Griz Defeat Jackrabbits, Set up Playoff Rematch With NDSU


The Montana Grizzlies (8-4) roared out to a 24-0 halftime lead over the visiting South Dakota State Jackrabbits (8-4) at Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Saturday, and fought off a second half comeback from the Jacks to take a 24-17 win in the first round of the NCAA Division I Playoffs.

With the win, the Griz extend their 23rd all-time post-season appearance, and advance to the second round where they will face the No. 3 seed North Dakota State Bison in Fargo on Saturday, December 5. Kickoff from the Fargodome is set for 1:30 p.m. Mountain Time.

As with so many games this season, it was a dominant defensive showcase that proved to be the difference maker between the No. 10/12 ranked South Dakota State and the No. 16/17 ranked Grizzlies.

“I’m proud of our players,” Said Montana head coach Bob Stitt at the post-game press conference. “I’m really excited because I get to work another week, and we get these seniors to stay around and see their faces tomorrow in the team meeting. The 2015 team is still together and alive and kicking.”

Led by quarterback Brady Gustafson, the Griz racked up 293 yards of total offense in the first half alone, and finished with 434 yards, 295 of which came in the air for “Gus”, who went 24-39 and passed for a pair of touchdowns.

The Griz defense was the story however, with senior Jeremiah Kose recovering a fumble, the Griz secondary coming up with nine big pass breakups, and Tyrone Holmes once again cementing his status as one of Montana’s all-time greats.


Holmes made life difficult for SDSU quarterback Taryn Christion all day long, adding three sacks to his national-best 14 for 17 now on the season, adding three tackles for loss, and two quarterback hits.

Holmes is now the second most prolific sacker in Montana history with 33.5 career sacks during his time as a Griz. He now needs 4.5 more sacks to surpass UM’s all-time leader in sacks, Zack Wagenmann.

Holmes’ three tackles for loss against the Jacks also moves him up the all-time rankings at Montana. He is now tied with Tim Bush in second place on UM’s career TFL list at 48.5. Wagenmann again sits on top of the category, with 53 during his career, meaning Holmes needs five more to surpass “Wags”.

“We played really well in the first half. I was excited to get 24 points on that defense. That’s a tough thing to do. That’s a good football team offensively and defensively, and for our guys to come out and score that many points and shut them out in the first half was tremendous,” added Coach Stitt.


“We knew that they would have some very good adjustments coming out in the third quarter, and they came out and put some pressure on us on offense, and we missed a few throws. If we make them, we could probably get some drives going. But our defense held in there, and came up big when we needed it.”

Per Coach Stitt’s modus operandi, the Grizzlies elected to receive the opening kick, but couldn’t generate any offense on their first drive going three-and-out. Kendrick Van Ackeren forced a fumble on just the second offensive play for South Dakota State, getting the Grizzlies the ball back with great field position.

On Montana’s fourth possession of the opening quarter, the Griz finally began to gain momentum offensively. Brady Gustafson completed two quick passes to Josh Horner for 15-yards and another to Ben Roberts for 37. The 6’7” quarterback then broke the pocket and scampered for 15 yards to the SDSU 6-yard line.

Two plays later, he found Jamaal Jones for a score on a short curl route, and a Daniel Sullivan extra point gave Montana a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

After the Grizzly defense forced another three-and-out, UM took the ball and drove straight down the field again, as John Nguyen busted off an 18-yard gain on the second play of the drive. Horner, who had a career day with six receptions for 80 yards, brought in another big reception, this one for 24-yards to get Montana within striking distance.

Gustafson then looked for the home-run ball, airing a pass out down the right sideline toward Ellis Henderson. The junior receiver rose up to meet the ball at its peak, bringing it down in the end zone and putting Montana ahead 14-0 after the PAT.

Montana’s two scoring drives combined for just 15 plays in four minutes and five seconds of game time, but also totaled 165 yards in the process.


The defense continued the bend but don’t break mentality on SDSU’s next drive, as the Jackrabbits made it all the way down to the Grizzlies’ 26-yard line. After Taryn Christion was sacked on second down, he couldn’t create anything on third and long, running out of bounds at the 34-yard line.

The play set up a fourth-and-11, and South Dakota State elected to leave the offense on the field to try to cut into the mounting deficit. On a designed quarterback run, Christion was brought down at the line of scrimmage by Jeremiah Kose and Caleb Kidder, forcing a turnover on downs and giving the ball right back to the rolling Montana offense.

Montana put together a solid drive, running 14 plays for 58 yards, but the South Dakota State defense made a red-zone stand, denying Montana three straight times from the eight-yard line. Sullivan knocked home a 25-yard field goal to put the Griz ahead 17-0 with 2:53 remaining in the half.

A quick three-and-out by South Dakota State gave the ball back to Montana at the SDSU 48 with 1:51 left on the clock, more than enough time for the high-powered offense. After a nine-yard completion to Horner, Nguyen ran for two straight first downs and brought the ball down to the SDSU five-yard line.

Freshman Jeremy Calhoun carried the ball on back-to-back plays, punching it in from the two-yard line and putting Montana ahead 24-0 at the halftime break.

Both teams started the second half very cold, as the teams combined to punt the ball four times in the first four minutes of game time. On South Dakota State’s third drive of the half, Christion threw three consecutive incompletions, and SDSU settled for a Jay Carlson field goal to cut the Montana lead to 24-3.


The Grizzlies went three-and-out for the third consecutive time to open the half on their next drive, giving the ball back to a South Dakota State offense that was beginning to find some confidence and rhythm.

A huge pass down the sideline to Wieneke for 36 yards set the visitors up on the Montana one-yard line. Christion would keep it on a quarterback sneak two plays later, scoring the first touchdown of the game for South Dakota State and getting the Jackrabbits within two scores.

A nightmare third quarter continued when the Grizzlies got the ball back, as they went backwards two yards and once again were forced to punt without picking up a first down, giving the ball back to SDSU with 2:24 left in the third.

Montana gained just 18 yards on four drives in the quarter, failing to pick up a single first down and getting two penalties for 20 yards.


The fourth quarter started out with the same old story for Montana, as they lost three yards before punting on their opening drive. The defense stepped up and forced a stop, and the Grizzly offense finally got going on their next drive.

Gustafson found a streaking Ben Roberts behind the defense on the left sideline on the first play of the drive, gaining 62 yards and bringing Montana all the way to the South Dakota State 31-yard line. Another completion to Roberts two plays later gave Montana a first down on the SDSU 20-yard line.

Roberts finished the day setting a new career receiving mark with 133 yards on the day, the most of any receiver on the field.

South Dakota State started their next drive with 8:16 left on the clock, and moved the ball down the field efficiently. Starting from their own 20, Christion connected with Wieneke down the sideline for a 44-yard gain to the Montana 36-yard line.

The Griz stepped up, forcing a fourth-and-eight. The offense stayed on the field, and Christion tried to find Wieneke once again. The pass fell incomplete, but Connor Strahm jumped offside to give SDSU another chance.

On fourth-and-three, Christion found Wieneke for an eight-yard gain just outside of the red-zone. The Montana defense fired up again, sending SDSU nine yards backward over the next three plays to set up a fourth-and-19 with under five minutes to play in the game.

Christion took the snap in shotgun formation, as the Jackrabbits had to convert to keep the game alive. He looked over the middle and found Dallas Goedert in a weak spot in Montana’s defense. Goedert hauled in a 30-yard pass for a crucial SDSU touchdown, making it a one-possession game at 24-17.

Montana had struggled offensively the entire second half, and desperately needed to put something together as they received the ball with 4:40 left in the game.

A completion to Jones set up Montana with another second-and-one situation, and again Nguyen was able to pick up the first down, forcing South Dakota State to burn their first timeout. Nguyen would run the ball three straight times for a combined 25 yards, forcing the Jackrabbits to use all their timeouts and putting the game on ice for Montana.

Nguyen led all rushers with 107 yards, the third time in as many weeks he’s cracked the century mark.

14, 575 fans packed Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Saturday to take in the first-round playoff game, the most of any FCS game in the country that day. With the UM students still largely out of town for the Thanksgiving Holiday, the Grizzly faithful nearly doubled the next highest attended game at Northern Iowa, which saw a crowd of 7,062.

The Grizzlies now extend the season into December, as they will get set to travel to Fargo on Friday to face the NDSU Bison, the team the Griz defeated 38-35 in Missoula on nation wide TV to open the season in the annual FCS Kickoff game.

For those interested in tickets to the Griz versus Bison FCS Playoff game at NDSU next weekend, please call GrizTix at the Adams Center Box Office at 406.243.4051 on