BOZEMAN - Home was finally sweet for the Montana State Bobcats on Saturday afternoon.
Junior safety Kevin Retoriano returned an interception 64 yards for a touchdown with 1:03 to play to help MSU end a four-game Big Sky Conference home losing streak by downing Northern Colorado 20-7 at Bobcat Stadium.
The Bobcats (5-4 overall, 3-2 Big Sky) were clinging to a six-point lead and UNC (1-7, 1-4) was driving when Retoriano corralled a tipped pass from quarterback Bryan Waggener and ran untouched for the game-sealing score. It was MSU's first Big Sky win at home since downing Sacramento State 20-9 on Oct. 20, 2007.
"We really needed this," MSU coach Rob Ash said. "It was getting to be very difficult for the team and the fans. I told the team this week that these people buy a ticket and they deserve a good show."
The Bobcats kept their postseason hopes alive by taking an early 13-0 lead and holding off UNC's late rally.
The Bears had scored their first touchdown on a 1-yard run by senior running back David Woods with 10:01 remaining, cutting the lead to 13-7. The score came three plays after senior linebacker Joe Kenney intercepted a pass by Bobcat quarterback Cody Kempt at the Bears' 8 and returned it 79 yards to MSU's 13.
After Bobcat freshman kicker Jason Cunningham missed a 37-yard field goal with 3:24 remaining, UNC moved 43 yards on four plays before pressure on Waggener led to Retoriano's interception.
"I was just watching the quarterback's eyes," Retoriano said. "The ball got tipped and it was right there in my hands. You can't have it any better than that."
For three quarters, it appeared the Bobcats would easily earn revenge for last year's devastating 16-13 loss to the Bears in Greeley, Colo.
When senior running back Demetrius Crawford scored from 16 yards out with 10:17 to go in the third quarter, MSU led 13-0. The Bobcats scored their first six points on field goals by Cunningham, including a 52-yarder that equals the sixth-best mark in school history. Crawford finished with 100 yards and the touchdown on 21 carries, plus 33 yards receiving on three catches.
"Our backs were against the wall," Crawford said. "That's what was driving me. It was one of those games where we had to get it done."
MSU was driving toward another score and set to put the game away when Kenney stepped in front of Kempt's pass with 11:12 to play. Waggener helped bring UNC back by completing 20 of 37 passes for 246 yards, but his four interceptions were costly - especially the one to Retoriano. On that play, Waggener bobbled the snap, was quickly pressured and tried to get the ball to an opening running back. Instead, as the Bobcats began to wrap him up, he threw a wobbly pass straight to Retoriano.
"It's six of one, half-a-dozen of the other," UNC coach Scott Downing said. "If he makes the play, it's a great play. If he doesn't, the other kid makes a play and goes for a TD."
Northern Colorado outgained MSU in total yards 251-244, but was limited to 5 total rushing yards. The Bobcats, playing with a healthy defensive line for the first time in several weeks, had five sacks for 40 yards.