New-look uniforms couldn't cure all the old ills for the 2010 Montana Grizzlies, who didn't hang onto the ball at crucial times Saturday in their 21-16 Brawl of the Wild loss to Montana State.
In a tight, frigid game played in front of a record crowd at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, the black-clad Grizzlies fell mainly because a dominant third quarter yielded just two points.
Fumbles inside the 5-yard line by Gerald Kemp and Chase Reynolds - Reynolds was playing through an injured right shoulder - bracketed an interception by MSU's Jordan Craney at the Bobcat 20.
The eighth-ranked Bobcats got the wind at their backs in the fourth quarter, withstood a drive to their 15 and then picked off a last-second Hail Mary.
Then they celebrated in the blowing snow.
"We talk all year about takeaways," said MSU coach Rob Ash, who gained his first coaching win against UM in four tries. "Our guys work at it. We think about it all the time. As the other team gets closer to the goal line you keep thinking, ‘We've got to find some ways to get these guys stopped.' "
Denarius McGhee, MSU's impressive freshman quarterback, threw touchdown passes to Tanner Bleskin and C.J. Palmer. Bobcat tailback Orenzo Davis ran for 140 yards, including a jarring 17-yard touchdown that provided the winning points at 9:18 of the second quarter.
The Bobcats, who nailed down the Big Sky Conference's automatic berth into the playoffs, never trailed.
"It's the best feeling I've had," said McGhee, who was 11-for-18 passing for 138 yards. "We're on top right now. We have to continue to work toward the next team, but we'll celebrate this win for a couple days."
The contest was notable for seeing the first five drives end in touchdowns, and also for seeing just two points scored in the final 39 minutes of action.
Those came on possibly the play of the game: MSU punter Rory Perez chased down a "jailbreak" snap 25 yards and swept it out of his end zone, with a little help from teammate Sean Gords.
The safety kept the Griz from tying the game; instead, they took over near midfield after the ensuing free kick.
A 16-yard option keeper by Justin Roper, a 19-yard screen pass to Jabin Sambrano and a 14-yard run by Reynolds set the Grizzlies up first and goal.
Then, the unthinkable: Reynolds took a handoff and had the ball popped loose by MSU's Jody Owens. Clay Bignell recovered for the Cats at their 2.
"That's on me," said Reynolds, who ran for 180 yards. "I've got to hold onto the ball. Those are mistakes you can't make."
Reynolds played heroically, rolling up 126 yards before reinjuring a troublesome right shoulder in the second quarter.
He provided the perfect answer to MSU's cold-blooded opening drive: A 59-yard touchdown burst on UM's first offensive snap. Reynolds' Drummond High School teammate, center Alex Verlanic, threw the lead block.
"That was a tough situation," said Ash. "Bad play. We work like crazy to get a touchdown, and they get one pretty easily.
"But nobody panics on this football team. We know plays are going to happen. You just move on."
McGhee promptly drove MSU 84 yards in 13 plays, ending with a 9-yard shovel pass to Palmer. There was 3:57 left in the first quarter.
Montana answered with a 58-yard drive. Roper's 6-yard run on a zone-read tied the game at 14-all with 16 seconds left in the period.
Then Davis untied it for good, dodging a tackle by Jimmy Wilson and absorbing a hit by Brandon Dodson for his 17-yard run. That capped another impressive 80-yard MSU drive.
A couple possessions later Reynolds went down in a heap after trying to leap over corner Darius Jones on a 9-yard run.
"I've had pretty bad luck with the shoulders," he said. "It was hurting pretty bad this week, and I just landed on it just right. It hurt probably worse than it ever has.
"Gerald got some playing time, we did a few things to fix it and I went back out there."
MSU struggled with field position in the fourth quarter and gave the ball back near midfield with 4:50 left, after a short Perez punt. Reynolds had a couple carries before an 8-yard run by Roper and a 20-yard gain by Kemp put UM in the red zone. Then the Cats stiffened.
On fourth down, Roper fired a pass over an open Bryce Carver on the left sideline with 1:23 remaining.
"I got hit as I threw and couldn't finish my throw," said Roper, who had checked down to Carver. "I guess it sailed on me. I didn't really see the result."
The Bobcats got their first win over UM since 2005 and are playoff-bound for the first time since 2006.
The Grizzlies, who had a 17-game home win streak against Big Sky foes snapped, will find out Sunday if their 17-year FCS playoff streak is also ending.
"The issue was not effort or the will to win," said Roper. "We didn't hang onto the ball. I threw an interception. Maybe a lack of focus at certain times was the knock today. Not effort or scheme, or how we played."
Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 523-5247 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.