead.
McGhee and company bounced right back. MSU drove 75 yards in 13 plays, capped by a display of McGhee’s wizardry. The junior gunslinger rolled out to his left, found nothing, back tracked to his right, then whizzed a 5-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Tiai Salanoa. It was the Oxnard, Calif., native’s first touchdown as a Bobcat.
McGhee’s next two scoring tosses were reminiscent of his second. Both times he freelanced, then turned broken plays into six-point scores. John Ellis caught both passes. The second Ellis touchdown was set up by a 63-yard Johnson punt return. McGhee finished the evening 29-for-40 for 176 yards.
“DeNarius, his creativity, unbelievable,” Ash said. “I think three of those touchdowns he made something out of nothing. That’s DeNarius McGhee at his absolute finest. That’s why he is such a great competitor and winner. He is amazing and he wins. That’s 20 wins for him as a starter. That’s all he does is win.”
McGhee has now thrown at least one touchdown in all 26 of his starts at MSU. He is now 20-6 as a starter. He said when he is cut loose, he is at his best.
“What I like about live action is I have the ability to scramble,” McGhee said. “In practice, they blow the whistle really, really fast when they get close to the quarterback. In live action, I can use my legs to open up the pass game.”
With a 26-6 lead following Ellis’s second scoring grab, MSU went to the ground. MSU rushed for 142 of its 214 rushing yards after intermission. Junior Cody Kirk finished with a game-high 91 yards on 15 carries. Orenzo Davis rushed 16 times for 63 yards, including a 31-yard burst in the fourth quarter that set up his game-sealing 5-yard touchdown run that capped the scoring on both sides.
“A lot of (the second half running success) was the adjustments, but I have to say that Chadron State is very good up front and very solid on defense,” Ash said. “They are strong, physical guys, they had size and I thought they tackled extremely well throughout this football game. We didn’t ever have that play where we broke two or three tackles and went 60 yards.”
Montana State kept its starters in the game until late in the fourth quarter. The four-touchdown win over the Division II visitors wasn’t the blowout some fans expected, but the Bobcats said they are right where they want to be.
“This is exactly where we want to be,” Minter said. “We want to take it one game at a time. We had to get win No. 1 before we can get win No. 2.”