This feature on Montana State quarterback Travis Lulay, who’s now in the CFL, appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun.


October 28, 2004 10:00 pm

Sun Sports Staff

Here’s a stress-producing, frustration-building challenge: Go to the Library of Congress and thumb through thousands upon thousands of newspapers’ football game recaps or travel across the country and talk to hundreds of football coaches from Pop Warner to the NFL.

While doing so, try to find some evidence of someone not named Jake Plummer who has accomplished what Montana State quarterback Travis Lulay has done over the past three Saturdays.

Lulay has led his team to three successive wins on the game’s final drive.

The Bobcats began this remarkable stretch against Weber State Oct. 9. Trailing 14-0 at the half, Lulay and Co. scored 20 second-half points capped by E.J. Cochrane’s 44-yard field goal with no time remaining to win it 20-17.

A week later, Lulay threw for 375 yards in a 31-24 overtime triumph over Portland State. He was knocked out of the game in the first half, but returned to lead the Bobcats to a fourth-quarter rally; Justin Domenick scored the game-tying, 1-yard TD with no time left in regulation, and added the game-winning run in OT. (Here’s how teammate Brant Birkeland described Lulay’s game-changing impact that day after returning from an injury: “You see Superman coming out of the phone booth like that and it makes you play that much harder,” Birkeland told the Great Falls Tribune. “He’s a great leader.”)

The Lulay legend continued to grow last Saturday against South Dakota State, a game in which the junior QB threw for a career-high 411 yards and three touchdowns. It ended with Cochrane nailing a 22-yard field goal with two seconds left.

As a result, the 24th-ranked Bobcats (5-2 overall, 3-0 in the Big Sky Conference) are once again fighting for the conference championship, which they won a piece of the last two seasons.

“It’s not how you draw it up,” Lulay said of the down-to-the wire victories. “You don’t draw it up winning a heart-stopper every week … but as long as we’re winning the football game, that’s ultimately what counts. The record still shows we’re 5-2 right now. I think it’s just a testament to how hard we’ve been playing and some things have gone our way.”

Montana State coach Mike Kramer said, “He’s won big games, and he’s won them with his brains, his arm and his feet. … And like all legends, he’s driven by a competitive nature that has nothing to do with what he’s already accomplished.”

Indeed, NAU knows all about Lulay’s flair for the dramatic. After all, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Oregonian helped produce a magical victory for the Bobcats last October over NAU. In that contest, MSU trailed 17-7 with 2:19 remaining. Lulay engineered the comeback, running 32 yards for a TD with 1:07 left. After the Bobcats recovered an onsides kick, Lulay got back to work, finishing it off with a 1-yard keeper with 15 ticks left on the clock. And, voila, the Bobcats won the game, 21-17.

The Bobcats have been on a roll ever since and they’ve won eight straight Big Sky games.

“It really comes down to execution and critical plays in critical situations,” Lumberjacks coach Jerome Souers said. “Defenses have every opportunity to make a play, too. But that just makes a statement about Travis Lulay and the way he can rise above however they are struggling during the course of a game — things they are doing right, things they aren’t doing right — that he manages to bring it all together in the fourth quarter, in a critical situation.

“I’m sure in the fourth quarter we’ll be very aware of Travis Lulay and his mobility and the things that he can do.”

Lulay, who also serves as MSU’s rugby-style punter, said mental toughness is a key characteristic of his team.

“We never believe we are out of a football game, regardless of the score, regardless of how much time is on the clock,” he said.

That belief starts in the huddle and transcends any other thought during games, especially in crunch time.

“I think my teammates have recognized that I am a leader,” Lulay said. “My role in those situations is to keep guys cool and keep guys believing that we are going to go downfield and score, regardless of the situation. That’s my mentality in the huddle.”

Though Lulay doesn’t usually produce as many eye-popping statistics as Eastern Washington QB Erik Meyer or NAU’s Jason Murrietta, people recognize that he’s an exceptional quarterback.

“He’s won championships and led his team from behind and he’s a big-game quarterback,” Kramer said.

Poise and preparation make this happen.

“Confidence comes from time and repetition,” Souers said. “Lulay’s been doing it often enough that you have a pretty good feel that he can do it again (win a game in the closing seconds).”

The Lumberjacks just hope it doesn’t happen Saturday.