Montana 20

(9-3, 5-2 Big Sky)

Montana State 27

(7-5, 5-2 Big Sky)

2:00 PM ET, November 22, 2003

Bobcat Stadium (MT), Bozeman, MT

1 2 3 4 T
MONT 0 10 0 1020
MTST 6 7 7 727

Montana State 27, Montana 20

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) -- Montana State scored on two big returns in the first half and held off fourth-ranked Montana in the second for a 27-20 win that gave the Bobcats the Big Sky Conference's automatic berth in the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs.

Montana (9-3, 5-2), Montana State (7-5, 5-2) and Northern Arizona share the league title this season, but Montana State took the tiebreaker by virtue of wins over both teams.

It's likely the Bobcats, who snapped a 16-game losing streak to Montana last season, will be the 16th seed in the I-AA playoffs while Montana is expected to get an at-large bid. The pairings will be announced Sunday.

Corey Smith returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown and Kenneth Qualls returned an interception 54 yards for a score as the Bobcats took a 13-10 halftime lead.

Bruce Molock and quarterback Travis Lulay scored on 1-yard runs in the second half to build a 27-10 lead with 12:29 remaining in the game played in single-digit temperatures.

Montana rallied with a 32-yard field goal by Chris Snyder and a 6-yard TD pass from Craig Ochs to Dane Oliver, but the Bobcats' defense held on Montana's final possession.

Montana State had just one first down in the first half, but held Montana to a 38-yard field goal by Snyder and a 1-yard TD run by Justin Green. Snyder missed a 42-yard field goal on Montana's first drive.

Molock rushed for 106 yards and Lulay was 7 of 13 passes for 64 yards for the Bobcats, who also beat Montana in the final game of the regular season last year to share the league title and win a spot in the playoffs.

Ochs completed 14 of 23 passes for 151 yards, but was intercepted twice and sacked four times. Lex Hilliard rushed for 95 yards and Green added 87 for Montana.