Montana St. KOs N. Hampshire 26-25 in FCS playoffs
BOZEMAN, Mont.—Rob Ash waited 32 years for his first postseason victory as a college football coach. So he didn't mind getting flagged for a little excessive celebration a few seconds before it was official.
Ash and his Montana State players came flying off their sideline after Steven Bethley tipped an extra point attempt with 6 seconds remaining Saturday to preserve the Bobcats' wild 26-25 victory over New Hampshire in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
Montana State (10-2) was penalized 15 yards for the celebration, but secured its quarterfinal trip to play Sam Houston State on Saturday by recovering the ensuing onside kick.
"I jumped as high as I could -- which isn't very high," said Ash, in his fifth year at Montana State after 18 years as head coach at Drake and nine at Juniata. "I've never been so OK with a 15-yard penalty."
Bethley's deflection of Mike MacArthur's extra-point attempt -- which hit the right upright -- came after New Hampshire's Kevin Decker hit Justin Mello with a 29-yard touchdown pass, his second scoring catch of the game. The Wildcats (8-4) had thought their season was over when Montana State's Darius Jones intercepted Decker at the 3-yard line with 1:16 to play, but they stopped the Bobcats' three running plays and took over at the 29 with 17 seconds to go after a shanked punt.
"I really thought we would have a good shot in overtime," Decker said.
Montana State overcame four turnovers, including three interceptions by quarterback DeNarius McGhee. Matt Evans returned one of McGhee's errant throws 58 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to give New Hampshire a 10-0 lead, and the Wildcats' Adrian Gonnell took a blocked extra point back for two points to make it 12-9 with 5:44 to play in the first half.
Mello's first scoring catch, an 18-yarder, gave New Hampshire a 19-9 lead 3:04 before halftime.
McGhee rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns, and also threw for 167 yards and a TD. His 2-yard run 25 seconds before halftime brought Montana State to within 19-16 and his 37-yard dash with 10:52 remaining in the third quarter put the Bobcats ahead to stay at 23-19.
Jason Cunningham kicked a 26-yard field goal with 9:38 left to give Montana State a seven-point lead before the late-game fireworks began.
"That was a great win we had," said Montana State's Elvis Akpla, who caught eight passes for 105 yards to give him 2,107 for his career and move past Chip Hobbs (1995-1999) into first place on the school's all-time list. "I really can't describe it."
It is the second time Montana State has defeated New Hampshire in the postseason by virtue of a blocked extra point. In 1976, the Bobcats won 17-16 en route to an NCAA Division II championship.
New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell was a player on that Wildcat team.
"My hat goes off to Montana State," McDonnell said. "That team's as good as any we played all year."