CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- In Montana's second-half possessions, three-and-outs outnumbered first downs. For the game, the Grizzlies managed only 206 yards of offense and converted on 4 of 17 third-down tries.
Yet those numbers add up to 6-0: Montana's all-time record against Northern Iowa.
With a defense unwilling to yield and happy to engage in a second-half stalemate, the Grizzlies escaped the UNI-Dome with a 20-14 victory over No. 3 UNI on Saturday. It's Montana's first top-5 road victory since 2011 (No. 1 Montana State), and keeps the Griz perfect against their fellow FCS power and Missouri Valley Football Conference bruiser.
"When you play the No. 3 team in the country on the road when they just beat a Big 12 football team, you find any way to get the W," Montana head coach Bob Stitt said. "You do not care how it's done. You find a way to allow your kids to win the ballgame."
Saturday that meant defense, defense, defense -- and a little special teams magic.
Though the No. 14 Griz (2-0) couldn't advance beyond the shadow of their own goal line in the second half, picking up just three first downs, Montana's tacklers laid landmines for the Panthers (1-1) along the way.
Seven straight times the Griz began drives inside their own 25 in the second half. None advanced beyond their own 35. Again and again UM called upon its defense to keep the lead. All but once they answered.
The exception came on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Bailey to Daurice Fountain that pulled UNI within one score at 20-14 with 8:01 left in the game. The Panthers had two more shots. Both ran out of juice, the second when Montana's battered defense rose to its highest point.
With the Panthers edging toward midfield with no timeouts and 1:08 on the clock, junior linebacker Connor Strahm shot through a gap and sacked Bailey. The panic-stricken Panthers rushed to the line of scrimmage only to commit a false start that came with a 10-second runoff.
A holding call set up a desperation fourth-and-everything attempt -- the kind where laterals outnumber yards gained -- that ended when the ball found the turf and Griz safety Josh Sandry found the ball.
"We didn't want to let the quarterback sit back there and have time," said Strahm, whose team picked up five sacks. "We brought some pressure and our defensive coaches brought in a great game plan to try and get him on the run, try and make him make the plays."
The Panthers were always playing catch-up, trailing all 60 minutes Saturday. Never was the chasing more evident than when Jerry Louie-McGee danced his way for an 81-yard TD punt return in the second quarter.
The score made it 17-7 and put the pressure on the Panthers.
Northern Iowa's Bailey, so instrumental in his team's 25-20 victory over FBS Iowa State a week ago, was frustrated at every turn. The dual-threat QB played under a blanket of defenders, completing 16 of 37 passes for 194 yards. More importantly, UM held him to just 8 yards rushing across 20 carries.
"It may look like there's a lot of pressure, but there's not as many people coming as you may think," Stitt explained his coordinator, Jason Semore's, defensive scheme. "We give the offensive line a lot of problems with where we're bringing 'em."
While Bailey picked up fodder for future nightmares, Montana's offense was doing just enough early to set the tone for the rest of the game.
Quarterback Brady Gustafson threw a 34-yard touchdown to Josh Horner on the team's first drive, a nifty play-action roll to his right that was designed for a throw back to the left. A drive later, set up Louie-McGee's 29-yard punt return, UM cashed in with a 47-yard field goal by Tim Semenza to make it a 10-0 lead before 7 minutes had even expired.
Semenza added another field goal, this time from 35 yards, with 2 minutes left in the half on Montana's best drive of the day (10 plays, 75 yards).
That was it for a Griz offense that couldn't pick up 10 yards to save itself late, attempting running play after running play into the teeth of Northern Iowa's defensive front.
"But again you can't get impatient," said Stitt, whose run game was short on bodies Saturday without Jeremy Calhoun and Joey Counts. "You absolutely can't as a play caller, because it's a bigger picture."
John Nguyen rushed 24 times for 76 yards -- and many crucial minutes off the clock.
The Panthers had their chances, but too many times came up short. UNI was 1 of 4 scoring in the red zone.
That included a turnover on downs from the 2, a possession that started as a first-and-goal from the 6. Linebacker Josh Buss, who also had forced a fumble, blew up Bailey's roll-out-and-pass attempt. UNI also missed a 33-yard field goal and had another fourth-and-8 try go awry from UM's 17.
That came with 12 minutes left in the game and UNI still down 20-7.
"They weren't moving the ball at all on our defense," UNI coach Mark Farley explained the call. "I figured we could stay three-and-out (on defense) and get the ball back for another opportunity in good position."
The Griz did go three-and-out on the next possession, but UNI couldn't capitalize against Montana's dominant D.