MSU-NAU Football

Montana State’s Travis Jonsen scores in the first half against Northern Arizona on Saturday at Bobcat Stadium.

Travis Jonsen was prepared to contribute any way he needed to.

He didn’t anticipate he’d take 13 carries and catch five passes. But every week he has a role for Montana State and knows he could be counted on at any moment.

It might not even be on offense.

After the Bobcats pulled within three points early in the fourth quarter, Jonsen sprinted down the field on kickoff coverage and took down Northern Arizona’s Nate Stinson. He jumped up and high stepped forward to celebrate the tackle at NAU’s 26-yard line.

Teammates congratulated him as Jonsen headed to the sideline. He needed to rest. He only had a few minutes.

No. 7-ranked MSU trailed by 21 points to open Saturday’s contest and stormed back by scoring 35 straight in the 49-31 win over the Lumberjacks at Bobcat Stadium.

Jonsen was at the center of the rally. He scored the Bobcats’ first touchdown, the go-ahead touchdown and set up a handful of others.

“He's a really good football player, and he needs to get his touches,” MSU head coach Jeff Choate said. “And sometimes we can't get them through the air. He was able to affect the game in another way.”

As quarterback Tucker Rovig struggled passing and finished 11 of 23 for 106 yards with a touchdown and an interception, Jonsen picked up the slack offensively. He rushed for a career-high 105 yards and racked up 36 receiving yards. He conducted what appeared to be the same play over and over, and NAU couldn’t make a stand.

The Bobcats (4-1, 1-0 Big Sky) rushed for 340 yards, 244 in the second half, a week after rushing for 449 yards and boasting three 100-yard rushers. Even when they fell behind, they remained true to who they are, no matter who was carrying the ball.

“I always laugh. People are like, 'You can't go down big if you're a running team,'” Choate said. “Well you can if you rip off that kind of running production.”

When offensive line coach and run-game coordinator Brian Armstrong addressed players during halftime, he told them the game plan wasn’t going to change schematically. While Jonsen was used more than usual, MSU stuck to its overall strategy.

Late in the second quarter, Jahque Alleyne returned a punt to the NAU 14-yard line. On the next play, the Bobcats ran a sweep motion before the snap and Jonsen faked handing the ball off before charging up the middle for MSU’s first score of the game.

After a gloomy start, Jonsen injected energy into the offense.

Late in the third, as the Bobcats showed their resiliency, Jonsen handed off to Logan Jones. He took a carry himself. He caught a pass from Rovig. The drive continued at the start of the fourth, and Jonsen kept moving the ball with rushes of 8, 6 and 5 yards.

MSU-NAU Football

Montana State's Troy Andersen runs in the second half against Northern Arizona on Saturday in Bobcat Stadium.

Troy Andersen trimmed the deficit to three with a 2-yard run, but it was Jonsen, taking snaps in shotgun formation, either giving or taking. And the Lumberjacks (2-3, 0-1) couldn’t stop it.

“They really didn't know who was going to get it,” Jonsen said. “Was I going to keep it or the running back was going to keep it?”

Jonsen’s performance underscored an inevitable truth about MSU. Anyone could step up at any moment. In Week 2, it was Andersen. In Week 4, it was Rovig.

And in Week 5, it was Jonsen, who transferred in January 2018 with the intent of playing quarterback. He only attempted two passes Saturday but handled shotgun snaps in the wildcat and influenced the contest as much as anyone else on the field.

“It's so awesome to have all these tools. ... Travis is a huge tool for us to use,” right guard Lewis Kidd said. “Swiss army knife type of guy. You can put him anywhere, and he's going to make a big play.”

As summer turned to autumn and seemingly winter Saturday, the win represents the natural progression that occurs this time of year. All that preseason hope is transforming into reality.

Before the season, MSU established goals to be undefeated at home and win the conference. Both are still within reach. And all of the Bobcats' opportunity remains before them. If all goes according to Choate's plan, the Bobcats will likely be favored in each game until at least mid-November.

Part of that plan was devising an offense difficult to defend yet easy to operate. And when any player in any situation rises when called upon, it’s easy to stay true to it. So even as MSU trailed by 21, run play after run play was still the most viable option, and the Bobcats threw just one pass in the fourth quarter.

“It was working. It's as simple as that,” Choate said. “Those 1 or 2-yard runs in the first quarter turned into 3 or 4 in the second and pretty soon you're busting off 7 and 8.”

MSU-NAU Football

Montana State's Travis Jonsen carries the ball against Northern Arizona on Saturday in Bobcat Stadium.

Jonsen sparked MSU once again midway through the fourth. On first and goal, he took the ball 8 yards forward. On second and goal from the 2, he faked a handoff to running back Shane Perry, evaded a few defenders and weaved his way into the end zone.

Jonsen high stepped to celebrate another time, tossed the ball to the referee and absorbed hugs from teammates. The 19,257 fans in attendance erupted. The Bobcats led for the first time all game and closed out the final 10 minutes in dominant fashion.

“I'm always just ready just in case,” Jonsen said. “We always have it in our back pocket, and they brought it out today.”

Jonsen brought it too.

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