Oct. 6, 2012
The Montana Grizzlies spoiled Northern Colorado's homecoming game in Greeley, Colo., on Saturday by destroying the Bears 40-17.
After suffering two disheartening losses against Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington, Montana (2-3) desperately needed a win. For the first time in two decades, Montana is battling a losing record in the Big Sky Conference (now 1-2).
By pummeling Northern Colorado (1-4), the Grizzlies gained their first conference win of the season and achieved its 12th win in a row over the Bears. The Bears now fall to 0-3 in conference play. Montana sits at eighth in the conference.
For one of the first times this season, Montana was on the opposite side of the turnover battle. The Grizzlies didn't hand the Bears a single turnover but benefitted from numerous Northern Colorado fumbles and interceptions.
"Our guys played the ball better than they have all year," said first-year head coach Mick Delaney in a post-game radio interview. "They have been working extra hard. They are getting better as each week goes, and they are going to have to because we have a tough stretch coming up still."
There was no doubt that defense had a good day. Josh Dennard, Bo Tully, and Nate Harrisintercepted passes from UNC quarterback Seth Lobato, but there was one more peculiar interception that turned into a big play for Montana.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Grizzlies kicked off the second quarter with a touchdown thanks to an interception thrown by UNC punter Mason Puckett. Yes, the punter. Puckett received a bad snap and bobbled the ball before pitching a makeshift pass that landed in senior special team captain Caleb Walden's hands, who then dashed 18 yards into the end zone to give the Grizzlies a lead they would maintain for the entire game. To end the half, freshman kicker Chris Liderhit a 34-yard field goal to put Montana up 10-0.
"That couldn't have happened to a better guy he does everything in the world," said Delaney. "His role as a senior has been mainly special teams, and he just cherishes that. For him to get a touchdown is great."
As soon as the second half started, the Bears had no intentions of giving Montana an easy win. Dominic Gunn returned Lider's 63-yard kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to get UNC on the board.
Regaining possession of the ball, the Grizzly offense didn't hesitate to drive in another touchdown. Running back Peter Nguyen came alive the second half. The senior had to step up, along with Jordan Canada, to fill in for injured fullback Dan Moore. With 13:09, Nguyen rushed 13 yards for another Grizzly touchdown. With Lider's successful PAT, the Griz lengthened their lead 17-7.
On the next UNC possession, the Montana defense squad held the Bears to a field goal. With the successful 24-yard field goal, Northern Colorado was within one touchdown of Montana.
Montana came right back. Quarterback Trent McKinney toted the ball 12 yards for another Montana touchdown. With 5:42 left in the third quarter, the Grizzlies continued to distance themselves 24-10. Then to start of the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies did it again. Mckinney connected with junior wide receiver Cam Warrento complete a 17-yard touchdown. Lider missed the extra point to keep Montana ahead 30-10.
Northern Colorado botched its next possession after Tromaine Dennis fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Brock Coyleat UNC's 27 yard. Coyle ran with it 23 yards to the 4 yard line. Montana couldn't quite get another touchdown and settled for a 19-yard field goal with 12:58 left in the game.
At this point, it looked like the Grizzly offense could kick back and coast through the fourth quarter and allow the defense squad to do its job and hold Northern Colorado, but that wasn't the plan. It was time for Montana to have some fun. In a play that looked like it belonged on the playground rather than a collegiate football field, the Grizzlies picked up their final touchdown of the game. Sophomore running back Brett Kirschneravoided being tackled with the ball by tossing a lateral to Mckinney, who hopped a yard into the end zone. With less than 13:00 remaining in the fourth quarter, Montana took a 30-point lead, the biggest lead it has had this season.
Northern Colorado managed to score one more time when Lobato connected with Dominic Gunn for a 24-yard touchdown, but there was no hope left for the Bears with five minutes remaining in the game.
Nguyen ended the game with a career-high of 159 net rushing yards. McKinney came in second on the team with 10 carries for 65 yards. As a team, the Grizzlies racked up 294 yards in rushing.
Mckinney completed 14 passes for 25 yards. After McKinney took a hard hit that sidelined him for a short time in the first quarter, sophomore Shay Smithwick-Hanntook the field and completed 3-for-3 passes for 16 yards.
Of the 58 Grizzly players who traveled to Greeley, 57 played.
"It's a really, really good win for the kids and the coaches," said Delaney. "We got a Big Sky win and now we go home and take the next step."
Lobato connected 25-of-42 passes for 259 yards. Tromaine Dennis led the Bears in rushing yards with 14 carries for 50 yards.
Montana returns home next weekend after two weeks on the road. The Grizzlies takes on Southern Utah (1-2 in the Big Sky Conference) at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Kick-off is at 1:30 p.m. Northern Colorado faces Cal Poly next Saturday.
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