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MSU Bobcats thriving on McGhee-to-Akpla connection
Elvis Akpla has officially become DeNarius McGhee’s wingman. And the connection is thriving.
“I think it’s totally because of the fact that they had a great summer together,” Bobcats coach Rob Ash said last week. “And Elvis has really matured as a receiver. He’s really bought in to hard work.”
While good last season, the McGhee-to-Akpla hookup has truly blossomed in 2011 with a renewed trust level. And it manifests on Saturdays.
McGhee has hit Akpla with touchdown passes in five consecutive games, including a 6-yarder in the third quarter of the Bobcats’ 38-36 Big Sky Conference victory over Portland State this past week.
Akpla has caught a pass from McGhee in each of McGhee’s 18 career games, and has at least one catch in 28 straight.
Akpla’s 24 catches this season lead MSU, and his six touchdowns rank second in the Big Sky.
Two weeks ago in a win over Sacramento State, McGhee and Akpla combined on a 95-yard scoring pass, which set the record for the longest pass play in school history.
Every leading man needs a good sidekick.
“It goes back to last spring and through the summer,” Ash said. “Elvis has really become a great worker. He’s dedicated himself to route running and finesse, and perfection and details on routes.”
Though Akpla has come of age after transferring to MSU from Oregon in 2009, he remains in McGhee’s shadow.
McGhee took home his fourth career offensive player of the week nod on Monday, being named a co-recipient for his performance in the key victory at PSU.
McGhee torched the Vikings for 255 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for a TD in the third quarter and finished with an efficiency rating of 225.5.
McGhee, who was also named a national all-star by the College Sporting News, shared the award with Eastern Washington quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. Mitchell threw for 356 yards and three touchdowns in a victory over Northern Arizona.
Not so special
Ostensibly, the Bobcats had the victory over Portland State sewn up when Jason Cunningham drilled a 26-yard field goal with 6:52 remaining.
That kick put MSU ahead 38-22.
But some considerable lapses on special teams put the Bobcats on their heels early – and had them scrambling late.
Portland State blocked Rory Perez’s first two punts, which put the Cats in a quick 10-0 hole in the first quarter. Cunningham also had a field goal blocked later in the game.
Additionally, the Vikings recovered a pooch kick that set up a last-ditch scoring drive in the fourth quarter that could have forced overtime.
After a touchdown run by Cory McCaffrey, PSU lined up as if they were attempting an onside kick, but kicker Zach Brown pooched the ball to the other side of the field and the Vikings recovered.
That led to Connor Kavanaugh’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Kalua Noa, which pulled Portland State within two points with 2:52 remaining.
But the Bobcats survived the momentum shift when Zach Minter and Darius Jones stuffed Kavanaugh on the ensuing two-point try. MSU then ran out the clock as Cody Kirk rushed for 42 yards on the final drive.
How did the Grizzlies shut down Idaho State’s vaunted passing game? They kept the Bengals on the sideline.
Montana had a major breakthrough in time of possession during the 33-0 shutout on Saturday, keeping the ball for a season-high 39:21, including 12:38 of the fourth quarter. UM ran 91 offensive plays.
The Griz came into the game averaging a mere 24:25 of possession time, which ranked dead last in the conference.
When second-year coach Robin Pflugrad was hired, he promised an “up-tempo and upbeat” offense, one designed to wear down opposing defenses with a hurry-up component.
But sometimes there is a downside to that. It usually means your defense is on the field a lot and getting worn down, too.
So Saturday’s reversal served the Grizzlies very well.
Montana forced seven Bengal turnovers (four fumbles, three interceptions) – their most since stealing 10 in a 2009 playoff victory over Stephen F. Austin – and limited ISU to just 121 total yards.
Quarterback Kevin Yost, who entered the game with a Big Sky-best 1,713 passing yards and 12 TDs, threw for only 147 yards. Receiver Rodrick Rumble was held under 100 yards for the first time this season.
Though it struggled at times, the Grizzlies’ offense rolled up 466 yards – 255 passing and 211 rushing.
Griz kicker Brody McKnight has had his ups and downs this season.
But the senior from Vancouver, B.C., was in good form against Idaho State, and took home the special teams player of the week award from the Big Sky on Monday.
McKnight hit field goals of 51, 48, 44 and 42 yards and finished with 15 points. He also tacked on three point-after attempts.
McKnight averaged 42.2 yards on six punts with a long of 61. Two of his punts were downed inside the 20-yard line. He also recovered a fumble.
McKnight has made roughly 54 percent of his field goals (7 for 13), but is 21 for 21 on point-after tries. He also ranks second in the league in punting with a 45.2 yard average.
Like McGhee, McKnight was also named a national all-star on Monday by the College Sporting News.
Montana State (5-1) remained No. 3 while Montana (4-2) slid ahead two spots to No. 14 in the latest Top 25 FCS poll, released on Monday by The Sports Network. MSU garnered two first-place votes.
The top five was unchanged from last week. Georgia Southern (5-0) still holds the No. 1 spot, followed by No. 2 Northern Iowa (4-1), No. 4 North Dakota State (5-0) and No. 5 Wofford (4-1).
NDSU edged Missouri Valley Conference rival Southern Illinois 9-3 on Saturday. Brock Jensen hit Matt Veldman on a 10-yard touchdown pass with 6:51 remaining for the winning points.
The Bison, Georgia Southern and No. 10-ranked Sam Houston State (5-0) are the only unbeaten teams remaining in the FCS.
Around the league
Sacramento State LB Todd Davis earned the Big Sky’s defensive player of the week award. Davis tied for the team lead with 10 tackles, including a team-high 2 ½ tackles for loss in a 14-0 victory over Northern Colorado. … Sac State became the first team in FCS history to not throw a pass in a game. The Hornets’ matchup with UNC was played in what were described as “terrible conditions” of wind, rain and snow. Sac State ran the ball 51 times for 177 yards. … ISU P David Harrington set a Big Sky Conference record with 618 punting yards versus Montana. Harrington punted 12 times and averaged 51.5 yards per punt with a long of 64.