DIFFERENCE MAKER

Back from injury, Kirk carrying Bobcats down the stretch

2012-11-13T23:00:00Z 2012-11-13T23:47:04Z Back from injury, Kirk carrying Bobcats down the stretchBy GREG RACHAC grachac@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Rob Ash says Cody Kirk is the most inspirational player he’s ever been around.

“He lifts the level of everybody else on this football team when he’s out there,” says Ash, Montana State’s sixth-year football coach.

That’s why it was such a detriment to the Bobcats when Kirk went down with a hamstring injury early in their game at Southern Utah on Sept. 29 and didn’t return for an entire month.

It was the first time Kirk, who stands just 5-foot-10 but weighs nearly 215 pounds, ever missed time due to injury.

In the meantime, MSU lost its only game of the season, 27-24 to Eastern Washington at home on Oct. 13. It was a game in which Kirk was sorely missed.

When he eventually came back, Kirk vowed never to take the game he loves for granted. And to run harder than ever before.

The numbers speak for themselves.

In the three games since returning, Kirk has piled up 411 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. The junior from Frenchtown is averaging 137 yards per game and a whopping 6.9 yards per carry in that span.

It started in a 55-10 throttling of North Dakota on Oct. 27. Kirk led the charge that day, rushing for 160 yards and three touchdowns as MSU nearly reached the 700-yard plateau on offense.

The following week Kirk took over in the fourth quarter of a tight game at Sacramento State.

With the game in the balance, Kirk rushed for 34 yards on MSU’s most important drive before scoring the go-ahead touchdown with about 8:00 remaining to help preserve a 20-17 victory.

Kirk finished the game with 129 yards and a pair of TDs.

Finally, in the Bobcats’ 65-30 drubbing of Portland State last week, Kirk ran the ball only 11 times but scored two more touchdowns as part of a dominant offensive performance. He finished with 122 yards and an average of 11.1 yards per carry.

The statistics are astounding. But they only tell one side of the story.

Kirk’s style of running seems more tenacious, more determined since he came back.

“The first thing I want to say about Cody is that he’s the hardest-working individual I’ve ever been around,” said Bobcats center Shaun Sampson, who anchors an up-and-coming offensive line that blazes the trail for Kirk. “He’s always working to get better. Footwork, strength … everything. He’s such a great runner.

“Cody’s on another level right now. He’s running hard and racking up stats. It’s a great time of the season to have him running well.”

Whether taking handoffs from quarterback DeNarius McGhee or running out of the Wildcat formation, Kirk will be integral again this week.

Montana State looks to earn a share of the Big Sky Conference championship with a win over rival Montana on Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula.

The Grizzlies’ pass defense has been much maligned this season, but their rush defense is one of the best in the business, allowing less than 100 yards per game.

The Bobcats must find a way to navigate the ground game with success Saturday.

Kirk will be the focal point in that effort. And if the latest trends hold true, he’ll have another strong performance in the biggest game of the year.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Bobcats vs. Arkansas State: A closer look

Bobcats vs. Arkansas State: A closer look

NOTE: The following is Phil Sites' account of the Montana State/Arkansas State game from Centennial Bank Stadium in Jonesboro, Ark. Sites is a former Gazette sports staffer. Be sure to check out Phil's awesome photo gallery from the game.

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