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It took until the first play of the final quarter, but Montana State finally created some meaningful distance from Idaho State.

After a quiet day passing to that point, Bobcats quarterback Matthew McKay found his most-trusted receiver Lance McCutcheon for a 27-yard touchdown in the front corner of the end zone.

It was the decisive, if belated, blow in No. 8 MSU’s 27-9 Big Sky victory over the Bengals Saturday at Bobcat Stadium.

“Not getting in a groove, however you want to characterize it, it didn’t happen in the first half,” MSU head coach Brent Vigen said. “We continued trusting (McKay) that he could make some plays, (that) was the thought process at halftime. Fortunately we were able to do that, maybe not as much as we’d like but enough to open up that score.”

McKay’s pass to McCutcheon put MSU (7-1, 5-0 Big Sky) ahead by two possessions for the first time all afternoon as both offenses struggled to finish drives, allowing ISU (1-6, 1-4) to hang around.

Later in the fourth, McKay found Willie Patterson, who made the most of his only catch and raced for a 65-yard score. The pass beefed up McKay’s final line: 10-of-21 passing for 136 yards.

Isaiah Ifanse and the running game helped move the ball more earlier in the game. Ifanse finished with 165 yards on the ground, the fifth time this season he’s gone over 100 yards.

“A guy that it takes more than one guy to bring him down, that’s what you’re looking for at that position,” Vigen said. “We would have been in tough shape if we didn’t have his 165 yards, I know that.”

Ifanse’s performance is becoming more and more commonplace as the season goes on.

“Once he gets going, he’s probably one of the best in the country right now,” said Taylor Tuiasosopo, who started at right tackle in place of the injured TJ Session.

MSU finished with 242 yards rushing on 30 carries. Idaho State found success there also, tallying 213 yards on 54 carries. Tyevin Ford led the Bengals in that regard, earning 112 yards.

Vigen chalked up that success to poor tackling mostly, but he also acknowledged the absence of nose tackle Chase Benson, who Vigen said injured himself during a walk-through before the game and was later seen with crutches on the sideline.

“Chase is an elite player in this conference,” Vigen said. “If you take him out of the mix, it’s going to have an effect.”

Both offenses were relatively quiet in the first half, with Montana State taking a 10-3 advantage into halftime.

The Bengals opened the scoring with a 44-yard field goal from David Allish with 2 minutes, 39 seconds to play in the first quarter. The Bobcats tied the game in the opening moments of the second quarter on Blake Glessner’s 54-yard field goal. He broke his own freshman record of 53 yards and now alone holds the sixth-longest field goal in school history.

MSU finally found the end zone on a 10-yard rush from Ifanse with 6:30 left in the half. His score capped a 12-play, 86-yard drive that ate up nearly six minutes of clock.

“We just kept pounding the rock,” Tuiasosopo said. “Those 2- or 3-yard runs are going to burst.”

The drive was kept alive near the end on a defensive pass interference penalty called on ISU’s Jayden Dawson against MSU’s Jaden Smith at the goal line.

The teams traded field goals in the third quarter — Allish hit from 24 and Glessner hit from 29.

The Bengals had to settle for their’s after a Hunter Hays pass to Jalen Henderson was ruled incomplete upon review once it was apparent the receiver’s foot slipped out of bounds while jerking forward in an attempt to catch a tipped ball in the end zone.

Hays was one of three quarterbacks the Bengals used at different points throughout the game.

“With each player, they bring a little bit of a different skill set,” defensive end Amandre Williams said. “We knew some were predominantly throwers, some were predominantly runners. We don’t necessarily change what we’re doing, we still gotta execute our jobs, but with that in mind we know what we’re getting.”

Hays was the primary passer, going 12-of-24 for 111 yards. He was sacked three times. Sebastian Valdez and Williams each recorded solo sacks, while David Alston and Ben Seymour combined on another. MSU linebacker Troy Andersen tallied a game-best 16 tackles, including one for a loss.

The Bobcats also had to settle for a field goal after their drive stalled in the third. Ifanse carried for 59 yards down to the ISU 7, but McKay took a pair of losses to push the offense backwards.

After McKay’s touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, Allish connected on a 39-yarder to complete Idaho State’s scoring.

Montana State has now won seven consecutive games and has a bye next week before facing Eastern Washington on the road on Nov. 6. The Eagles entered Saturday ranked No. 2 in the country, but they lost 35-34 at home to Weber State.

“Confidence out the roof,” Tuiasosopo said, “but we have the ability to still stay humble as a program. … We obviously got this bye week for everybody’s bodies to get back and then we have one of the biggest challenges coming.”

Parker Cotton can be reached at pcotton@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @ByParkerCotton.

This article originally ran on bozemandailychronicle.com.

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