BOZEMAN - Mark Desin wasn't going to carry the load on Saturday.
That became obvious when his first pass of the day sailed over his intended target and into the hands of a Portland State defensive back.
And so, what Desin needed what a support system. What he needed was a lifeline.
What he needed was Demetrius Crawford.
In what was the best performance of his Bobcat career, Crawford ran wild against the Vikings, igniting a battered MSU offense in search of a hero.
Make no mistake. Portland State's run defense is awful. The worst in the league. Even I could have gotten 50 yards on Saturday.
But Crawford didn't just "get his yards." He trampled the Vikings, breaking tackles and looking as unstoppable - untackleable? Is that a word? - as ever.
When it was over, Crawford had 187 of his team's 369 rushing yards.
"Wow," Cats coach Rob Ash said.
"I'm going to take a minute on this now, because Demetrius Crawford is a special football player. I've coached a long time, and I don't think I've seen a player that is so consistently dynamic and consistently gives you the 110 percent effort. He never, ever gives up on a play in any game, any time. He's a sensational athlete in that respect."
As the quarterback at Billings Senior High School, Desin was a passing machine. At the time, the Broncs' offense called for little running, instead relying on Desin to lift them to high-scoring success.
But in his first start at quarterback since leaving Senior in 2006, Desin took on a complete role reversal, handing the ball off 43 times while tucking it down 12 times of his own.
Crawford, who carried 27 times, made Desin's life very simple.
"It's pretty easy," Desin said. "All you do is just stick the ball out there. You know the O-line is going to have a hole and he's going to break some tackles. It definitely makes it easy on the quarterback, especially a guy in his first start of the season. Without that, it would have been way tougher. It was awesome to have that part of the game going for us."
Give Desin his due. He had his moments.
In what was his best stretch of the game midway through the third quarter, Desin hit high school teammate and MSU receiver Derek Green for 29 yards, connected with Crawford on a crisp swing pass for nine yards two plays later, then scored on a play-action bootleg to give the Cats a 21-10 lead.
Earlier in the game he guided the Cats on a 90-yard scoring drive. Later in the game he hit Kyle Begger on play-action while under-duress for his first-ever college touchdown pass.
But those were just moments. The game ball on this day went to Crawford.
"We knew he was a very good back," said Portland State coach Jerry Glanville. "For some reason he didn't run that good on us last year. And then watching him against Northern Arizona and everybody else, we knew what he was - a very good football player.
"Sometimes on film you think he's a fast guy that can cut and dart, but he also brings power. We missed him enough times. You miss him because he makes you miss."
Montana State is down to the nitty gritty on offense.
Quarterbacks Cody Kempt and Mark Iddins are both out for the year with injuries. Receiver DeSean Thomas and tight end Brandon Bostick are too. And center Jimmy Verlanic is banged up and didn't play on Saturday.
So it's no real surprise that the Bobcats looked to Crawford on Saturday.
"Running the football is the best way to win football games, and we work hard at that," Ash said. "We scheme the run game well, we teach it well I think, and our guys go out and execute it well and play with a physical attitude about it. It's a great way to win games. I'm really, really happy with what we're doing in that phase of the game."
In six days MSU will travel to Missoula for the 108th Cat-Griz game. A win at Washington-Grizzly Stadium just may put the Bobcats in the FCS playoffs. A loss and their season is over.
Ash's formula for a victory isn't a secret. With Desin under center, MSU will line up and try to run the ball against a stout Grizzly defense looking to lift its team to a high postseason seed.
If Crawford and his offensive line can bring it like they did against the Vikings, Montana State has more than a fighting chance.
Contact Greg Rachac at email@example.com or 657-1397