Western Illinois began its 2018 season the way it ended last year--with a road to a Big Sky Conference opponent.
After leading for most of the game, the Leathernecks fell Thursday night 26-23 at Montana State. WIU lost 21-19 last November to Weber State in the FCS playoffs.
"I had a feeling this was going to be a dogfight," said WIU's Jared Elliott who made his head coaching debut Thursday. "Our kids continued to play well in a hostile environment, but at the end of the day, we have to make those three plays that we didn't. We turned the ball over more than they did. They won the field position battle, and overall, we have to make those plays when we need them the most."
Montana State pulled out the victory when Tristen Bailey kicked his fourth field goal of the night, the game-winner coming from 35 yards out with 4:02 remaining. Bailey's 50-yarder just a few earlier had tied the game at 23.
With under two minutes left in the game, WIU was forced to go on fourth down from midfield. Montana State defensive end Bryce Sterk, a transfer from Washington, sacked Leatherneck quarterback Sean McGuire, icing the Bobcats' win in front of a crowd of 18,507.
"This was a very disappointing loss," Elliott said on GoLeathernecks.com "This hurts and it should hurt. Our kids are hurting, our staff's hurting. We put a lot into this preparation, and we didn't get the outcome we wanted, but you'll definitely learn from losses. We'll get back home to Macomb and find a way to clean some things up and get better in our execution."
5 stats that stood out
3 -- Touchdowns scored by WIU running back Steve McShane
4 -- Sacks of Western QB Sean McGuire
14 -- More plays that Western ran compared to Montana State
20.6 -- Combined percentage of third-down completions by the two teams (WIU 3-15; MSU 3-14)
78 -- More yards of total offense produced by Western than Montana State
Coming off of a season-high 11 touchdowns a year ago, WIU running back Steve McShane scored all three Leatherneck touchdowns. The Freeport native's first touchdown with a three-yard rush in the first quarter and added another with an over-the-helmet, 18-yard catch in the second. His final score came on a two-yard reception on a fourth down play in the third quarter, giving WIU a 20-13 lead.
McShane rushed 11 times for 76 yards. He added six catches for 40 yards.
Western used two different kickers on field goal attempts. Junior Nathan Erickson missed from 48 yards while redshirt junior Sam Crossa connected on his 38-yard attempt.
Montana State's Tristen Bailey nailed all four of his attempts, converting from 21, 47, 50 and 35 yards.
Downfield game lacking
Eight different WIU receivers caught at least one pass from quarterback Sean McGuire, however nearly all of the production came from the backfield.
Running backs Steve McShane (6 catches), Clint Ratkovich (5) and Jared Drake (4) accounted for 75 percent of Western's receptions. No Leatherneck wide receiver had more than one reception.
McGuire averaged just 8.2 yards per completion in the loss. Take away Ratkovich's 40-yard reception and the per completion average drops to 6.2. No wide receiver had a catch longer than eight yards.
Western returns to action Sept. 8 with a trip to the University of Illinois. Kick-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
What this means
With an FBS/Big 10 team on the schedule next week, Western will likely head into its Sept. 15 home opener against Montana with an 0-2 record.