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Title Quest
Montana State hopes to build on milestone regular season in FCS playoffs
Montana State junior quarterback DeNarius McGhee recently earned his second Big Sky Conference Offensive MVP award, the first Bobcat to achieve that honor. McGhee became one of only 11 players in league history selected twice. Dean Hendrickson | photo Courtesy Montana State University
Following a milestone regular season, the Montana State football team is continuing its title quest this weekend under the bright lights of Bobcat Stadium.

After a bye in the opening round, the third-seeded Bobcats (10-1) host Stony Brook (10-2) at 5 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 1., in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. The winner advances to next week’s quarterfinals against the victor of Sam Houston State and Cal Poly.

This has been a season filled with highlights and high marks for Montana State. The Bobcats capped the most successful regular season in school history with a 16-7 win over rival Montana on Nov. 17. It was MSU’s second straight victory in Missoula’s Washington-Grizzly Stadium but only the third ever. It also earned the team its 10th win of the year, a school record. The Bobcats have had three consecutive seasons with at least nine wins for the first time ever.

Sixth-year head coach Rob Ash broke the school record for career wins against Portland State on Nov. 10, surpassing Sonny Holland’s mark of 47. Since taking over in 2007, Ash has compiled a 49-21 record.

MSU junior quarterback DeNarius McGhee joined a short list when he earned his second Big Sky Conference Offensive MVP award recently. McGhee, who has 2,979 yards of total offense and 22 touchdown passes this season, owns the all-time school records for wins (29) as a starting quarterback and career TD passes (69). McGhee, who won the conference’s MVP award as a freshman in 2010, is one of only 11 players in Big Sky history selected twice. The only other Bobcat to earn the offensive MVP was Kelly Bradley, who quarterbacked the 1984 team to the national championship.

Jody Owens, a senior linebacker, became Montana State’s sixth conference defensive MVP and the fourth Bobcat honored in the last decade – the most in the conference in that time. Owens and McGhee joined four teammates on the All-Big Sky First Team, including Libby’s Joel Fuller. The senior safety recorded 43 tackles with three pass breakups and one interception this season.

MSU’s sweep of the offensive and defensive MVP awards marked only the second time in the past seven seasons that one school has managed that feat.

“We coach our guys that when you play for the team good things happen to individuals, and this is a fabulous reward for some outstanding players,” Ash said in a statement.

“This is a special group of players who have led in our program by working hard and focusing on their roles and their jobs, and I’m glad that effort was rewarded.”

The Bobcats, ranked second in the nation in both polls, claimed a share of the Big Sky Conference title for the third straight year with Eastern Washington and Cal Poly.

Montana State set another school record by advancing to the playoffs for the third year in a row. It’s the Bobcats eighth trip overall.

“It’s great to be seeded, and we’re excited for the chance to compete for a national championship,” Ash said.

“We’ve said that we want to get to the point where we get to play home playoff games, and we’re looking forward to playing our first game, but that’s all we’re looking forward to. We’re in a one-game season where we have to earn the right to keep playing by winning the next game, so that’s all we’re concerned with — our next game.”

Montana State junior quarterback DeNarius McGhee. Dean Hendrickson | photo Courtesy Montana State University

Last season the Bobcats defeated New Hampshire 26-25 at home in the second round before losing to Sam Houston State, 49-13, in the quarterfinals. In 2010, MSU lost to North Dakota State 42-17 in the second round.

The Bobcats have not advanced past the quarterfinals since 1984, when the team won its last national championship.

MSU’s string of 27 straight weeks ranked in the top 10 in the nation is the longest stretch in school history. This class of 17 seniors has won more games than any other MSU group in its four years, compiling a 36-11 record since 2009. The Cats also have the best conference record in the past four years of any team in the Big Sky.

“This has been an amazing group of players and an amazing group of people,” Ash said.

“They have accomplished tremendous things on the field, and that has been possible because of their hard work and commitment to each other and to this program. This year’s seniors have led our program in the way they’ve represented it on and off the field.”

Three teams from the Big Sky Conference advanced to this year’s playoffs. Eastern Washington (9-2), the only team to beat MSU this season, earned the No. 2 seed in the bracket and hosts Wagner (9-3) at 4 p.m. Saturday. Cal Poly (9-2) plays at Sam Houston State (8-3) at 2 p.m.
North Dakota State (10-1), the defending FCS champs and top-ranked team in the nation, is the top seed and hosts South Dakota State (9-3) at 2 p.m.

Stony Brook beat Villanova 20-10 in last weekend’s opening round despite the absence of starting quarterback Kyle Essington, who was sidelined with a deep thigh bruise. Stony Brook has the fifth-ranked defense in the nation, allowing an average of 294 yards per game. MSU has the 20th ranked offense, averaging 432 yards per game. The defense is ranked 13th, allowing 310 yards per game.

The FCS championship game is Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas.
On 11-30-12, Oliver commented....
As a hardcore Griz fan and as hard as it is to say it, I wish them the best of luck and hope they go all the way.
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