Football plays well but loses to #4 Montana State
GREELEY, Colo. – Playing its best game of the year, the Northern Colorado football team dropped a 31-21 decision to No. 4 Montana State on Family and Friends Weekend at Nottingham Field.
The teams traded punches all afternoon, but the Bobcats scored two of the final three touchdowns to remain undefeated in Big Sky play and move to 7-1 on the year with the 10-point win.
The Bears (0-8, 0-6 Big Sky) held the Bobcats slightly below their average of 36.5 points per game in conference games and well below their season average of 232.9 passing yards per game, allowing just 188 and they intercepted sophomore quarterback Denarius McGhee twice, the first time all year he's thrown two picks in one game.
"This is one of those games, you know … it hurts because your kids … you come out, you got a game plan, and, for the most part, we executed that game plan against the No. 4 team in the country and had a chance to beat them," said Head Coach Earnest Collins Jr. "So our goal, week-to-week, is the same thing: If we can get every man playing, doing his job, every man to himself, we'll win some ballgames. So we've just got to continue to work on that."
The defense was once again led by sophomore linebacker Clarence Bumpas with 15 tackles and 3.0 tackles for loss. He also had one pass break-up and one quarterback hurry. Bumpas has now been in double figures in all six Big Sky games.
Junior defensive back Marcel Gibbons had a career-best 14 tackles, with 10 coming in the first half and junior linebacker Cameron Friend also notched double digits with 11 stops and had one of the team's two interceptions. Senior defensive back Elliott Dorsey had the other, his second of the season.
Offensively, sophomore quarterback Seth Lobato completed 20-of-39 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns. He hit senior wide receiver Patrick Walker nine times for 100 yards and both TDs. It is the second-straight game Walker has had 100 or more yards receiving and it is also the second time this year he's caught two touchdown passes in a game (Weber State).
"[Walker]'s just a phenomenal football player," said Collins. "He's one of those ones who you wish was not a senior. The play he made on the second touchdown, it was phenomenal. Somehow he can feel when the [defensive back] is about to tackle him, [and] he's catching the ball and moving at the same time. You just can't teach that. I like to say, 'That's DNA. That's genes.' His mom and dad gave that to him. We didn't give that to him. He has a knack for getting the ball in his hands and doing great things with it. We're going to feed him, and when they double him, somebody else is going to have to step up and make a play."
Walker now ranks seventh on the Northern Colorado career receiving charts with 1,827 yards, passing Dillan Micus (1997-98) who had 1,734. Walker also moved up one spot to eighth in career receiving touchdowns with 14, passing Mike Mitchell's (1972-75) 13.
The Bears rushed 27 times for 88 yards, more than the previous three yards combined. Sophomore running back Quentin Hildreth had 13 carries for 57 yards, while Lobato had 31 yards on 14 rushes.
"Seth [Lobato] is getting comfortable in the pocket, and we've got to keep working on the guys protecting him," said Collins. "Because if you give him a little more time—if we can give Seth, you know, 3 1/2 seconds back there, 4 seconds, instead of 2 1/2 seconds—he's going to pick everybody apart. So you see, as that goes and you open up the pass game and you then can hand the ball off and let Quentin [Hildreth] do what he can do. So we're just going to keep working on putting it together and get the defense up to par and stopping the run and stopping the deep ball over the top. We're going to get better."
Montana State running back Cody Kirk rushed for 202 of the Bobcat's 308 yards on the afternoon and scored one touchdown, while McGhee completed 16-of-23 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns. He hit his favorite receiver, Elvis Akpla for six receptions for 57 yards and one TD, while Tanner Bleskin caught the other.
Linebacker Jody Owens led MSU with 10 tackles, one sack and 1.5 tackles for loss, while Zach Minter had a pair of quartback sacks and one hurry.
The Bears stay at home next Saturday to host former North Central Conference and future Big Sky Conference rival North Dakota at 1:35 pm.