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Offensive linemen exemplify confidence, closeness of Montana State
The injuries continue to mount, but so does the victory total — and the confidence level — for the Montana State Bobcats.
If Big Sky Conference observers are starting to believe in the Bobcats, who knocked off Eastern Washington 30-7 here Saturday, it’s probably appropriate. Because the Cats apparently truly believe in themselves.
“Once you get a whole team believing like that, it’s hard to let each other down,” said sophomore defensive tackle Zach Minter, whose 53-yard interception return for a score was one of the day’s biggest plays. “We’re playing for each other.”
Nowhere is that more obvious than on the offensive line, a unit hard-hit by injuries. The Bobcats were without starting guards Conrad Burbank and Ben Tauanuu due to injury, and starting tackle Leo Davis didn’t play Saturday because of an illness. Top backup Killian Fitzpatrick was also sick and sidelined, then midway through the game sophomore Andrew Verlanic went down with a knee injury.
Former walk-ons Casey Dennehy, Shaun Sampson and Jesse Hoffmann played a majority of the game, alongside regulars Mike Person and Alex Terrien.
“They did a great job,” said MSU quarterback Denarius McGhee, who had another fabulous game. “I didn’t get hit much at all, only when I held the ball … We had guys go down and other guys stepped in. They got the job done and did a great job today.”
Person, the Glendive native and veteran offensive tackle, knows what losses to Eastern Washington feel like. The Cats entered Saturday’s fray having lost seven in a row to EWU, so to finally prevail had Person smiling.
“It feels outstanding,” said Person. “It’s a great feeling to beat a team we haven’t beaten in eight years.”
Person is close friends with Jeff Hansen, the graduated All-American offensive lineman from Great Falls who nearly made the roster of the San Diego Chargers this summer. After last year’s narrow Bobcat loss at Eastern, Hansen told Person to even the score with the Eagles this fall.
“I was playing with that (in mind) all day long,” said Person. “Jeff is my best friend and that’s what I was playing for.”
Person has a lot of friends on the current Cats, of course. Especially on the offensive line. While several of them have been anonymous to most MSU fans, they made names for themselves on Saturday.
“You know, I’m a firm believer it’s not how many you have, it’s who you roll with,” Person said. “I have 100 percent faith in every single offensive linemen (on the Cats).”
And how did the newcomers perform?
“I thought they did darn good,” Person said.
What isn’t so great is the Bobcats’ injury situation.
Verlanic (knee) and defensive end Dustin O’Connell (shoulder) went down, both with potentially serious injuries. Linebacker Clay Bignell, defensive tackle Dan Ogden and cornerback Arnold Briggs also left with injuries, though they were not believed to be too severe.
What is in fact getting serious is the excitement level of Montana State fans. Does Saturday’s victory mean the Bobcats have arrived as a legitimate Big Sky championship contender?
“I hope so,” said Ash. “I think we can. The thing we’ve got to do and what everybody in Bobcat Nation has to realize is there’s a lot of season left. We got awfully banged up today … Whether we can keep finding people to replace the ones who go down is a real challenge. But we’ve got some people who believe and we’ve got a pretty good football team.”
By Scott Mansch, Great Falls Tribune