Montana State’s 122nd football season ended abruptly in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs in Fargo, ND, when the Cats fell 42-14 to the eventual FCS National Champion, the NDSU Bison. While the Cats did not get the opportunity to play in Frisco, Texas for the National Championship, this year’s campaign will be remembered as one of the finest in Bobcat modern history. The Blue and Gold proudly represented the state’s flagship university by advancing to the NCAA FCS semifinals for the first time since 1984, when the Bobcats won their last National Championship.
Much of this year's success resulted from the impact of a senior class heavily invested in the program. Defensively, the Cats were led by safeties Jahque Alleyne and Brayden Konkol, who was invited to the Hula Bowl in Honolulu, HI, cornerbacks JoJo Henderson and Damien Washington, linebackers Walker Cozzie and Josh Hill, along with linemen Derek Marks, Jason Scrempos, Marcus Ferriter and Bryce Sterk, who was invited to the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, FL. This year's defense was statistically one of the best in the Big Sky conference, finishing the season on a six game win streak prior to the NDSU game. During that stretch, MSU allowed only 86 points while scoring an astounding 233 points.
Offensively, a rather young group struggled early in the season before senior leaders including wide receivers Kevin Kassis and Travis Jonsen, who is an alternate for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, and running back Logan Jones, helped the group gel and find production. Offensive tackle Mitch Brott set an MSU program record by starting 50 straight games and led an offensive line group that was dominant all season. These names will be added to those of legendary status at MSU, impressing fans and opponents with their unselfishness and desire to succeed throughout the season. This rare group of seniors turned an inexperienced and sloppy offense into the conference’s leading rushing team and an unstoppable force in the second half of the season.
On special teams, the Cats have become accustomed to stability, thanks to the efforts of senior punter Jared Padmos and senior place kicker Tristan Bailey. Oftentimes, special teams can be a serious concern for a football program, but these two allowed the Bobcats to play with confidence knowing the kicking game would be there if needed.
In a few months, much of the attention will turn towards the 2020 season and team number 123 as spring practices begin. Certainly there is plenty to be excited about next year as the Bobcats return many productive players and will surely be adding some talented players through the transfer portal. However, there would be no reason for optimism and excitement were it not for the efforts of this year’s team. This team may not have won the ‘chip like the gridironers of ‘84, ‘76 and ‘56, but they are certainly in “rarified air” as defensive end Derek Marks put it after the victory over Austin Peay in the quarterfinals. Not only were they an elite group on paper, but they were also a rare team in other aspects. In the age of the transfer portal, MSU provided endless examples of players and coaches doing whatever necessary to win for each other. Players played whatever position the coaches asked and supported their teammates regardless of spot on the depth chart. Perhaps, never before have Bobcat fans had the opportunity to follow a group of young men so bought into each other and the program.
Now with a semifinal appearance under their belt, MSU has its sights set on going even further next season. For the seniors, the real challenge lies ahead after they move on from MSU and into the professional football ranks, their career or graduate education. Based on the athletic departments 3.27 cumulative GPA for this fall semester, though it is apparent these Bobcats will have no issue succeeding following graduation.
The 2019 football season will be remembered for the Cats’ deep run into the playoffs, the fourth straight victory over the school in Missoula and the spectacular atmospheres Bobcat Stadium provided all fall and into winter. But most memorable will be this senior class, who endured the transition of a coaching staff and led the turnaround of the program from average to elite. As students of this university, we are extremely proud of how our classmates represented us on the gridiron this season and built a program that is easy to root for. Good luck to those graduating and thank you for all your efforts. Go Cats!