Editor’s Note: This is another article in a continuing series of articles from past FCS championship games. This is the game story from Montana’s 2001 title victory over Furman.
By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
CHATTANOOGA, TN. — Like a wild west gunslinger, top-seeded Montana brought a reputation for high-powered offense into Friday evening’s Division I-AA championship football game.
But the Grizzlies’ road to their second national title in six years was paved by defense in a 13-6 victory over Furman before 12,698 fans at Finley Stadium and a national television audience.
Montana (15-1) limited third-seeded Furman (12-3) to 61 yards of total offense, forced three turnovers and held the Paladins without a point until James Thomas scored on quarterback Billy Napier’s Hail Mary pass on the game’s final play.
Senior All-American tailback Louis Ivory, who had missed the past two games with strained knee ligaments, started for the Paladins, but was held to 33 yards in 12 carries – his career low since becoming a starter as a sophomore.
The win helped the Grizzlies avenge a 27-25 loss to Georgia Southern in last year’s championship game.
“We usually are happy if our players give as good an effort as they can, but we talked a little bit about this one,” Montana coach Joe Glenn said. “We wanted to win this game.”
While Furman had played nearly mistake-free football in the playoffs to reach the final, including just one turnover last week in a 24-17 victory on the road over Georgia Southern, it was Paladin errors that helped Montana to a 10-0 at the half.
The Grizzlies drove 99 yards in the second quarter for their first score on a 16-play march that consumed nearly seven minutes, but it was back-to-back penalties that led to Humphery’s two-yard TD plunge.
With Montana facing a fourth and two, Chris Snyder missed a 28-yard field goal, but Furman jumped offsides before the snap to give the Grizzlies a first down at the Paladin 7. On the next play, a face mask penalty moved the ball to the two and Humphery made them pay to make it 7-0.
“We were thinking, this is a chance for us to make a 99-yard drive in a national championship game,” said Montana quarterback John Edwards. “When you can take a ball 99 yards and score, it’s just unbelievable.”
The Grizzlies took advantage of good field possession to score again with under a minute to play in the first half on Snyder’s 35-yard field goal.
Furman’s best chance to climb back into the game came on an eight-minute, 17-play, 65-yard drive in the third period. But the Paladins came away with no points after moving to the 15 when Danny Marshall was wide with his 40-yard field goal attempt.
“I don’t think it was the final nail in the coffin, but it was certainly deflating,” Furman coach Bobby Johnson said.
The championship loss may have been Johnson’s finale after seven years guiding the Furman program. He is expected to named the new coach at Vanderbilt as early as this weekend, sources at the championship game said Friday.
Snyder’s 30-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter extended Montana’s lead to 13-0 and the Grizzlies put enough pressure on Napier (10-of-26 for 172 yards and two interceptions) the rest of the way to insure the victory.
“The defense will probably get the headlines, but this is a total team concept and they don’t care who gets the credit,” said Glenn, who also won two Division II national crowns at Northern Colorado. “They’re a humble bunch of people and that’s why they’re sitting in front of you as national champions.”