As Rob Ash took in a Sunday filled with NFL action, Montana State’s head football coach saw a truism of the gridiron reinforced before his eyes: nobody’s perfect.
“I was bummed out on Sunday, but I sat around and watched the NFL on Sunday and I saw blocked punts, interception returns for touchdowns; now, these are the best players in the world and these coaches are the highest paid, best coaches in the world and those things are still happening,” said Ash, who’s team suffered its first loss of the season, falling to Eastern Washington 27-24 last Saturday. “It’s part of our game, but if we can get it eliminated, we will be a lot better.”
Montana State let its Big Sky Conference showdown with EWU slip away. The Eagles lone touchdown capped a drive extended by an MSU special teams penalty. EWU scored on a blocked punt and an interception return for a touchdown. Montana State’s defense allowed 13 points, 211 yards and forced two turnovers, but it wasn’t enough.
In their last three games, Montana State has turned the ball over 11 times, including three giveaways against the Eagles.
Montana State (6-1) has a week to dwell on its first loss and the miscues that led to it. MSU has a bye this week. The Bobcats take on North Dakota at home on Oct. 27.
“The first thing you have to do after a tough loss is to make sure that loss doesn’t beat you again,” Ash said. “We ever want to accept defeat, ever. That’s a game we thought we should have won. I don’t think a loss is a good thing at all. We have to make sure the hangover from this loss doesn’t effect us any more.”
Montana State welcomes the week off, Kruiz Siewing said. With five weeks left in the season, the senior said this week will serve as a time to heal and a time to refocus.
“We aren’t used to losing and it was pretty gloomy, but we want to use this loss as a positive,” said Siewing, a Saco product who has six catches in MSU’s last two games after missing the first half of the season with an injured foot. “We need to crack down on ball security. I’d really be surprised if our mistakes continue to happen. It’s definitely something that needs to be addressed. A football is an awkward shape. You can’t predict how it’s going to bounce. Some things you can’t control, but some things you can. We are going to be cognizant of these things in the future.”
Preceding the EWU loss, MSU’s six wins included some close contests. MSU needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns to get past FCS non-scholarship Drake 34-24 on the road. The Bobcats needed a late rally and a crucial Steven Bethley interception to outlast Stephen F. Austin, 43-35. Montana State needed drives late in the fourth quarter followed by clutch defensive stands to escape Southern Utah (24-17) and UC Davis (48-41) unscathed.
“I don’t want to lose ever and I wouldn’t say you ever need a loss, but we’ve been cutting it close the last couple of weeks,” said junior Craig Ashworth, who has two sacks from his starting nose tackle position. “I was talking with some guys on the team and we were saying maybe we ran out of luck, maybe we ran out of time. Now we need to look at ourselves and find out what we did wrong and get better. We have to learn from this loss.”
Montana State practiced Tuesday, Wednesday and today. Ash will give his players Friday and Saturday off — many Bobcats said they are looking forward to going hunting for the first time this fall — before reconvening on Sunday to begin digging in on a UND game plan.
Ash said the team watched a piece of game film earlier this week that included 11 special teams plays — five very poor, six very good. He said special teams was certainly a big factor in his team’s first loss and said it would be a point of emphasis this week.
“We held the No. 1 kick return team in the country in check, (Rory) Perez had a 55-yard punt, he hit a field goal,” Ash said. “But the blocked punt was just an assignment mistake that cannot happen. The other one, I thought maybe Sean (Gords) was blocked into the punter, but that’s not how it was called, so that’s how that goes. They just turned out to be huge plays and none bigger than the missed field goal (by Perez). Rory’s had a great season and it’s too bad that had to happen in that situation.”
“Every guy’s job is important on every play. We want every guy on every unit on every play to do their job. That might seem impossible, but we are going to strive for it.”
In 2010, Montana State thumped EWU 30-7 in Bozeman early in the season. The Eagles proceeded to rip off 11 straight wins en rout to winning the school’s first FCS national title.
“Sundays we have workouts and our captains called a meeting. They said ‘that happened to us two years ago and (EWU) go the last laugh,’” Ashworth said. “We want to do it this year, turn it around on them.”
Montana State no longer controls its own destiny if it wants to win a share of its third straight BSC title. EWU, Cal Poly and Northern Arizona all have perfect conference marks thus far and MSU does not play the latter two schools. But four of the FCS’ top five ranked teams lost last Saturday, showing the Bobcats they aren’t the only national title contender who caught the upset bug.
“There’s still a bunch of twists and turns left in this plot before we know the ending of this,” Ash said.
‘Cat Tracks: Junior college transfer Charles Lee will miss the rest of the season due to shoulder surgery. The 6-foot-3, 315-pound offensive guard, a Fullerton College transfer, will redshirt and have two years of eligibility remaining beginning next fall…Christian Williams, MSU’s other JC offensive line transfer, is also out for the season with an eye injury and will redshirt like Lee…Junior wide receiver Kurt Davis, a transfer from UNLV, will redshirt. The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder hasn’t been able to get up to speed in offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven’s no-huddle offense….Sophomore tight end Tiai Salanoa is out indefinitely with a leg injury…Junior running back Cody Kirk and freshman offensive lineman Matthew Devereux have both been upgraded to probably for the UND game.