BOZEMAN — All in all it was, as they liked to say around Bobcat Stadium during some headier days a decade ago, just “another brick in the wall.”
Montana State’s brisk — in more ways than one — 30-22 Big Sky Conference win over Portland State on Saturday afternoon was memorable only in that it will quickly be forgettable, perhaps as soon as Monday.
Which is a good thing.
After all, while playing the role of favorite for the first time this fall after a rugged first four games against ranked opposition, the Bobcats took care of business as expected.
The victory’s significance in Year 2 of the Jeff Choate rebuilding process relative to Year 1 probably is more apparent internally than externally.
“That’s a game that we probably lose a year ago,” Choate said in the postgame interview room as Bobcat faithful toasted their first home win in three tries under tents flapping wildly in Saturday’s pronounced wind gusts. “And we did lose a number of games similar to this a year ago.”
His reference was to MSU (2-3 overall, 2-1 Big Sky) taking early leads before succumbing. On Saturday, in a game that took a little over three hours, the Bobcats did flirt with anxiety in the second half but prevailed behind 403 yards rushing and pressure from an energetic defensive line.
Despite its routine nature, though, the victory actually sets a critical tone as MSU embarks on a second half that’s only slightly less challenging than the daunting first half, thanks to looming trips to Eastern Washington and Northern Arizona, nervous games at Northern Colorado and against surprisingly tough Idaho State, and another home game of some note in late November.
The Bobcats also maintain the fan momentum — more like a cautiously optimistic murmur than a buzz at this juncture — they’ve earned with their rousing season-ending whipping of Montana last fall, the close-call losses against national powers South Dakota State and Weber State this season, and a resounding road win against injury-depleted but nevertheless-ranked North Dakota.
Had the result gone the other way, as games like this generally did last year until the one that counts most, it becomes a dagger with a ripple effect.
Suddenly a buzzkill 1-6 start would seem imminent heading west to play EWU on its sunburned turf. All those pitches to boosters and alums to pony up for the critical new 20-year facilities plan would require some extra spin, with promises of better days ahead substituting for the tangible evidence we now see with each week of improvement.
The Bobcats made such a discouraging scenario moot Saturday and have given their fans reason to play the schedule game even as their own injuries, especially at linebacker, threaten to compromise their potential.
They did it with a run game stopped only by their own penalties in a discombobulated first half and a defense that masked vulnerabilities at linebacker with constant pressure in Portland State’s backfield.
The result is that fans and we in the media can look ahead and contemplate the math for a winning season, with the annual Brawl of the Wild potentially determining such an outcome for both programs.
If you’re into early comparison shopping, the Cats and Griz were equally competent but certainly not dominant in topping the winless Vikings.
Under normal circumstances, MSU’s win would be just another winning brick in a wall where there have been many, mostly forgettable beyond Saturday — and yet memorable for keeping a rising program and all its complementary pieces pointed in the right direction.