Top-seeded Montana staged one of its most remarkable comebacks ever to down South Dakota State 61-48 in a Football Championship Subdivision playoff game Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
The Griz, 12-0, advance to face the winner of the Stephen F. Austin-Eastern Washington game next Saturday in Missoula.
The Griz trailed 41-14 in the third quarter before outscoring the Jackrabbits 47-7 to close out the game.
"I'm not a historian," Montana coach Bobby Hauck said in a postgame interview in KPAX TV. "But that's the greatest comeback in school history. That's a playoff team we just came back on like that. I'm excited and proud of my team."
A good deal of the credit belongs to senior Marc Mariani, who finished with 12 catches for 171 yards and two TDs, and also returned a kickoff 98 yards for a score to spark the comeback.
"Marc did a nice job on the kickoff return," Hauck said. "He's special and I'm fortunate to have been his coach this year."
The Jackrabbits scored first on a 7-yard TD pass from Thomas O'Brien to Colin Cochart. The score was set up by a long catch-and-run by Mike Steffen.
The Jacks then capitalized on a Montana turnover to take a 14-0 lead on a short swing pass to Cochart. Griz running back Chase Reynolds coughed up the ball deep in Montana's territory.
South Dakota State put together a clock-eating drive capped by a 34-yard field goal by Kyle Harris with 12:54 to play in the second quarter to extend the margin to 17-0.
Montana got on the board when Reynolds bulled in from a yard out with 7:11 to play before halftime. The Griz took over on the SDSU 18-yard line when Severin Campbell grabbed a tipped pass from O'Brien. Andrew Selle then found Mariani wide open on the 1-yard line, setting up Reynolds' score.
Missoula's Palmer twins combined to get the Griz within 17-14. Jace Palmer sacked O'Brien and forced a fumble, which was recovered by Alex Shaw. On the next play, Selle found Ty Palmer on a post pattern for a TD.
But the Jackrabbits struck right back. Following a long kickoff return, the Jacks drove 46 yards for a score to go up 24-17 with 4:02 to play before halftime. Cochart got the final 4 yards on a pass from O'Brien.
The Jacks' Conrad Kjerstad picked off Selle and returned it to the UM 2-yard line. Two plays later, Kyle Minett dove over from the 1 to make it 31-14.
SDSU tacked on a 39-yard field goal by Harris 1:17 before halftime to make it 34-14. The score was set up when Danny Batten stripped Selle and recovered the fumble.
The Jackrabbits struck first in the second half when they blocked a Sean Wren punt and Corey Jeske recovered the ball in the end zone, giving SDSU a 41-14 lead.
The Griz responded with their best drive of the day that was capped by a 2-yard TD run by Thomas Brooks-Fletcher, cutting the gap to 41-21.
The Jacks, though, bounced right back. O'Brien hit a wide-open Glen Fox for a 61-yard gain to the UM 4. Two plays later, Minett burst over from the 1 to give SDSU a 48-21 lead with 5:40 still to play in the third quarter.
The Griz responded a mere 15 seconds later when Mariani returned the kickoff 98 yards for a score to cut the gap to 48-27.
Montana drew within 48-34 when Selle found Mariani for a 15-yard TD on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Montana got within a touchdown, 48-41, with 7:35 to play when Reynolds capped a 79-yard drive with a 1-yard TD run.
Montana completed its improbable comeback to knot the game at 48-48 with 4:11 to play. Reynolds got the last yard for the tying score.
Montana took its first lead of the game, 55-48, with 1:08 to play when Selle hit Mariani with a 4-yard scoring toss.
The Griz added an insurance TD when Campbell hauled in a tipped pass and took it to the house with 45 seconds to play, ending the Jackrabbits' hopes.