CSJ Classic: Sambrano Sends Montana To Title Game

Montana vs. Appalachian State, FCS Semifinals, 2009

By David Coulson

Executive Editor

College Sports Journal


Editor’s note: This is an article from Dec. 12, 2009, describing the Foootball Championship Subdivision semifinal showdown between Appalachian State and Montana.


This story originally appeared on The Sports Network.


MISSOULA, MT. — Jimmy Farris just received some company Saturday afternoon in Missoula, MT.


For nine years, Farris – the former Grizzly All-American and NFL receiver — has lived in Montana lore for his 15-yard touchdown catch in overtime that lifted the Grizzlies to a 19-16 victory over Appalachian State in the 2000 semifinals at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.


Farris hauled in a fade route over ASU All-American cornerback Corey Hall on a perfect pass from Drew Miller to push Montana into its third-ever FCS title game.


Nine years later, it was a 25-yard grab from Jabin Sambrano with 1:31 remaining in regulation that provided the Grizzlies with their seventh trip to the championship and a 24-17 win.


Montana, 14-0 and the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Division I Football Championships, will face No. 2-seeded Villanova (13-1) in the title game Friday night at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, TN.


Sambrano streaked past ASU cornerback Ed Gainey and secured the ball at the side of the end zone with one hand as he slid through the snow and out of bounds for his only catch of the game.


“We have a release drill we do in practice every day and coach (Robin) Pflugrad had us ready for that moment,” said Sambrano. “It was a big down and distance. I gave (Gainey) an inside move and ran and prayed to come down with it. (Andrew) Selle threw and excellent ball and it came in perfectly.”


Montana quarterback Selle (11-of-27, 161 yards, one TD, one interception) experienced one of the worst games of his life, as he was hammered constantly, but the junior passer was picture perfect on this most important of throws as the Grizzlies struck back after a holding penalty had left them with a first and 20.


“After the penalty we knew we had to make up some ground,” said Selle. “Jabin made a great play. He put a great fade route on the defender. I tried to put it where I could and he made a great play.”


Brody McKnight’s extra point boomed through the uprights to give Montana a seven-point lead, but there was enough time left for Appalachian State’s Armanti Edwards to have one last chance at a game-tying drive that would have forced another overtime finish in Missoula.


Travaris Cadet dashed to the 40-yard line on the ensuing kickoff to give Edwards and company excellent field position with 1:21 remaining on the clock and two time outs left, but a 10-yard holding penalty pushed the Mountaineers back to the 25, leaving Edwards 75 yards from the end zone.


Edwards fired off completions of 30 yards to B.J. Frazier, 10 yards to Brian Quick and 11 to Matt Cline to give Appalachian State a first down at the Montana 24 with 54 seconds left.


On fourth and 10, Edwards found Quick over the middle for 10 yards and a first down by the nose of the football.


A second-down dump pass to Devon Moore moved the ball to the three and the Mountaineers called their final time out with six seconds to play.


In a similar situation at Richmond a week earlier, Edwards had connected with Cline on a stop route that gave the Mountaineers the winning touchdown in a 35-31 win over the defending national champion with 10 seconds remaining.


This time, Edwards tried to hit Cline cutting into the end zone, but Montana linebacker Brandon Fisher broke up the pass with one second showing on the clock.


It came down to one play for Montana to go to Chattanooga for the title game, or Appalachian State to force overtime.


“I wasn’t really looking forward to overtime,” said Montana coach Bobby Hauck. “I hate overtime, I detest it.”


But unlike the game nine years ago, this time Montana was able to avoid an extra session.


Earlier in the final ASU drive, Grizzly cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who had saved Montana’s first victory of the season with an interception in the end zone at UC Davis, was injured in the end zone and had to be helped off the field with a leg injury.


A short time later, Johnson limped back into the lineup and gutted it out for one more play. Johnson lined up with Appalachian State’s most dangerous and athletic receiver, Quick, on the right side of the Montana defense.


Edwards drilled the pass to Quick (10 catches, 135 yards) as Quick cut on a square out at the goal line, but Johnson got enough of Quick’s torso as he caught the ball to force Quick to drop the ball and end the game.

“We’re going to the national championship by winning on the last play,” Hauck said. “Tell me, does it get any better than that? It doesn’t and it’s awesome.”


The game didn’t have the same sense of awesomeness for the Mountaineers.


“Quick was open, he just didn’t handle the ball,” said ASU coach Jerry Moore. “He didn’t grab on to it and lock on to it, we dropped a lot of balls. It’s one thing when you are contacted and drop it, but we catch balls in cold weather all the time. We dropped some key balls and that made a difference.”


After coming through with so many clutch performances in his career, Edwards was frustrated with the finish.


“We’ve been in these situations before, plenty of times,” said Edwards. “We got down there and couldn’t punch it in. Obviously Montana is a great team, they haven’t lost. You can’t take anything away from them. We you get to the red zone, you have to close it out, you have to come out with points.”


Montana’s defense was scorched for 497 yards, 353 yards coming from Edwards’ talented left arm as he completed 28-of-54 passes, with one interception and numerous drops on a day that featured wind chills at, or near zero, snow and big gusts of wind coming out of nearby Hell’s Canyon.


But the Grizzlies forced ASU into field goal attempts on three scoring threats, with Jason Vitaris having a 36-yarder blocked in the third period and a bad snap leading to a miss from 44 yards that would have given the Mountaineers the lead with 3:46 remaining.


There was also an interception by Montana free safety Shann Schillinger with Appalachian State driving early in the fourth quarter after McKnight had knotted the score at 17 on the second play of the period with a 32-yard field goal.


With its passing attack derailed accept for a handful of plays, Montana found its spark offensively from running back Chase Reynolds, who rushed 23 times for 193 yards, with a game-opening touchdown of 39 yards in the first quarter and a seven-yard scoring scamper at the start of the third period.


Those were Montana’s only touchdowns until Sambrano and Selle hooked up on the final Grizzly drive.


After falling behind just seven minutes into the game, Appalachian State battled back to take a 10-7 halftime lead on a three-yard scoring burst from Moore (21 carries, 84 yards rushing, five catches for 35 yards) and a 46-yard field goal from Vitaris when weather conditions were more friendly (i.e. 15- degree temperatures) in the second quarter.


But the Montana defense kept Appalachian State from getting a two-score cushion the rest of the half and that kept the Grizzlies in the game until Reynolds got untracked again after the intermission.


“We’ve got a very somber locker room right now as you might expect,” said Moore. “We had numerous opportunities to score and didn’t. We made some really costly mistakes, and they happened in the red zone.”

Moore also took note of ASU’s 11 penalties for 131 yards.


“A real critical stat was the penalties,” Moore explained. “The ones in the red zone were catastrophic for us, they took us out of scoring opportunities.”


While Reynolds will be remembered for his splendid effort, it will be Sambrano that will be lauded in the same way that Farris was in 2000.


“I don’t think I can grasp it right now, I’m still a young player” said Sambrano. “I was just doing my job, doing what Coach Hauck prepares me to do. It hasn’t hit me yet. It was just another catch. I’m going to Chattanooga. I’m happy.”