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Montana State defense hoping to stonewall Stony Brook
Montana State’s No. 1 priority this week? Zero in on Stony Brook running back Miguel Maysonet.
It’s easier said than done, based solely on Maysonet’s reputation as one of the truly elite running backs in the country.
Few teams have been able to keep tabs on the 5-foot-10, 210-pound senior, whose career statistics look like something out of a video game — 5,027 yards, 51 touchdowns and an average of 6.7 yards per carry.
But the third-seeded Bobcats (10-1) have been virtually impenetrable on the ground, and seem up for the challenge when Stony Brook (10-2) visits Bozeman for a second-round FCS playoff game at 5 p.m. Saturday.
MSU ranks seventh in rushing defense out of 121 qualifying teams in the FCS, allowing an average of just 96.0 yards per game. The Cats have given up only eight touchdowns on the ground this season, which ranks in a tie for the third-fewest in the country.
Furthermore, the Bobcats’ swarming defense has allowed only three teams and just two running backs to eclipse the 100-yard barrier all year.
One of those teams was Portland State, which rushed for 295 yards against MSU on Nov. 10. But the Vikings’ output that day can’t really be taken at face value because the Bobcats led by 52 points in the second quarter on the way to a 65-30 win.
Portland State got most of its yards in mop-up duty.
By comparison, Maysonet has eclipsed 100 yards in nine of 12 games so far. He broke the 200-yard plateau in three of those games, including a 32-carry, 220-yard, two-touchdown effort in Stony Brook’s 23-3 victory over FBS foe Army on Sept. 29.
In the aftermath of that game, Army coach Rich Ellerson, a former head coach at Cal Poly, had high praise for Maysonet.
“That’s as good a back as we’ll see all season,” Ellerson said.
Maysonet, who transferred to Stony Brook from Hofstra in 2010, is coming off a 160-yard, two-touchdown effort in the Seawolves’ 20-10 first-round playoff win over Villanova last week.
His 1,881 rushing yards are the second-most in the FCS this season behind South Dakota State’s Zach Zenner, who has rushed for 1,998 yards. Maysonet averages 156.8 yards per game.
What happens when unstoppable meets immovable? We’ll find out Saturday.
It should be noted that the 10 wins by Montana State this season marks the first time in school history the team has reached the 10-win plateau in the regular season.
The Bobcats won 10 games last year, but their 10th victory was a 26-25 second-round thriller over New Hampshire.
MSU continues to reach new heights for success. The Cats are a combined 21-3 in Big Sky Conference games in the last three seasons, the best record in the league in that span. Also, the team has been ranked in the Top 10 for 27 consecutive weeks.
With a win over Stony Brook, Bobcats coach Rob Ash would become the 14th coach in league history with 50 victories.
This season marks MSU’s third consecutive trip to the playoffs, and its third home playoff game in the past three seasons.
The Bobcats lost to North Dakota State and defeated New Hampshire in their previous two home playoff games. A win over Stony Brook would propel the Cats to the quarterfinal round for the second straight year and the third time since 2006.
MSU hasn’t advanced to the semifinals since 1984, when it won the national championship.
Around the league
The two other Big Sky Conference teams in the postseason — Eastern Washington and Cal Poly — are also preparing this week for their respective playoff openers.
Second-seeded Eastern Washington (9-2) hosts Wagner (9-3) on Saturday at Roos Field. Wagner is the automatic qualifier from the Northeast Conference, and advanced to the second round by beating Colgate 31-20 last week.
The Eagles have been tough to beat in late-season games. Since 2010, the Eagles are 11-0 in games after Nov. 1, and 20-3 in November and beyond since 2007.
EWU, the 2010 national champion, is also 15-2 on its home turf in the last three seasons.
Cal Poly (9-2) travels to play last year’s national runner-up, Sam Houston State (8-3). Both teams had first-round byes.
This marks Sam Houston State’s third playoff game against a Big Sky team in the past two years. The Bearkats beat Montana State 49-13 and Montana 31-28 last year before losing to North Dakota State in the title game.
Cal Poly is 0-1 all-time in playoff games against the Southland Conference. The Mustangs lost 14-7 to Texas State in 2005. Sam Houston State is 4-2 all-time against Big Sky teams in the playoffs.
Around the nation
One key second-round matchup pits top-seeded North Dakota State (10-1) against Missouri Valley Conference rival South Dakota State (9-3) on Saturday at the Fargodome.
It is a rematch of NDSU’s 20-17 home victory over SDSU on Nov. 10, which earned the Bison a share of the conference title. The Bison, who own one of the nation’s top-ranked defenses, held the Jackrabbits to a season-low in total offense, just 209 yards.
But SDSU is coming off a 58-10 first-round playoff victory over Eastern Illinois last week during which Zenner rushed for 295 yards. In all, the Jackrabbits rushed for a staggering 435 yards.
The Bison are seeking their second consecutive FCS national championship.