Bobcat Football: Building a Team

Jack Thorsen

Montana State Football is on its biggest losing streak since 2013, when the team lost the last three Conference games. These last four games played this season have looked like opponents the Bobcats could take down easily with an offense led by two phenomenal quarterbacks. But we just haven’t been able to pull away with a win since game 3.

The MSU Homecoming game was versus North Dakota, a team the Bobcats lost to the previous year 44-38. So, Montana State was looking to get back. The game was a struggle where quarterback Tyler Bruggman threw 3 interceptions, but did lead the Bobcat offense down the field in the last 3 minutes to make it a thriller. However, they were stopped short of the two-point attempt to tie it. They lost the game 17-15.

The next game was against the Big Sky’s worst ranked team, Sacramento State. This game, 18-year old quarterback Chris Murray led the show. Murray had 16 carries for 187 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Bobcats were up 38-21 with 5:02 left in the 3rd quarter, but failed to score any points in the 4th. Sacramento scored 20 unanswered points in the 4th quarter to come back and win 41-38.

The next game was a return home to face the team that was supposed to be the top Big Sky team, Northern Arizona. Montana State just failed to get anything going on offense. The Bobcats were down 20-0 with 5:42 left in the 3rd quarter. Most people had left the stadium, but MSU went all out and fought back with 14 unanswered points and ended up in the same situation they had in Sacramento with the 2-minute drill. This game ended with a controversial call of a fumble. Most people were convinced Murray’s arm was moving forward. The comeback fell just short with a 20 to 14 loss.

At the press conference for this game, Coach Choate talked about his decision making in the game. One thing he mentioned was whether to start 18-year old quarterback Chris Murray. Choate said the reason they started Tyler Bruggman is that they didn’t want to put too much pressure on a young quarterback. He also said that in the pregame for the last 4 games they told Murray in the first 3-4 series “you’re going in.” Coach Choate also talked about the fumbled kick return. He started off by saying, “You know I’m sure everybody in this stadium thought it, some players on the sideline thought it, everybody on NAU’s sideline thought it, but this team played as hard as they could to get back into it. I couldn’t be more proud as a coach. You need a team like that in those comeback situations.”

I really saw this as a turning point in Jeff Choate’s coaching career at Montana State. Despite losing three games in a row, he showed a great level of maturity and confidence in his team. He looks like a great leader for these guys in a rebuilding year for the Cats. I think that remaking a team is not an overnight job, especially when the previous coach, Rob Ash, led the team for almost 10 years to many achievements for the school. If Jeff Choate stays for a while and continues to coach Montana State, this could turn into the same team Ash had a year ago.

When I talked to Choate before the first game this season, he said the biggest thing he needed to as a coach was to build a relationship with the players. The first thing he told his players was that his office door is always open. That’s what a player/coach relationship is all about.

Coach Choate has talked a lot about the help they get at home with the loud crowd. In the seventh game of the season, they travelled to Weber State, another low ranked Big Sky team. Turnovers hurt them big in this one. In the first quarter, Montana State had two fumbles that led to 14 Weber State points. Chris Murray’s had a strong start, but Montana State ended up losing in their 4th straight game 45-27.

Next, the Bobcats met rival Eastern Washington. After the 17-41 loss I spoke to coach Choate at the press conference.
JT: Where do you think this team needs to build to finish strong this season in these last couple games?   
JC: The most obvious thing to me is we’ve got to eliminate some of the turnovers and that’s the thing today that really killed us with some opportunities, especially in the third quarter where we moved the ball effectively. You can’t give the ball back to the other team, especially a team as good as Eastern Washington.

JT: How do you keep the players motivated and spirits high so that they can finish strong?

JC: That’s a really good question. There are a lot of things that we try to do to flush away the previous game and make sure these guys focus on some of the positive things that they’ve done and point out some of things they need to improve on.
JT: What have been some of the most exciting things this season with this team?
JC: Well I haven’t had a lot of super exciting moments, but I would say just the opportunity to coach at Montana State has been an exciting part.
JT: At this point in the season, what have you guys learned as a team and as a first-year head coach?
JC: We learned that we’re a ways away from being able to compete for Championships in this Conference. As coaches, we have to evaluate [ourselves] and make sure we do a good job bringing in talented players.
Go Cats!
This is Jack Thorsen’s final Bobcat Football article of the season, and for Bozeman Magazine. We’ve been pleased to have Jack on the contributing team since he was 10 years old, and wish him the best as he finishes his sophomore year at Bozeman High. Look for Jack on the greens, we are sure he will continue to do great things in the Bozeman golf community.

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Jack Thorsen

Jack Thorsen is a sophomore at Bozeman High School. He is a defenseman on the Gallatin Valley Lacrosse Team, and a member of the BHS Varsity Golf Team. He has been writing for Bozeman Magazine for the past five years.

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