BOZEMAN - First they gambled and then they rumbled, and the Montana Grizzlies finished off a fine regular season with a 36-10 thrashing of top-ranked Montana State in the 111th Brawl of the Wild on Saturday.
Dan Moore ran for a career-best 116 yards and a touchdown for the No. 7 Griz, who figure to move up in the polls and get a bye into the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. Peter Nguyen had a game-high 123 yards and the game's final TD, with 9:28 left.
Together, the duo took the starch out of a chilled, record crowd of 20,247 at Bobcat Stadium. The Cats, ranked No. 1 only a week, found little running room against the Griz and saw their nine-game winning streak snapped.
Montana, meanwhile, piled up 309 rushing yards against what was the Big Sky Conference's best team against the run. Moore gave ample credit to his offensive line.
"When they pulled, they pulled fast," said the junior, who had a 37-yard scoring run to put UM up 29-7 at 5:37 of the third quarter. "And the holes opened up. They finished blocks downfield and got to the second level, and we just had to make the safety miss. And I think we did that today."
The Grizzlies piled up 316 yards of offense after halftime to notch a surprisingly lopsided win.
Before then, they made some nervy play calls to forge a 12-0 lead.
Quarterback Jordan Johnson, who threw for 164 yards and two touchdowns, ran for 4 yards on fourth down ahead of a Brody McKnight field goal - the game's first points - at 9:10 of the second quarter.
The Griz went for it again late in the first half, after driving to first-and-goal. They called a timeout after a third-down run by Moore went nowhere, and came back with a Johnson pass to tight end Kavario Middleton.
Middleton, shadowed in the right corner of the end zone, came down with the TD at the 2:15 mark.
"I was fired up about that," Johnson said of the gamble. "It was pretty well covered and I just tried to put it in a spot where only Kavario would catch it or nobody would catch it."
That came after McKnight rugby-styled a punt down to MSU's 3, and the Griz sent Trumaine Johnson in a corner blitz on first down. MSU quarterback DeNarius McGhee threw the ball away and was flagged for grounding.
"They didn't see him coming," said Fetherston, who subbed out for Josh Harris on the play. "Josh set it up perfect, where the (MSU) tackle didn't see the corner. And Trumaine, man, he's fast. I knew what was going to happen the minute I saw it."
McGhee got a clock drive going for the Cats, but once they reached UM's 35 they self-destructed. A holding penalty moved them back; John Ellis dropped a pass; MSU then false-started.
Finally UM's Bobby Alt blocked a 58-yard field goal attempt by Jason Cunningham just before intermission.
And so it went for the Griz, who held MSU's talented Cody Kirk to 45 rushing yards and kept pressure on McGhee.
"They did a great job," said McGhee, who threw for 171 yards - with a handful of drops along the way - and ran for 29. "We didn't execute. I did a horrible job today. When we don't execute that's what happens. I just didn't make the throws, plain and simple."
The game turned when MSU scored within a minute of taking the second-half kickoff on a 7-yard dart from McGhee to Elvis Akpla.
Montana countered with a 79-yard scoring pass from Johnson to Jabin Sambrano, who snapped the ball away from MSU safety Joel Fuller at midfield, kept his balance and scored his 11th TD this season.
That moved UM's lead back to 19-7 at 13:49 of the third quarter.
"I still think in this game we had great opportunities in the second half," said Bobcats' coach Rob Ash. "If we make a play, that ball that ended up being a touchdown could just have easily been an interception. If that is, we get the ball back at the 50 right there. Who knows what's going to happen in the second half. The entire second half could have been different."
Instead Montana pulled away. The Griz forced an MSU punt and drove to a second McKnight field goal for a 22-7 lead at 10:05 of the third quarter. Moore's TD followed another three-and-out by the Cats.
Cunningham, who had a first-quarter field goal bang off the right upright, hit from 38 yards to open the fourth quarter.
Montana answered with a 91-yard drive, with Nguyen cutting past Fuller and MSU linebacker Jody Owens for a 21-yard scoring run.
The Cats, trying to keep the Big Sky title all to themselves, fell to a playoff-caliber 9-2.
"I can't explain it right now," said MSU linebacker Clay Bignell. "We have to go back and look at the tape. Montana is a good football team. I guess today just wasn't our day.
"Our biggest goals are out in front of us. But this one hurts. We wanted to win it outright."
"It's a rival game, you never know what the score's going to be," said Fetherston. "The Cats played good. We just played a little bit better, and executed, and limited them on big plays - which helped us out, and helped out scoring-wise, too."
|Montana 36, Montana State 10|
|UM – FG Brody McKnight, 34, 9:10.|
|Drive: 11 plays, 31 yards, 4:47 time of possession.|
|Key plays: Jordan Johnson rushes for 4 yards on fourth-and-2 at MSU’s 38, then hits Antwon Moutra for 13 yards on third down to put ball at the Bobcat 18.|
|UM – Safety, MSU called for intentional grounding in end zone, 6:18.|
|Key play: Brody McKnight rugby punts the ball down to MSU’s 3-yard line – a 49-yard boot.|
|UM – Kavario Middleton 2 pass from Jordan Johnson (McKnight kick), 2:15.|
|Drive: 9 plays, 60 yards, 3:57 time of possession.|
|Key plays: Peter Nguyen runs three times for 38 yards to start drive, and Dan Moore’s 12-yard run sets up first-and-goal.|
|MSU – Elvis Akpla 7 pass from DeNarius McGhee (Jason Cunningham kick), 14:07.|
|Drive: 3 plays, 35 yards, :53 time of possession.|
|Key plays: John Ellis returns second-half kickoff 39 yards, and a personal foul penalty moves the ball to UM’s 35; McGhee runs 28 yards on an option keeper.|
|UM – Jabin Sambrano 79 pass from Johnson (McKnight kick), 13:49.|
|Drive: 1 play, 79 yards, :18 time of possession.|
|UM – FG McKnight 33, 10:05.|
|Drive: 7 plays, 34 yards, 1:58 time of possession.|
|Key plays: After a short MSU punt, Nguyen runs 12 yards and Moore rumbles 22 to put the Griz in the red zone.|
|UM – Dan Moore 37 run (McKnight kick), 5:37.|
|Drive: 7 plays, 64 yards, 2:52 time of possession.|
|Key play: Sambrano makes a nice catch of a 6-yard dart from Johnson, converting third-and-5. Moore scores two plays later.|
|MSU – FG Cunningham 38, 14:16.|
|Drive: 9 plays, 58 yards, 2:57 time of possession.|
|Key plays: A roughing-the-punter penalty gives MSU a first down at its own 32; McGhee then hits Akpla for 48 yards down to UM’s 20; UM’s Ryan Fetherston stacks up a third-down swing pass to Tray Robinson for no gain.|
|UM – Peter Nguyen 21 run (McKnight kick), 9:28.|
|Drive: 11 plays, 91 yards, 4:48 time of possession.|
|Key plays: Johnson runs for 12 yards on third down, giving the Griz a new set of downs at their 21; Johnson hits Greg Hardy for 27 yards, and a 19-yard run from Moore sets up Nguyen.|
|Average per carry||6.6||2.9|
|Sacks by-yards lost||3-15||0-0|
|Time of possession||33:54||26:06|
|Sacks by-yards lost|
|Trumaine Johnson 1-3, Bryan Waldhauser 1-1.|
|Missed field goals|
|Sacks by-yards lost|
|Missed field goals|
|Jason Cunningham 37 (hit upright), Cunningham 58 (blocked)|
Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 523-5247 or at email@example.com.