MSU-NAU Football

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

If only Montana State’s wins were as simple as a halftime speech.

One minute, quarterback Tucker Rovig can’t hit his receivers 5 yards away from him. The other, he was making a heads-up play and recovering a fumble for a touchdown.

One minute, Jahque Alleyne made his own heads-up play and fielded a bad punt, leading to MSU’s first touchdown. The other, he made an ill-advised dive to field a punt, which bounced off of him and set Northern Arizona up for points.

One half, the Bobcats failed to find any offense. The next, they couldn’t be stopped.

The Bobcats are tough to figure out. MSU head coach Jeff Choate wishes he had a secret halftime speech he could give that fixed all of his team’s woes.

But the No. 7-ranked Bobcats don’t care what the secret is because they’ve found a formula that works: dominate in the second half. And they cruised to a 49-31 Big Sky win on Saturday at Bobcat Stadium.

The Bobcats, who have won their last four games, have outscored their opponents 107-24 in the second half during those contests.

“We pride ourselves on being finishers,” MSU safety Brayden Konkol said. “We were down 22-0 last year (at Montana) in a hostile place so we’ve just got to stay positive when we know we’re going to win those types of games.

“We don’t necessarily know how, but we know somebody is going to make a play and step up.”

The Bobcats (4-1, 1-0 Big Sky) appeared they were destined to fall to an FCS opponent for the first time this season. In the first quarter, Rovig made a bad decision and threw an interception which was returned for a touchdown. That was just the first of three times the Lumberjacks (2-3, 0-1) scored on MSU turnovers.

Rovig, coming off a stellar game last week against Norfolk State, struggled. He finished 11-for-23 passing for 106 yards, 49 of which came on a touchdown to Coy Steel.

MSU-NAU Football

Montana State running back Lane Sumner breaks free in the first half against Northern Arizona on Saturday in Bobcat Stadium.

And MSU’s run game — its “DNA” as players and coaches call it almost constantly — wasn’t working either. The Bobcats had 96 yards on 22 carries before halftime.

Choate looked up at the scoreboard at one point and realized his team was down 21-0. Allowing that much cushion to NAU quarterback Case Cookus, who was leading an offense that was scoring 40 points per game, wasn’t where the Bobcats wanted to be.

But they didn’t run any new plays or abandon the game plan. They remained committed to running.

And the Lumberjacks were clearly worn down by the end.

The Bobcats ran the ball 22 straight times to start the fourth quarter and finished with 340 yards rushing on 58 attempts. The MSU offensive line bullied NAU’s defensive front, creating huge running lanes.

“Just keep landing the body blows, and pretty soon the dam is going to break,” Choate remembered telling his team at intermission. “I think these guys bought in and believed in it and went out and executed.”

MSU-NAU Football

Montana State buck Amandre Williams runs back an interception late in the game against Northern Arizona on Saturday in Bobcat Stadium.

MSU offensive guard Lewis Kidd insisted his coaches don’t scream or shout at the team at halftime. As he said, they simply provided tips to show what they’re doing right and wrong, giving them the tools to take over the game.

And they did.

“A couple years ago, I don’t know if we would’ve come back. I truly don’t believe we would’ve come back and won,” Kidd said. “It just shows the maturity of this team and how much we’ve grown and how much the coaching staff believes in us.”

The Bobcats pride themselves on being a better conditioned team than their opponent. By the fourth quarter, the Lumberjacks appeared exhausted. The Bobcats, meanwhile, remained urgent.

The Bobcats, down by 10 points after three quarters, scored on a 90-yard drive in the beginning of the fourth. Then they scored another on an 89-yard drive to take the lead.

“As usual, we keep chopping wood and carrying water and do what we do,” Choate said. “We were able to put something together and close this thing out in a pretty dominant fashion by the end.

“We’ve been there a bunch. Our guys don’t flinch.”

MSU-NAU Football

Montana State players celebrate a turnover late in the game against Northern Arizona on Saturday in Bobcat Stadium.

And the Bobcats had just the right game plan for Cookus. Choate complimented MSU defensive coordinator Kane Ioane for saving specific pressure packages for the second half to keep Cookus out of rhythm.

In the fourth quarter, Konkol came screaming in on a safety blitz and hit Cookus before he threw. His pass affected, it landed in the hands of MSU buck Amandre Williams. And that drive resulted in another touchdown.

The Lumberjacks didn’t have a response.

“If we can get the thing into the second half, specifically the fourth quarter, I really like the character of this team,” Choate said, “I like the toughness of this team. And I think that’s what it came down to. They believed in each other.”

MSU was done allowing explosive plays. After 28 points by the Bobcats in the fourth quarter, that 21-point NAU lead evaporated and morphed into a commanding win for MSU.

Pretty or not, that’s what the Bobcats wanted. And maybe it’s not that complicated.

“They were going to be a team that was going to fight, scrap, and it was just a matter of who was going to fight and scrap longer,” Kidd said. “And I think we came out and did that.”

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