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Associated Press
Weber State's Devin Pugh (3), Anthony Morales (44) and Willie Okwuonu (2) tackles Montana State's Cody Kirk (25) during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011, in Ogden, Utah. Montana State won 44-24. (AP Photo/Standard-Examiner, Nicholas Draney)

OGDEN — It was a tale of two halves, and the second half wasn't nearly as good to the Weber State football team as the first one was.

Montana State University, trailing 24-20 at halftime, came out after intermission with renewed purpose and showed why it's the second-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision by whipping the Wildcats 44-24 on Saturday at Stewart Stadium.

MSU quarterback DeNarius McGhee, whose first two passes of the game were intercepted by the Wildcats, shook off his horrific start by throwing for 310 yards and three touchdowns as the Bobcats beat Weber State for the seventh straight time in Ogden.

With the win, the Bobcats (9-1, 7-0 Big Sky Conference) clinched at least a share of the league championship going into its regular-season finale with in-state rival Montana.

"That was a goal of ours to try to get that," MSU coach Rob Ash said of the Big Sky title. "But I know this team wants to accomplish more. … We don't feel like we're finished."

Weber State, though, might feel like it is. The Wildcats suffered their third straight setback, slipping to 3-6 overall and 3-3 in the Big Sky.

What's more, adding injury to insult, WSU head coach Ron McBride suffered a torn ACL in his right knee when he was hit on the sidelines following a first-quarter interception by his defense. Coach Mac toughed it out and stayed on the sidelines until the end of the game, but he couldn't have liked what he saw.

Yes, it was that kind of day for the Wildcats, who were not only shut out in the second half but are now assured of a losing season.

"It's the story of this season, being inconsistent and not playing for four quarters," said frustrated Weber State sophomore linebacker Anthony Morales. "In the second half, we just put our tails between our legs and let them do whatever they wanted."

Sophomore running back Josh Booker, who rushed for a career-high 121 yards and scored two first-half touchdowns for the Wildcats, echoed Morales' sentiments.

"I felt like we had a lot of momentum in the first half and I felt like we were going to keep rolling," Booker said. "But a football game isn't 30 minutes, it's 60 minutes."

And those last 30 minutes all belonged to Montana State.

"We did a terrible job of protecting the ball in the first half," Ash said.

"We gave Weber a lot of opportunities and put our defense in a bad spot.

"The second half we did a better job of protecting the ball and the defense got it away from them a few times.

"I felt fortunate that we were only down by four at the half. I thought that was very big that we went in at halftime with only a four-point deficit after playing as poorly as we did. … Going in just four points down, we thought we could come back."

And come back they did.

Midway through the third quarter, McGhee found Elvis Akpla behind the WSU defense for a 59-yard pass play that had the Bobcats knocking on the door for a go-ahead score. McGhee hit Steven Foster with a 6-yard TD toss on the next play to put Montana State on top to stay, 27-24.

"I felt like even before that we were starting to get a lot of momentum," Akpla said. "Our defense was getting a lot of stops. … DeNarius threw a really great ball and it just kind of sparked our comeback from there."

Then Montana State put together a long drive capped by Jason Cunningham's 26-yard field goal that made it 30-24 with 7.8 seconds left in the third quarter.

Weber State missed an opportunity to trim the deficit when Shaun McClain's 37-yard field goal try was blocked by the Bobcats early in the fourth period.

Then Montana State put it out of reach when McGhee hooked up with tight end Shane Robison on a 37-yard touchdown pass that boosted the Bobcats' lead to 37-24 with 6:25 left to play.

If that wasn't enough, MSU's Cody Kirk careened into the end zone on a 13-yard TD run with 2:04 to go to make it 44-24, and those 'Cats from Bozeman were headed home with an impressive 20-point victory.

"We want to have our offense's back," said Montana State linebacker Clay Bignell. "They were struggling and we just wanted to keep the game close, keep the game close. We knew we have way too high-powered of an offense to keep them down for four quarters. … We knew our offense would explode at some point.

"We're a pretty confident team. We were down by four points at halftime and we knew we had played about as bad as we could play in that first half. We wanted to go out there and execute the game plan like we were supposed to in the first half, and that's what we did. We take pride in playing four quarters."

Something the Wildcats, by their own admission, couldn't do.

"In the second half, they took care of the football and we didn't," said WSU assistant head coach Matt Hammer, subbing for the injured Coach McBride in the postgame interview room. "We just didn't do our job in the second half."

Email: rhollis@desnews.com