BROOKINGS, S.D. - When Montana State was eliminated in last year's national semifinals by South Dakota State, Cats' head coach Bren Vigen noted one thing among others — how his offensive and defensive lines weren't as physical as South Dakota State — at least on that day.
Despite Saturday night's nail-biting 20-16 loss, the rematch in Brookings was an entirely different story.
No. 3-ranked Montana State completely dominated time of possession and total yards in the first half, wearing down SDSU's defense before the No. 1-ranked Jackrabbits recovered in the second.
"I feel at times we certainly held our own," Vigen said. "Made plays with both groups but I'm sure at times they'd say the same thing for them (SDSU). And I don't know, there was a gap that (semifinal) day. I don't think there was that big of a gap last year, but there was a gap that day and our guys continue to work hard to become their very best.
"I think we've made strides and we need to keep those groups coming around because we lean on the O-line and D-line for our success on both sides of the ball."
Overall, MSU controlled the ball for 35:23 to just 24:37 for South Dakota State.
"I thought on both sides of the ball those guys played their (expletive) off and that's what hurts the most," said Cats' quarterback Sean Chambers, who had 20 carries for 90 yards.
"Watching those guys put in all that work on the off-season and working hard and beating each other up and going through it together, they put that on display. I'm proud of those guys, offense and defense."
Linebacker Danny Uluilakepa echoed those thoughts.
"We've taken a big step," he said. "Just practicing off one another and getting better every day. And like Sean said, this is just the start so, the physicality that we're bringing to the game now... I love to see it."
The Bobcats are back home Saturday in a 1 p.m. kickoff against Stetson.
Video of Saturday's postgame media conference can be seen here.