Bobcat History Lesson: 11 Years Ago Today
In popular American lore, the Civil War battle at Gettysburg is considered the high tide of the Confederacy. Never again did the rebellious Confederate States come closer to complete independence from the U.S. Looking at the Bobcat football program in that mindset, high tide in the 1990s is not hard to find. It came on October 23, 1993. On a crisp afternoon under a bright-blue late autumn sky in Reno H. Sales Stadium, Montana State pulled off one of the great upsets in the program's proud history.
At that time, Bobcat football was on the rise. The 'Cats had won four games the previous season, Cliff Hysell's first at MSU, and entered the 1993 Idaho game with five wins, more than a Bobcat team had managed in the previous nine years. When the 'Cats looked across the field 11 years ago today, though, it saw an imposing sight. The Idaho Vandals were Division I-AA's model program, producing NFL players and dominant teams. Idaho was 6-0 and ranked #1 in the nation.
With a zealous backing and its terrific marching band in tow, current Michigan State head coach John L. Smith led the Vandals into a game it had every reason to believe would not be much of a problem. But it found a hungry, fired up Bobcat team.
Quarterback Doug Nussmeier, who won the 1993 Payton Trophy as Division I-AA's top player, and dynamic running backs Sherriden May and Joel Thomas, led the Vandal offense. Idaho was an offensive juggernaut in October 1993, chewing up 533 yards a game. Bobcat coach Cliff Hysell called the Vandals 'scary' the week of the game, and plenty of evidence existed to make that case. Idaho's 6-0 record included a 28-17 win at Utah and offensive outputs of 49, 56, and 61 points. Most frightening, Idaho had played only two of its first six games at home.
From the game's outset, it was obvious that MSU was ready to play. A 79-yard touchdown dash by Nussmeier at the close of the first quarter got Idaho on the scoreboard, but a 7-3 lead after 15 minutes was paltry for mighty Idaho. The low-scoring first quarter led to a fireworks-filled second stanza.
After gaining only 51 first-quarter yards, the Bobcats rolled up 158 in the second. Fred Moore scored a pair of touchdowns in the early part of the quarter, and a pair of Jeff Stevens field goals gave the 'Cats a 20-7 lead. Idaho got back on top 21-20, getting touchdown runs by Joel Thomas and Sheriden May. But now, the Bobcats were about to really get cooking.
With eight minutes left in the third quarter, Bobcat quarterback Brock Spencer capped a 73-yard scoring drive with a 19-yard pass to Raymond Braggs. MSU led 28-21, and the game was turning into a shootout, the kind in which a big defensive play can usually tip the balance one way or the other. Right then, the Bobcat defense was up to the task.
Idaho faced a third-and-three in its own territory on its next possession when Mark Grimmer snagged a Nussmeier pass near midfield and raced to the Vandal 16. With the third quarter about to expire, Spencer found Braggs in the end zone for a 34-21 Bobcat lead.
On the ensuing possession, the Bobcat defense again stepped up. Wade Rademacher put the Vandals in a hole with a sack, and after two incomplete passes Idaho punted. Now feeding like a shark in bloody water, the Bobcat offense went back to work. Spencer found tailback Clint Morton for 13 yards, then for 33 yards, then Morton ran for five yards, nine yards, and into the end zone from one yard out.
A Jason Hicks sack helped force a Vandal punt on the team's next offensive possession, but a missed field goal by Stevens gave the Vandals hope. Trailing 40-21, Nussmeier marched the Vandals 80 yards for a score, and with three minutes left started another scoring drive that would draw Idaho closer at 40-35.
With 30 seconds left, Idaho's only option was an on-side kick. Again, Grimmer was in the right place, recovering the kick to preserve the win. Despite the game's high-scoring nature, MSU's defense stepped up big. Grimmer had seven tackles in addition to his interception. Hicks had 11 tackles, two for a loss. The Vandals failed to reach the 500-yard total offense mark, while MSU rang up nearly 450 yards, way over its season average.
The Bobcats registered another stunning win the following week, winning at Bronco Stadium in Boise for the only time in MSU history, but came back to earth with home losses to Eastern Washington and Montana. Spurred by that glorious moment in 1993, the Bobcats played well for the next five seasons. From 1993 to '98, MSU was 34-32, and a program that was moribound when Hysell arrived was back on solid footing. But Hysell's Bobcats would never again scale those heights. That win over number one was the high-water mark of Bobcat football in the '90s.