BOZEMAN — It worked once before in the first half, so the Montana State football team went back to the well.
Midway through the third quarter, quarterback Sean Chambers kept the ball on a read option and found a gaping hole to his right. Thanks to some key blocks by the MSU receiving corps, Chambers exploded down the sideline, untouched, for a 65-yard touchdown.
Chambers took full advantage of his first start under center for MSU, leading the No. 4-ranked Bobcats to a 41-24 victory against UC Davis in the Big Sky home opener. The Wyoming transfer set new career highs in both passing yards and rushing yards, and accounted for five total touchdowns.
With starting quarterback Tommy Mellott sidelined with a head injury suffered last week against Eastern Washington, Chambers got his first chance to lead the Montana State offense.
Chambers had been featured in the previous four games — particularly in the Bobcats’ extremely effective run game — but still left some uncertainty throwing the ball. A rain-drenched pregame didn’t help matters.
It took just two plays for Chambers to make an impact. Following a Davis punt and a 4-yard rush by MSU running back Elijah Elliott, Chambers found a hole to his right on a read option. As he cut outside, Chambers used key blocks by wide receiver Ravi Alston and tight end Derryk Snell to score on a 78-yard rush, untouched.
But Davis is no slouch in the run game, either, led by preseason Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year running back Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. On the next drive, Gilliam broke off a 38-yard run for a touchdown. MSU free safety Jeffrey Manning Jr. had a chance to make a tackle around the 10-yard line, but Gilliam made a quick cut to avoid the stop.
Chambers looked to keep the run game alive on the next drive. The Bobcats ran hurry-up on a 4th-and-1 on the Davis side of the field, but Chambers was stopped short. Davis then took a 10-7 lead with a 38-yard field goal by Isaiah Gomez.
The MSU offense found its groove once again in the second quarter. Chambers came out of the break with a 37-yard jump ball to Alston down the sideline. Elliott then took the next pass 37 yards before Chambers punched in the 3-yard score.
A promising drive by quarterback Miles Hastings and the Davis offense was stopped short by a Sebastian Valdez sack and a pair of penalties. The Aggies converted a successful fake punt — on a 25-yard run by Justin Poerio — but Hastings’ next pass was picked off by MSU corner James Campbell.
MSU wideout Willie Patterson hauled in a pair of tough grabs on the following drive — an over-the-shoulder 34-yard catch and an 18-yard fade to the end zone — to extend the Bobcats’ lead. The teams then traded field goals to go into halftime with MSU up 24-13.
Chambers wasn’t perfect in the first half — two dropped would-be interceptions stand out — but he did account for over 300 yards of total offense (181 passing, 121 rushing) and three touchdowns.
In response, Davis got more creative offensively early in the second half. Most notably, Gilliam took a handoff to his right, stopped and passed to tight end McCallan Castles for a 22-yard score. The Aggies caught the Bobcats sleeping on the extra-point attempt, with holder Henry Reich rushing up the middle for the 2-point conversion.
MSU capitalized on special teams as well, with wideout Marqui Johnson taking the ensuing kickoff 67 yards. Chambers then found wide receiver Clevan Thomas Jr. for a 29-yard touchdown.
Davis later added a 40-yard field goal before Chambers’ 65-yard rushing score.
And as if the Bobcats needed another stroke of luck, kicker Blake Glessner’s 30-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter bounced off the left upright and in.
MSU will next host Idaho State for homecoming next Saturday. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.
This story will be updated.