Montana State’s next trip won’t be easy.

The Bobcats are a couple days removed from their triumph over Southeast Missouri at home, moving them up to No. 10 in national rankings.

But MSU head coach Jeff Choate thinks Saturday’s contest at Western Illinois could be even more critical. Choate was encouraged by his team’s latest victory, but if the Bobcats want to remain a top-10 team, something they haven’t been since 2014, they have to turn this win into a win streak against a Missouri Valley squad.

“We get nothing this week for what happened on Saturday night. Nothing,” Choate said. “We’re playing a really good opponent who’s going to be challenging to compete against, and we need our best.”

Choate pointed out how the Bobcats pulled off an emotional victory at Western Illinois in their season opener last season, had momentum on their side, and then fell flat at top-five ranked South Dakota State, 45-14.

This time around, the Bobcats are playing in WIU’s home opener, so the they’re expecting an energetic environment. And they don’t want to fail coming off another crucial win again.

Now with the victory over SEMO, the Bobcats have a path to becoming a seeded team in the FCS playoffs. A win over WIU would only further build MSU’s case.

Choate heard last week could be a “statement” game. To him, the “real statement” is if the Bobcats can continue their success against another respectable opponent.

“This is the game I think that’s going to define who we are as a team,” Choate said. “How we prepare, how we play, the type of mindset we take into this is very critical.”

High pressure

A key point in the Bobcats’ success against SEMO was their pass rush. Again, defensive end Bryce Sterk was vital in that.

Sterk totaled three of MSU’s five sacks as he registered six tackles in the 38-17 win. For his effort, the senior and Washington transfer was named the Big Sky’s co-defensive player of the year and was a STATS FCS national defensive player of the week honorable mention. Sterk’s two sacks a game is second in the FCS, and his two tackles for loss per game is 15th in the nation. He leads the Big Sky in both categories.

“I’m obviously pleased we had a lot of pressure on the quarterback,” Choate said. “I know that the (defensive backs) are happy when we can get after the quarterback the way we did on Saturday night.”

Taken seriously

The Leathernecks haven’t started their season on a high note. They lost 26-17 at North Alabama, which lost to Montana 61-17 last week, to start the season. Then WIU fell at Colorado State 38-13.

Still, Choate is impressed with the accuracy of WIU quarterback Connor Sampson, a traditional pocket passer who can make a variety of throws. He’s 40-for-67 passing for 334 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Choate also recognizes WIU relies on its run game. Kendon Walker leads the Leathernecks with 103 yards on 19 carries.

“There’s no doubt that the culture is where it needs to be there,” Choate said. “They have some talented players.”

4. Stock rising

MSU primary running back Isaiah Ifanse battled through injuries last year. Last week, he spent the entire second half on the sideline after rushing for a game-high 114 yards.

The Bobcats know they have to have plenty of backs ready to go in case of injuries. And that’s why true freshman DeMareus Hosey saw significant time last week, taking six carries for 21 yards and a touchdown. Choate said Hosey is gaining a more prominent role because of his physical running style.

But Choate boasted about the rest of the depth MSU possesses at running back. He brought up Karl Tucker II, who rushed for 20 yards on four carries and scored his first career touchdown last week.

Then MSU can also always turn to Troy Andersen, who rushed for 102 yards, Logan Jones, who bolted for a 55-yard touchdown, and wide receiver/wildcat quarterback Travis Jonsen.

“We’re going to need them all. That’s a collision position, running back,” Choate said. “DeMareus is going to play this year. So we need to get those guys going early so they have confidence.”

Colton Pool can be reached at cpool@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.