By Greg Logan, Newsday DeNarius McGhee and defense. In a nutshell, that's the combination Big Sky co-champion Montana State used to earn the third seed in the FCS playoffs and a significant homefield advantage at 17,777-seat Bobcats Stadium for its second-round game against Stony Brook at 7 p.m. Saturday in Bozeman, Mont.
Quarterback McGhee is a two-time offensive MVP in the Big Sky, averaging 272.3 yards total offense per game and completing 67.4 percent of his passes for 22 touchdowns. He leads a West Coast-style offense that ranks ninth in FCS scoring (36.6) and sixth in time of possession (33:42) with a boost from running back Cody Kirk, who has rushed for 815 yards.
The Bobcats (10-1) have the seventh-ranked rushing defense (96.0) and will be facing a Stony Brook offense that ranks fifth in rushing (288.3) with the combination of backs Miguel Maysonet and Marcus Coker.
"It will be two teams that like to do the same thing -- try to play good defense and have good possession time," Montana State coach Rob Ash said. "It will be a battle of wills, I guess."
Stony Brook's offensive line averages about 40 pounds a man more than a Bobcats defensive front anchored by 252-pound end Caleb Schreibeis and 295-pound tackle Zach Minter, the one player who matches up well physically. Jody Owens leads a group of quick, hard-hitting linebackers.
"We're always undersized compared to the teams we play, and maybe a little more so in this game because Stony Brook has outstanding size in their line," Ash said. "But our guys are used to it. Caleb and our other end, [240-pound] Brad Daly, are very light, but they're tough, strong Montana kids who love to play and use their quickness to their advantage."
Ultimately, the difference-maker for MSU is McGhee. He has led the Bobcats to at least a share of three straight Big Sky titles.
"DeNarius McGhee is one of the best winners and best competitors I've ever coached," Ash said. "He's a great passer, but he also can run extremely well. We don't have a lot of scheduled runs for him. Unscripted ones are the best runs. He has a knack for moving the chains."
McGhee trusts the Bobcats' defense to slow the Seawolves' running game, but he's focused on trying to take an early lead to put Stony Brook (10-2) in catch-up mode. "We have to put points on the board," McGhee said. "If we score quickly or hit some big shots through the air or drive the ball down the field very quickly, we'll put pressure on their offense."
Playing a night game is a novelty for Montana State, which installed lights just last year and has used them only once -- in the opener this season. McGhee can't wait.
"When the lights come on, the players come out," McGhee said. "Hopefully, I'm ready to showcase what I have and our offense is ready to do what we have to do to get a win."