Griz Blizzard Buries Delaware, Advance to Quarterfinal

Montana felt right at home in a winter storm on Saturday night inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium, blowing out No. 11 Delaware 49-19 in the Second Round of the FCS Playoffs. The Griz led by as many as 37 points on a snow-covered field and improved to 11-1 with their eighth straight win.

The Grizzlies advance to the quarterfinals to play No. 7 Furman in Missoula on Friday, Dec. 8, at 7 p.m. (MT). It’s Montana’s third trip to the quarterfinals in the previous four fall seasons, but the first time that they will host. The Griz are seeking their first semifinal appearance since 2009.

Montana improved to 33-7 inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium in postseason history. The 49 points are a season high for Montana, who won by 30-plus points for the fourth time this season.

“It was a really good night by our guys, offense, defense, kicking,” head coach Bobby Hauck said. “It was good.”

Photo courtesy of Grizzly Athletics.

It was another balanced effort from Montana, who had big plays on defense and special teams to go along with an offense that had nearly identical rushing and passing statistics. Clifton McDowell passed for two scores and three different players found the end zone on the ground. The defense pitched in a scoop-and-score as well to go along with a blocked punt early in a complete performance.

The Grizzlies outgained Delaware 389-347 in the game, doing their most damage in a 25-point second quarter. The Blue Hens ran 78 plays to Montana’s 57, as the Grizzlies averaged over two more yards per play.

Clifton McDowell wasn’t bothered by the heavy snow, throwing for 186 yards and the two touchdowns. Keelan White caught four passes for 88 yards and a score, while tight end Evan Shafer had the second receiving touchdown.

Montana’s ground game ran for 200-plus yards for the fifth straight game, and did so with a quartet of runners. Nick Ostmo led the way with 10 carries, 64 yards, and a touchdown. McDowell added 51 yards and a touchdown on five carries. Eli Gillman ran 13 times for 42 yards, while Xavier Harris had a 27-yard score and 36 total yards.

“It was a good blend of play call variety in the run game and then we hit some passes,” Hauck said. “We hurt them in pressure. Clifton had some nice passes under pressure. Brent had them dialed up. We were going to protect it and try to win on the outside and we did that.”

The Grizzly defense held Delaware to a 2-for-14 start on third down, and turned them over on downs four times. They also had a fumble returned for a touchdown by Jaxon Lee and an interception from Corbin Walker.

Hayden Harris led the Grizzly defense with eight tackles, and also had two quarterback hurries and a half-tackle for loss. Riley Wilson had seven stops and Ryan Tirrell had six to go with a sack.

Montana had a miscommunication on the opening drive, as McDowell threw just his second interception to give Delaware the ball in Montana territory early. The Griz defense, with some help from the crowd, didn’t let the big play give the visitors any early momentum. Montana forced the Blue Hens five yards back with a false start and some stout tackling.

The start was about the only first half miscue from Montana, who scored on the next six drives.

The Grizzlies had a lengthy drive on the following possession, totaling 16 total plays. The Grizzlies went for it on fourth down from just inside Delaware territory and picked up the conversion on a pass interference by the Blue Hen defense.

It ended with a 43-yard field goal from Nico Ramos that split the uprights to put Montana on the board first. He improved to 6-for-6 on the season with his longest make of his Griz career.

Montana’s defense forced another quick three-and-out on the next drive to force a second Blue Hen punt. The Griz brought pressure, and Sawyer Racanelli made a diving play to block the punt and give the ball back to Montana at the Delaware 27.

It was the first blocked punt for Montana since Levi Janacaro did it in the 2022 season opener against Northwestern State.

“We got off to a bad start with the interception on the second play but got the big punt block and kind of steamrolled them from there,” Hauck said. “That was the thing that got us going was the punt block, and we didn’t really look back from there.”

It didn’t take long for the offense to turn the big special teams play into points. Xavier Harris took a reverse handoff up the right sideline, spinning past and bouncing off a would-be tackler and high-stepping into the end zone of the first offensive play. The 27-yard score made it 10-0 Montana with 3:31 remaining in the first quarter.

One big run for the Blue Hen offense got them just inside Montana territory, but they wouldn’t go any further. Delaware went for it on fourth down from just past the 50 and were denied, giving the ball back to Montana.

McDowell hit Bergen for a 32-yard gain on the first offensive play, putting Montana deep in Blue Hen territory yet again. Ostmo did the rest, going untouched on a 35-yard touchdown rush into the north end zone. Montana’s two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful, making it 16-0 with 14:51 left in the second.

Delaware scored on the following drive, driving 79 yards in just three plays. They went for two to try to make it a one-possession game but a big hit from Trevin Gradney and company kept them out and made it 16-6.

McDowell found a couple different receivers on opposite sidelines on Montana’s next drive for another solid drive. He first connected with Fontes up the left sideline for a sliding 25-yard grab just inside the boundary. He then went right for a 17-yard connection with Keelan White on a jump ball pass.

The Grizzlies would end the drive with a 30-yard field goal from Ramos to extend the lead to 19-6.

Delaware advanced into Montana territory thanks to a long pass completion, but once again the Griz defense rose to the occasion. The Blue Hens went for it on fourth down from the Grizzly 39, and Hayden Harris had first contact to hold O’Connor to no gain and give the ball back to Montana.

Three plays later, Montana was celebrating again. McDowell fired a laser out to the left side of the field to find White in stride, and the receiver raced untouched into the end zone for a 55-yard touchdown to make it 25-6. It’s the third score of the season for White, who had four catches for 88 yards after the big grab.

The snow really started to pile up as Delaware took the ball on the ensuing drive. Montana forced Delaware’s third three-and-out of the game, and the conditions got to the Blue Hens. The snap went over the punters head and out of the back of the end zone for a safety that made it 28-6.

Bergen set Montana up at midfield with a 22-yard return on the kick, and McDowell showed his dual-threat ability with a couple of big runs. He started with a 27-yard scramble on third-and-long that kept the drive alive.

He kept it on a read-option and scored from 20 yards out to put Montana ahead 35-6. The Blue Hens would score on the final drive of the half to make it 35-12 at the break.

It was an impressive offensive performance in the opening half for Montana. They outgained Delaware 315-206 with another balanced effort. McDowell had 147 yards through the air while four different Grizzlies had at least 30 yards on the ground, combining for 168 total rushing yards.

The Grizzlies performed well on the big plays on both sides of the ball, holding Delaware to just one third down conversion on six attempts and 0-for-3 on fourth down. The Griz offense, meanwhile, was 5-for-8 on third down.

The defense delivered the first blow of the second half. Nash Fouch forced a fumble with a big hit after a completed pass, and Jaxon Lee was waiting to scoop the ball up. He brought it 56 yards back for a score, carrying a Blue Hen with him into the end zone to make it 42-12.

“Once we scored the first touchdown of the second half it got away and we felt better about it,” Hauck said. “I told our team that their coach was telling their kids in the locker room was hey, we were down three touchdowns last week and came back and won, we can do it again tonight. I just let our guys know that they are playing the Montana Grizzlies, not whoever it was last week.”

Corbin Walker had his second interception of the season on a miscommunication from Delaware on the second play of the next drive, and Montana was right back in business. They moved it slowly, keeping the ball on the ground and picking up a fourth down conversion on a Gillman rush.

McDowell then scrambled around the pocket, buying enough time for Evan Shafer to get free. He dumped it to the tight end, who trucked through a defender and bowled his way into the end zone to give Montana a 49-12 lead.

Delaware scored on a 14 play, 64-yard drive that included two fourth down conversions to cut the lead to 30 points for Montana. It would end there, as Montana won 49-19.

The Grizzlies now advance to a 2001 National Championship rematch against Furman. The Griz will host the Paladins on Friday, Dec. 8, with kickoff set for 7 p.m. MT. The game will be shown nationwide on ESPN2.

Montana is now 7-0 at home this season and winners of 10 straight in Missoula dating back to 2022.

“We haven’t looked at Furman, but I brought it up with the team that the last time we played was the National Championship and it should be a heck of a test,” Hauck said. “We’re excited to get into the office and start looking at them tomorrow morning. Our players will take the day off to get freshened up and will be excited to get going on them Monday. We need to sell this bad boy out next weekend and get rolling.”