By Ryan Scott Powell
Special to College Sports Journal
Editor’s Note: This story is courtesy of North Dakota athletics
MISSOULA, MT. — Redshirt sophomore Makena Simis threw six touchdown passes in his first career start to lead No. 18 Montana to a 42-16 victory over North Dakota in Big Sky play Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
UND (4-4, 2-3 BSC) got a spark early when freshman John Santiago opened the visitor’s first offensive possession with a career-long 80-yard touchdown run, but the Grizzlies (5-3, 3-1 BSC) would settle in after that and only allow nine more points to the visitors.
Santiago finished with a career-high 178 rushing yards and was one yard shy of registering his second 300-yard all-purpose total of the season as he added 36 yards receiving and 85 kickoff return yards, but it was Simis who stole the show after starting the season as Montana’s third-string quarterback.
“It’s always good to get off to a good start in a tough place to play,” UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. “But, I knew it was a long game yet and they were going to make some plays. We respected their quarterback coming into the game and he did a nice job for them. We just have to do a better job across the board.”
Simis threw a trio of touchdown passes in each half and finished 15-for-22 for 321 yards, tying Montana’s single-game record with six scoring tosses.
After Santiago’s big play, Simis evened things up at 7-7 on a 23-yard pass to Ben Roberts late in the first quarter. UND’s defense held the Grizzlies on a fourth-and-1 to give the offense the ball at its own 40 midway through the second quarter and Ryan Bartels, who was making his second start in place of Keaton Studsrud, marched the visitors down the field.
Unfortunately, UND would have to settle for a 20-yard field goal after Bartels’ third-down pass was batted away in the end zone. Sophomore Reid Taubenheim’s 10th make of the season gave UND the lead at 10-7, but that would be the final lead of the game for UND.
Simis would give his team its first advantage thanks to a pair of long scoring strikes to Ellis Henderson on back-to-back possessions.
Henderson went up high to snag a 36-yard throw for his first score, then broke through a tackle after another long grab to go in from 63 yards out. He had three catches for 114 yards in the opening half as Montana took a 21-10 lead into the break.
In the second half, it was Griz receiver Jamaal Jones that found paydirt twice on scoring plays of 74 and 22 yards as Montana grew its lead to as large as 42-10.
Bartels would engineer a late scoring drive for UND, capping an 11-play, 85-yard drive with a 7-yard pass to Luke Stanley, but the visitors were too far behind to muster any thoughts of a comeback.
Bartels finished 10-for-21 for 113 yards, while Santiago, Stanley and Brandon Walker each had two catches to lead the UND receivers.
The ground game finished with 267 yards with Santiago and classmate Brady Oliveira doing most of that damage. Oliveira finished with career-highs in carries (16) and yards (65), while Santiago had his fifth-straight 100-yard rushing game in Big Sky play.
UND will return home to play Montana State next Saturday at the Alerus Center. Kickoff is set for 1:05 p.m. Central Time.
GAME NOTES: Captains for today’s game were seniors Zach Adler, Brandon Anderson, Dayo Idowu and Will Ratelle … Ratelle finished with 12 tackles to post his fifth double-digit tackle performance of the season and eighth of his career … JUCO-transfer Dylan Bakker made a career-high and team-leading 14 tackles in his most extensive action of the season … Sophomore Connon O’Brien rounded out a trio of UND defenders with double digit tackles, totaling a career-high 10 in the loss … Freshman John Santiago set the UND regular-season record for rushing yards by a freshman in the game, surpassing Phillip Moore’s total of 846 set in 1995 … Through eight games, Santiago now has 932 yards after racking up a career-high 178 rushing yards … Santiago has a Big Sky-best six 100-yard rushing games on the season and has five straight in league action … UND has now rushed for 240 or more yards in all five Big Sky games – 267 today … Sophomore Jake Disterhaupt had his team-high third sack of the season in the first quarter … Safety Cole Reyes returned after missing the last two games to finish with nine tackles … Redshirt freshman DaQuan Baker made his UND debut and finished with three tackles.