BOZEMAN — Historically, Montana State has had the upper hand in its back-and-forth with Northern Colorado, which dates to 1923. The Bobcats lead the all-time series 12-4-1, and currently own an eight-game winning streak.
Still, it hasn’t always been easy regardless of records or the trajectory of a given season — especially at the Bears’ home stadium of Nottingham Field in Greeley, Colorado, where MSU will visit Saturday for another important Big Sky Conference matchup.
No. 12-ranked MSU (6-3, 3-2 Big Sky) snapped a two-game losing streak last week with a 42-7 home win over Southern Utah. Northern Colorado (2-7, 2-3) also carries a measure of momentum coming off a 26-20 victory at home over Idaho State.
“Dangerous team. A very dangerous team,” MSU coach Jeff Choate said. “You can’t let your guard down. This is a big game for us, and we’ve got to prepare accordingly.”
In their most recent trip to Greeley on Oct. 21, 2017, it took a 27-yard field goal from kicker Gabe Peppenger as time expired to lift the Bobcats to a 27-24 victory.
Montana State has won four of its previous five road games against Northern Colorado, with the lone exception being a 16-13 loss in 2007 that served as the Bears’ first-ever Big Sky win since joining the conference the year prior.
In their last four trips to UNC, all wins, the Bobcats’ average margin of victory has been less than 10 points. The previous two games were decided by 10 total points.
Choate will always say that it doesn’t matter how many points decide a game, it only matters that you win. But with their postseason hopes in the balance, the Bobcats know they can’t afford to slip up this week.
Will Saturday be another pressure cooker as history might suggest?
Here is a look back and MSU’s most recent trips to Northern Colorado, highlighting the close nature of those games:
Bobcats 27, Bears 24: The Bobcats trailed by two touchdowns at halftime but reeled off 17 consecutive points, which included a 15-yard touchdown run by freshman running back Troy Andersen and a 4-yard scoring run by quarterback Chris Murray to grab a 24-21 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
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Northern Colorado tied the game with 6:05 remaining on a 34-yard field goal by Colin Root, but the Bobcats marched 73 yards on 13 plays, highlighted by two third-down pass completions by Murray. Peppenger then sent MSU home a winner with a 27-yard field goal as time expired.
Bobcats 35, Bears 28: The teams were locked in a 14-14 tie when Montana State return specialist Shawn Johnson busted loose for a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown early in the second quarter. Cody Kirk found the end zone on a 1-yard run in the third quarter to put MSU ahead by two scores, but the Bears rallied for two fourth-quarter touchdowns to take a 28-27 lead.
The Bobcats scored the winning points on a 9-yard touchdown run by Kirk with 6:35 remaining, which capped a nine-play, 69-yard drive. Quarterback DeNarius McGhee then hit Kirk with a two-point conversion pass, and MSU’s defense held on a fourth-and-1 play to seal it.
Bobcats 31, Bears 21: MSU took a 17-3 first-half lead thanks to touchdown runs by Kirk and wideout Everett Gilbert. A 6-yard TD pass from McGhee to Elvis Akpla made it 24-13 in the third quarter. UNC came back and made it a one-possession game on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Seth Lobato to Patrick Walker later in the third.
The Bobcats put together a scoring drive in the fourth to gain separation again, as McGhee hit Tanner Bleskin with an 11-yard TD pass with 8:31 remaining to cap the scoring. Kirk finished the day with 202 rushing yards.
Bobcats 25, Bears 7: This was Montana State’s “easiest” win at UNC in nearly 60 years. Akpla and Gilbert each caught long touchdown passes from quarterback Mark Iddins as the Bobcats built a sizeable advantage. Brady Daly blocked a UNC punt in the third quarter, which went for a safety when the Bears recovered in the end zone.
The Bobcats’ defense held the Bears to 105 total yards of offense. Linebacker Jeff Price had 12 tackles and defensive end Dane Fletcher had a quarterback sack and two tackles for loss to lead the way.
Bears 16, Bobcats 13: MSU had won five of six in the middle of Rob Ash’s first season as coach before this game. The Bears had lost 16 consecutive games and were still seeking their first triumph as a member of the Big Sky Conference.
The Bobcats tied the game with 48 seconds left on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Jack Rolovich to Demetrius Crawford. But UNC’s Cory Fauver returned the ensuing kickoff 51 yards, which helped set up the winning 37-yard field goal by Zak Bigelow with four seconds remaining.
Email Greg Rachac at Greg.Rachac@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @gregrachac