Leathernecks edged out 23-14 by Montana State in home-opener

Christopher Bean, Assistant Sports Editor


MACOMB, Ill. — Western Illinois University Leathernecks (0-3) hosted the 10th ranked team in the nation, Montana State University Bobcats (2-1). The Bobcats 23-14 win earned them their second win in as many years against the Leathernecks.

After a three-and-out to start the game for the ‘Necks’ offense, Montana State had a 10-play, 64-yard touchdown drive to give the Bobcats an early 7-0 lead. The Leathernecks had them stopped on 3rd and 13 but a roughing the passer penalty by senior LaCale London extended the drive. Senior Logan Jones ended the drive with a 14-yard touchdown. Jones was stellar all day with 167 yards on 21 touches, earning him eight yards per carry. After the score, both teams were very sloppy on offense, combining for seven punts and a fumble by Western.

After negative plays that forced the Bobcats to punt, Western got the ball at their 29-yard line. Two plays later, redshirt junior Connor Sampson found junior Dennis Houston 10 yards down the field, and Houston did the rest, cruising by the secondary for a 65-yard touchdown tying the game at 7-7. Montana State had a promising drive, but junior Marquis Smith forced and picked up the fumble, giving Western defense their only turnover in the game. The next three drives resulted in punts, and the Bobcats got the ball on their 41-yard line with 20 seconds left in the half after a 13-yard punt. Montana State picked up 21 yards in 15 seconds, setting up a deep shot to the endzone, but Travis Jonsen couldn’t haul it in, in the corner of the endzone to end the half.

The Bobcats started off the second half with the ball and just like their first drive of the first half, the Bobcats scored on their first drive of the second half. This time it was a 27-yard field goal from senior Tristan Bailey that capped off a nine-play 71-yard drive. After another punt from the Leathernecks, it only took the Bobcats 12 seconds to score, thanks to an 87-yard touchdown by Jones. Western did not go away that easy, putting together an eight-play, 75-yard drive. The Leathernecks converted on two third downs and senior Jared Drake scored a three-yard drive to pull the Necks within three.

After the Leatherneck defense forced a three-and-out, the Leathernecks were driving again. Early in the fourth, Western had a 3rd and 3 from the Bobcats 22-yard line. Sampson dropped back and threw his second interception of the year to senior Damien Washington. This was the beginning of a miserable fourth quarter for the ‘Necks. After Western held the Bobcats to another punt, redshirt freshman Zaire Williams fumbled the ball on the punt return, giving MSU great field position on the Western 25. The Leatherneck defense came up huge again and forced a field goal to keep it a one position game. After a good kickoff return, Western had the ball on their 40-yard line with 11:05 left in the game. A 36-yard play to senior George Wahee set up Western to the MSU 14. But on 2nd and 9, Western got called for holding, setting up a 35-yard field goal for senior Nathan Erickson. Erickson has been reliable all year but missed a crucial field goal, adding to miscues for the ‘Necks. The very next drive, Montana State had a nice 10-play 50-yard drive that ended up with a Bailey 47-yard field goal that iced the game. For the second year in-a-row, Montana State defeated the Leathernecks.

In Western’s first three games of the year they have not held a lead, and they continue to make the same mistakes. They will need to pick it up because they play in the toughest conference in the FCS. Western will host Tennessee Tech next Saturday at 3 p.m. The ‘Necks beat them 41-14 two years ago. They are hoping for a win before conference play.