Special to College Sports Journal
Editor’s note: This story is courtesy of South Dakota State athletics.
MISSOULA, MT. — A 24-0 lead at Washington-Grizzly Stadium might have felt safe to most people, but Montana and South Dakota State remember the last time that the Grizzlies and the Jackrabbits had met in the NCAA Division I Football Championship playoffs.
Montana mounted the greatest comeback in school and Football Championship Subdivision playoff history that day in 2009, but South Dakota State couldn’t return the favor in a 24-17 loss on Saturday afternoon to the Grizzlies in the first round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs before a crowd of 14,575 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Montana improved to 8-4 overall and will face third-seeded North Dakota State in second-round action Dec. 5 in Fargo, N.D. SDSU ended its season with an 8-4 overall mark in making its fourth consecutive appearance in the postseason.
Montana stunned the four-time defending national champion Bison in the final seconds of a season-opening win in Missoula.
Trailing 24-0 at halftime, the Jackrabbits began to find success on both sides of the ball in the second half. The SDSU defense held Montana without a first down on its first five possessions of the second half and the Jackrabbits began to click offensively.
SDSU cracked the scoring column five minutes into the second half on a 34-yard field goal by Jay Carlson.
The Jackrabbits found the end zone for the first time with 3 minutes, 49 seconds remaining in the third quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by Taryn Christion.
The SDSU touchdown was set up two plays earlier on a 36-yard pass from Christion to Jake Wieneke that put the ball at the Montana one.
The momentum further shifted in the Jackrabbits’ favor late in the fourth quarter as SDSU put together a nine-play, 80-yard scoring drive that ended when Christion lofted a pass to Dallas Goedert for a 30-yard touchdown on fourth-and-19 with 4:44 to play.
However, the Jackrabbits would not get the ball back. Montana combined short passes with its ground game to pick up four first downs and run out the clock.
After being held without a first down on its first three offensive series of the game, the Montana offense began to find its rhythm late in the first quarter. The Grizzlies drove 78 yards on eight plays, capping the drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Brady Gustafson to Jamaal Jones.
Montana carried the momentum through to the second quarter, putting together three more scoring drives.
A 26-yard touchdown pass from Gustafson to a leaping Ellis Henderson in the right corner of the end zone finished off a seven-play, 87-yard drive and put the Grizzlies ahead 14-0.
The Grizzly lead grew to 17-0 on a 25-yard field goal by Daniel Sullivan with three minutes to play in the first half and expanded to 24-0 on a 2-yard touchdown run by Jeremy Calhoun in the final minute of the half.
Gustafson ended the day 24-of-39 passing for 295 yards, with Ben Roberts leading the Montana receiving corps with eight catches for 133 yards. John Nguyen led the Grizzlies on the ground with 107 yards on 18 carries.
For SDSU, Christion completed 18-of-43 attempts for 230 yards and was the Jackrabbits’ leading rusher with 54 yards on 19 carries. Wieneke ended the day with six catches for 128 yards as he posted his eighth 100-yard game of the season and 15th of his career.
T.J. Lally racked up a game-high 14 tackles to lead the Jackrabbit defense, followed by seven from Dallas Brown. Jeremiah Kose paced Montana with nine tackles.
Montana tallied 11 tackles for loss in the game, including three sacks by Tyrone Holmes.
Montana leads the all-time series, which dates back to 1969, 8-0 … SDSU dropped to 3-5 in FCS playoff games.
Wieneke ended the season with 72 catches for 1,472 yards … Wieneke’s reception total ranks fourth in a single season, while his 1,472 yards ranks second as he surpassed his season total from a year ago (1,404). Wieneke moved into sixth place in career receptions at SDSU with 145, passing Aaron Rollin (140 catches from 2009-12).
Lally ended his career with 415 tackles, good for second on the Jackrabbit career charts. Lally, who started his school-record 53rd consecutive game, finished the season with 102 tackles, giving him three 100-tackle seasons.
The Jackrabbits played without two starters in quarterback Zach Lujan and defensive tackle Kellen Soulek, who were both injured.
SDSU was penalized seven times for 40 yards, while Montana committed 12 penalties for 129 yards … the Jackrabbits were 4-of-19 on third-down attempts, but 4-for-5 on fourth-down tries.