Chris Murray had a career day, but it wasn’t enough to overcome two missed field goals by Montana State as fourth-ranked South Dakota State escaped with a 31-27 win on Saturday night.
Murray, last season’s Big Sky freshman of the year, posted spectacular numbers for an 18-year-old, completing 23 of 42 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns, all career highs. In addition, he scrambled his way downfield for 107 yards rushing, giving him 417 total yards.
After being whitewashed last week at Washington State, a Pac-12 power, the Bobcats got off to a fast start on their first possession, only to see a 33-yard field goal sail wide left. SDSU (2-0) took over from there, jumping to a 17-0 lead. The Bobcats (0-2) first points of the season came on a 6-yard toss from Murray to Jabarri Johnson just before halftime. SDSU scored first in the third quarter, before Murray again found Johnson in the end zone, this time from 41 yards out, to make the score 24-14.
Johnson, who played at American River Junior College in Sacramento last season, hauled in eight passes for 116 yards. After the Jackrabbits switched their focus to him, Murray then started going to Mitch Herbert. A 14-yard throw to the senior at the end of the third quarter, cut the deficit to 24-21 and the 19,801 gold-clad Bobcat faithful were at full pitch.
A sack by Derek Marks to open the fourth quarter forced the Jackrabbits to punt and Murray promptly found true freshman Lance McCutcheon way downfield to put the Bobcats within striking range again. On the next play, Murray’s 25-yard scoring pass to Kevin Kassis was called back due to a holding call, and moments later Luke Daly‘s 45-yard field goal attempt missed to the right.
Then came the backbreaker. The Bobcats defense stiffened on SDSU’s next possession and the Jackrabbits lined up for a field goal. But it was a fake, and SDSU kicker Chase Vinatieri’s 31-yard scoring dash put the game out of reach, 31-21.
Still Murray wasn’t done. Again he found Herbert for a touchdown, this one for 26 yards that closed out the scoring. Herbert caught nine balls for 111 yards. His two scoring grabs gave him 17 for his career, fourth best on the Bobcats all-time list.
The ensuing onside kick with just under 2 minutes to play was unsuccessful, and following a last-second SDSU punt, the Bobcats were unable to score in the waning moments.
Mac Bignell was a constant headache for SDSU. MSU’s senior linebacker was in on nine tackles, two behind the line of scrimmage. He also forced a fumble for the ninth time in his career, a total unmatched in Bobcat history.
MSU now has a week off before traveling to North Dakota on Sept. 23 to open Big Sky play. The next home game is Sept. 30 versus Weber State.