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Montana State running back Isaiah Ifanse breaks free against Idaho State earlier this season at Bobcat Stadium. Content Exchange

Wanting his pupil to be organized as he focuses on schoolwork and football, Jimmy Beal encouraged Isaiah Ifanse to create a daily schedule.

The Montana State junior running back, his position coach said, thought he was fine without one. But once he did, he balanced his education and his time dedicated to his play. With his day diligently planned, he had more time to watch film. He’s also set an example for the rest of the young Bobcats backs.

Countless times, Ifanse has kept MSU’s offense on schedule. He promptly gains yards, often giving the Bobcats manageable distances for first downs.

Ifanse’s production has been remarkably dependable for the Bobcats. And they’ll rely on him as No. 4-ranked MSU (7-1, 5-0 Big Sky) plays at No. 5 Eastern Washington (7-1, 4-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Roos Field in Cheney, Washington.

“They’re a good defense,” said Ifanse, a Bellevue, Washington, product who’s returning to his home state. “They have talent in all position groups. I think it’s going to be a good matchup. I would say we’re pretty excited, but we have to look at it like every other game and just go 1-0 this week.”

Ifanse, after taking countless hits this season, used MSU’s bye week to recover. He spent time in the weight room and focused on range of motion and flexibility. The Bobcats also fine-tuned the base aspects of their offense.

Ifanse believes he’s ready for the Eagles.

“I feel great,” he said.

Bobcats head coach Brent Vigen is wary of the explosiveness of EWU’s offense, which leads the FCS in yards and points per game, and quarterback Eric Barriere, who paces the nation in several statistical categories.

“Offensively, you’ve got to stay on the field,” Vigen said. “You’ve got to keep (Barriere) off the field. That’s your best defense is when he’s over on the sideline.”

The clearest way the Bobcats can do that is by running the ball often, dominating time of possession, keeping drives alive and scoring in the process. Ifanse is expected to play an important role in that effort.

He’s fifth in the country with 907 rushing yards on 150 carries to go with seven touchdowns. His 113.4 rushing yards per game leads the Big Sky.

“Isaiah can be a real factor,” Vigen said. “He’s got the ability to break tackles and get out in the open.

“He showed he can be a real problem for defenses.”

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Montana State running back Isaiah Ifanse celebrates a touchdown against Idaho State on Oct. 23 at Bobcat Stadium.

Ifanse has done so throughout his career. He’s sixth at MSU with 2,745 rushing yards. Delmar Jones (1975-78) is fifth with 2,819 and Don Hass (1965-67) is fourth with 2,954. All of those totals are within reach for Ifanse, if not against EWU, but the few games to follow. And he’s also within reach of breaking the record of 3,646 yards set by Ryan Johnson (1999-2002) at some point in his career.

Ifanse’s reached this point with stellar consistency. Of his 472 career rushes, just three were 70 yards or more and eight were at least 40 yards. Yet he still averages 5.8 yards per carry.

Ifanse is the only Bobcat to rush for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman. Willie Patterson, an MSU wide receiver from Tacoma, Washington, grew up with Ifanse. He marveled at Ifanse’s longevity.

“It’s mostly intelligence, but it’s kind of instincts as well. He’s been playing running back his whole life, so he knows how to tote that rock. Not many people want to go back there and take 20, 30-plus hits a game. That’s why I’m at receiver,” Patterson said. “Isaiah is a one-of-a-kind running back for sure.”

In MSU’s season opener at Wyoming, Ifanse didn’t have a carry in the first quarter. Yet he still finished three yards over 100 on 16 carries.

He didn’t worry about his lack of touching the ball early on. He was simply focused on fulfilling his assigned tasks.

He was frustrated, though, when he had the ball in the final seconds of that eventual loss and didn’t get out of bounds to preserve time. Instead of clamoring for more carries, he emphasized learning from his mistakes.

“As players, we strive for perfection,” Ifanse said. “We realize that just that one play can make a big difference in the game, so if those aren’t fixed, then it’ll be a long day.”

Early in the season, Ifanse critiqued himself, saying the Bobcats only ran “OK.” He needed to improve his footwork and locating the lanes his offensive line was paving. He also showed faith in MSU’s passing game, saying it was a “no-brainer to throw the ball” if opponents crowd the line of scrimmage to stop him.

But MSU offensive coordinator Taylor Housewright said he doesn’t care if all 11 defenders are keying in on the ground game. He’ll still want to mix in run plays. At some point, he noted, the Bobcats will need to gain a yard to secure a win. MSU may need to turn to Ifanse in that situation.

“Isaiah,” Housewright said, “he’s a stud.”

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Montana State running back Isaiah Ifanse scores a touchdown against Cal Poly on Oct. 9 at Bobcat Stadium.

After a 60-yard game against Drake, Ifanse ripped off three consecutive performances of at least 100 yards. That included a 217-yard outing at Portland State, which was just 10 yards away from his career high he set in 2018 against Cal Poly.

Vigen said after that Portland State game MSU “needed” Ifanse to reach the second level of the defense often. He did so, and Vigen called it a “tremendous game” for him.

“I felt good. It was good to carry the ball as much as I did. I liked it,” Ifanse said with a laugh.

Beal said he’s talked to Ifanse about his legacy at Montana State, and the coach noted Ifanse is seeking to be remembered. Part of that is through production. Another part is via the standard he seeks to establish for his team, and specifically his position group.

Patterson said Ifanse focused simply on his play as a freshman. But that’s changed over the past few seasons.

“He’s bringing these young guys along,” Patterson said. “These guys are following in his footsteps, and he’s showing them exactly how you run the ball at Montana State. So I feel like he’s grown tremendously as a leader.”

On a stage featuring two top-five teams in the country, the Bobcats know they can continue to depend on Ifanse.

“He’s one of a kind,” Patterson said. “The things I see him do on Saturdays are kind of surreal.

“Isaiah, man, he is a workhorse. I’ve never seen a back who can make so many dudes miss on one play. And every play, he plays so hard. … Thank God he’s on our team.”

Colton Pool can be reached at or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.

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