MSU Football v. Southeast Missouri State (copy)

Montana State’s Troy Andersen scores a touchdown on Saturday at Bobcat Stadium.

Everything went Montana State’s way to start. The plan head coach Jeff Choate enacted worked to perfection.

Troy Andersen helped pressure Southeast Missouri quarterback Daniel Santacaterina, and the Redhawks punted after three plays. Then Coy Steel blocked that and gave MSU the ball just 42 yards from the end zone.

Two plays later, Andersen took a snap and sprinted past everyone for a touchdown.

“Troy’s a special player. We’ve said that. I think it’s well-documented,” Choate said. “He proved it again tonight.”

Anyone wondering how involved Andersen would be offensively received their answer during MSU’s 38-17 victory Saturday night in front of 19,497 at Bobcat Stadium. Andersen was at the center of the Bobcats’ attack on both sides of the ball. The running back-turned-quarterback-turned-linebacker finished with 102 yards and two touchdowns on six carries while also recording two tackles for loss, a sack, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry.

Prior to the season, Choate projected Andersen would touch the ball about 10-12 times per game. With his unusual combination of speed, size and intelligence, Andersen earned first-team all-Big Sky honors a year ago as a quarterback. But when Choate asked what position he wanted to play, Andersen chose linebacker.

So the start of MSU’s annual Gold Rush game couldn’t have gone better. He contributed defensively by circumventing the edge of SEMO’s offensive line just like Choate envisioned. Then he spurred the offense, like he already showed he could do.

“That’s so important knowing we can always rely on Troy,” defensive end Bryce Sterk said. “He’s such a great athlete. It’s good to know if we’re ever in a pinch, we can throw him in there and he’ll make something happen.”

Both the No. 12-ranked Redhawks (1-1) and No. 13 MSU (1-1) recognized Saturday’s importance. Choate said the Week 2 matchup could have playoff implications.

The Bobcats have stressed the need to earn a top-eight seed in the playoffs. A win against a fellow ranked opponent went a long way to accomplishing that. MSU’s performance Saturday showed it’s ready to take that next step.

After a rocky second quarter that featured a series of squandered opportunities, Andersen again injected life into the offense to start the third. He took the snap, broke two tackles and didn’t go down until he reached SEMO’s 9-yard line. A play later, he handed off to DeMareus Hosey who put the Bobcats up again. That kicked off 28 straight points that put MSU comfortably in front.

As the offense clicked, Logan Jones and Karl Tucker II each scored touchdowns. Travis Jonsen, Isaiah Ifanse and Kevin Kassis each touched the ball often.

But no one else gashed the Redhawks as effectively as Andersen.

“He’s a playmaker,” Choate said. “I think it also clearly puts a heightened sense of awareness on him. There was one time we motioned him out of the backfield, I think the entire defense rolled with him.”

After leading the Bobcats to the playoffs last year, Andersen shifted from quarterback to outside linebacker. With him seemingly no longer in the picture as a signal caller, the QB battle took center stage in the preseason. But starter Casey Bauman took a back seat Saturday as Andersen shined.

Bauman finished 13-of-24 passing for 136 yards Saturday. He managed the game and didn’t throw any interceptions. And when MSU needed a big play on offense, the coaches inserted Andersen.

“He’s a spark. I could go on and on about Troy,” Kassis said. “Selfless dude. Just wants to make this team better, and he does. We wouldn’t be the same without him.”

The 6-foot-4, 233-pound Andersen was always going to have a role offensively, but how impactful remained a mystery. The Bobcats intentionally didn’t unveil their full arsenal a week ago at Texas Tech when Andersen rushed once and attempted two passes.

When Andersen rotated in Saturday, Bauman often watched from the sideline. Choate recognized that Bauman would probably like to remain in the game to keep a rhythm.

That’s the risk. And the reward from Andersen is a 38-yard touchdown run, a 44-yard scamper that set up a score and another trip to the end zone from 2 yards out.

“Sometimes you don’t want to stop the flow of the game,” Choate said, “but you got a weapon like that, you got to use it.”

After his second touchdown, Andersen pointed to the sky to celebrate.

He was also indicating the Bobcats’ potential when he runs the ball.

Paul Schwedelson can be reached at pschwedelson@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.

Paul Schwedelson is a sports writer for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.