FCS Playoffs: Weber State can’t survive Montana State grinder, Bobcats win 33-25
Montana State came into Saturday’s playoff matchup against Weber State touting the nation’s second-best rushing offense. The Bobcats, as healthy as they’ve been all season, were undefeated against FCS teams and scored 127 points in their last two games before getting a bye in the first round.
It was a tall task for Weber State’s defense, especially without injured senior safety Desmond Williams, and it proved to be too much.
Quarterback Tommy Mellott engineered an unstoppable run game, the Bobcats scored on their first seven possessions, and two late TD drives from WSU backup Kylan Weisser could only make it respectable as No. 4 Montana State ground up Weber State 33-25 in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
“Tough game. We knew it would be,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said.
Weber State finishes its season with a 10-3 record, with all three losses coming to teams seeded in the top four of the playoff bracket.
“I’ve been here since 2017 and you take for granted how awesome winning is. It has been a great season, the fact that we won 10 games,” senior receiver Ty MacPherson said. “Of course, the outcome hurts and I for sure would have liked to play longer in the playoffs.”
Mellott ran for 158 yards on 22 carries and also threw 13 of 19 for 91 yards. Sean Chambers, who started several games with Mellott hurt earlier this season, was 2 of 2 passing for 75 yards and two touchdowns, adding 92 yards and a touchdown on the ground. All-American senior Isaiah Ifanse played for the first time this season, rushing 10 times for 91 yards.
That all added up to 388 rushing yards on 7.3 yards per carry for Montana State.
The Bobcats totaled only two penalties and survived a couple of close calls to commit zero turnovers — ultimately an unstoppable combination.
“Give Montana State a ton of credit. They ran the ball even when everyone in the stadium knew they were going to run it,” Hill said. “Having Ifanse back was just a little bit of a shot in the arm, you could tell it gave them a little more juice.”
Weber State opened the game with the ball and drove to the MSU 22, where Kyle Thompson booted through a 39-yard field goal to give the visitors a 3-0 lead.
But the Bobcats (11-1) got going early, mixing a variety of QB power runs, RB handoffs, shotgun option plays to the edge, and more. Mellott dashed for 32 yards and Ifanse 18 on consecutive plays to set up Chambers for a 2-yard TD run, making it 7-3 with 7:30 left in the first quarter.
Okiki Olorunfunmi disrupted MSU’s next drive by sacking Chambers on a reverse pass. Blake Glessner put through a 36-yard field goal to put the Bobcats up 10-3 early in the second quarter.
Weber answered. Jacob Sharp hauled in a 30-yard pass on a wheel route to start the drive and MacPherson pulled down an over-the-shoulder touchdown pass from Bronson Barron on third-and-goal from the 15 to tie it 10-10 with 9:32 left in the first half.
Though Montana State ground up 6:40 on 14 plays on its next possession, Ifanse and Mellott fumbled a handoff at the Weber 16 — but no WSU defender could get to the ball before Mellott fell on it. Still, defensive lineman Easton Payne hurried Mellott into an incompletion, forcing a 33-yarder from Glessner to put the home team back in front 13-10.
Struggling, Weber’s offense went three-and-out and punted to the MSU 42 with 1:36 left in the half.
“We did not move the ball very well for a stretch, you know, second and third quarter,” Hill said. “Too few yards and we didn’t flip any field position in that time.”
The Bobcats drove to the WSU 19 where LJ Anderson helped break up a pass to the end zone and Jack Kelly hurried Mellott into a check-down pass on third down.
So Glessner kicked a 31-yard field goal as the clock expired and Montana State took a 16-10 lead into halftime.
Though WSU was not out of it on the scoreboard, the 247-144 yardage advantage did portend of things to come.
Montana State again possessed the ball for more than 5 minutes on a scoring drive, but Weber missed a stop on another Ifanse fumble. He bobbled a Mellott option pitch at the Weber 15, Winston Reid blew up Ifanse to jar the ball fully loose, but Mellott again got to the ball first.
Glessner’s fourth field goal of the game, from 32 yards, then put the Bobcats up 19-10 with 9:50 left in the third quarter.
Though the Wildcats were hanging on, they were dealt a blow when Barron was hit hard on a second-down pass play, one that knocked him out of the game. It took the offense a couple of its few, precious possessions to recover, and WSU punted away.
Two MSU third-down conversions set up Chambers tossing a 28-yard TD to tight end Derryk Snell, making it 26-10 with 2:36 left in the third.
The Bobcats then quickly finished their string of seven straight scoring possessions to start the game, forgoing their grinding run game for a second shot at the Chambers reverse pass, which he launched to Willie Patterson for a 47-yard touchdown bomb. That put the home team out of reach at 33-10 with 14:10 left in the contest.
To Weber State’s credit, neither side of the ball gave in, even after Weisser threw an interception on the next play from scrimmage, a deep ball behind Hudson Schenck that glanced off his hand and into the arms of linebacker Danny Uluilakepa.
After a 24-yard Ifanse rush, WSU held the Bobcats to 5 yards on three ensuing rushes, and Glessner missed a 49-yard field goal.
Dontae McMillan immediately gashed for a 22-yard run, starting a quick TD drive that Weisser ended by lining a 31-yarder to Jon Christensen up the sideline for a touchdown. Weisser then threw to MacPherson for a two-point conversion and the score was 33-18 with 9:34 left.
WSU’s defense forced a three-and-out by stopping two consecutive runs for no gain, and Weisser turned the Wildcats quickly back up the field with two completions to MacPherson. Schenck deftly hauled in a 12-yard completion at the MSU 8, toeing one foot down at the sideline, and Weisser threw to tight end Hayden Meacham on the next play for a play-action touchdown.
But, at 33-25 with 4:42 left, Weber effectively ended the game by kicking off to MSU.
The Bobcats turned to the larger Chambers in a shotgun power-run look and converted first down after first down until kneeling out the remainder of the clock at the WSU 9.
“We should’ve played (the run) the better than we did the first time, and we didn’t,” Hill said. “I hold myself most accountable, we should’ve had something a little better for the players to stop that run game. But again, you’ve got to give Montana State credit, they’re very good at it.”
Barron and Weisser each threw 9 of 13 in the game. Barron totaled 82 yards with a touchdown, and Weisser had 111 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
In their respective final games at Weber State, MacPherson had five catches for 59 yards and Christensen three balls for 45 yards. With those yards, MacPherson moved into No. 4 on WSU’s all-time receiving yards list (2,389) and No. 8 in career receptions (150).
Josh Davis added 29 yards to his career total, completing his work as the No. 2 all-time leading rusher in program history (3,801 yards).
“Watching these guys grow up from knucklehead freshmen to grown men, out there battling and bleeding and fighting and clawing and digging — the reality is these guys have been phenomenal leaders,” Hill said with MacPherson and the junior Reid next to him.
McMillan rushed nine times for 56 yards. Sharp added 44 yards on four receptions and Meacham had 28 yards on three grabs.
Montana State finished with 554 total yards to Weber State’s 317.
After giving up both a kick return and a punt return for a touchdown to WSU in October, the Bobcats also did well to bottle up Abraham Williams on kick returns, stopping him each time at the first line of attack. Schenck had only one punt return opportunity, a fair catch, due to MSU’s run-game prowess.
True freshman EJ Evett led Weber State with 12 tackles while filling in for Desmond Williams at safety. Reid added nine tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and Eddie Heckard and Garrett Beck each had six tackles.