MSU Football v. Sac State, First Half (copy)

Montana State defensive end Bryce Sterk struggles against Sacramento State’s Xavier Mason while quarterback Kevin Thomson holds the ball on Saturday at Bobcat Stadium.

Kevin Thomson faked a handoff, shuffled to his right and then back to his left. He manipulated Montana State’s defense just like he had all afternoon. He delivered a perfect pass to Marshel Martin just in front of the end zone to give Sacramento State a 20-point lead in the third quarter.

Thomson stood still at the 45-yard line. He looked toward his teammates along the sideline. Then he lifted both fists to his chest and ripped them apart as if he was tearing his shirt and revealing his identity as Superman.

On Saturday at Bobcat Stadium, Thomson was the Bobcats’ kryptonite.

“He did a good job of picking apart our defense,” MSU defensive end Bryce Sterk said.

Thomson led the Hornets (4-2, 2-0 Big Sky) to a 34-21 win against the No. 6-ranked Bobcats (5-2, 2-1). He completed 23 of 30 passes for 260 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed for 74 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. Whatever move MSU made, Sac State had an answer. And it helped when he threw passes with pinpoint accuracy to carve up the defense.

The loss is a step backward for the Bobcats, who won five straight entering the matchup and every previous game against an FCS opponent this season. For the first time since August, MSU was outmatched.

“Every time we played man, they had a little pick route to get a guy open, and every time we played zone, they had the right call,” Bobcats head coach Jeff Choate said. “You got to compliment them. There were some things we left out there certainly, but we were beat by a better team today. There's no question about that.”

The Bobcats ranked second in the conference in sacks, averaging two and a half per game, through six contests. But they didn’t record any, an indication of Thomson’s ability to feed receivers quickly or take off and run himself.

Since Sac State only allowed six sacks in five games, Choate considered blitzing “a little bit of an exercise in futility.” Without that pressure MSU has relied on so often this season, the Hornets operated with fluidity.

Eight different players caught passes for Sac State. Elijah Dotson, the Hornets’ running back, caught six passes for 76 yards often out of the backfield. Thomson capitalized on runs into the short side of the field, a wrinkle in Sac State’s offense the Bobcats weren’t anticipating as much.

“He's most of their offense,” Sterk said.

MSU Football v. Sac State, Homecoming (copy)

Sacramento State quarterback Kevin Thomson runs the ball by MSU linebacker Callahan O'Reilly on Saturday at Bobcat Stadium.

In the second and third quarters, the Hornets scored four touchdowns on drives that lasted 13, 10, 11 and 10 plays. They converted 9 of 10 times on third and fourth down during those possessions and 10 of 14 overall.

Thomson consistently found holes in the core of MSU’s defense and took advantage. Sterk observed Sac State using seam routes, especially on third down. The Hornets were always one step ahead.

“We were near the right spots a lot of times and just weren't able to get where we needed to be,” Bobcats safety JoJo Henderson said. “Just a step or two out of place. ... It's demoralizing.”

On the fourth play of the third quarter, Thomson lobbed a pass to Pierre Williams along the sideline. Cornerback Tyrel Thomas covered him about as well as he could, but the ball landed in Williams’ hands anyway for a 32-yard gain on second and 12.

Seven plays later, from the 6-yard line, BJ Perkinson spilled out of the backfield and past buck end Amandre Williams. Perkinson went uncovered in the flat and MSU’s pass rush couldn’t hit Thomson, who rocketed the ball to Perkinson for an easy score.

At one point, Thomson completed 11 straight passes and seven in a row at another.

“He threw the ball where it needed to be,” Henderson said. “He threw guys open. Even when guys were covered, he threw them open.”

MSU Football v. Sac State, First Half (copy)

Montana State defensive lineman Derek Marks works against Sacramento State's Xavier Mason on Saturday at Bobcat Stadium.

On Martin’s 26-yard touchdown catch, the tight end faked as if he was pass blocking before running across the field and into open space between two defenders. The delayed route was another wrinkle Choate wasn’t quite expecting, and it caught the Bobcats off guard.

MSU allowed 21 straight points two weeks ago against Northern Arizona. Then again last week at Cal Poly. This time, Sac State scored on five of six drives to create the necessary separation.

After Martin’s score and Thomson’s celebration, “Sweet Caroline” played on the loudspeakers. The Hornets danced to the song. Their offense was clicking and they were feeling so good.

“I think we've known we can't spot teams points and win games,” Choate said, “and maybe this is the wake-up call we needed.”

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