(Montana Sports Information) Montana reached new heights in an incredible 2023 season but couldn't reach the ultimate summit on Sunday against the defending champion South Dakota State Jackrabbits.

The Grizzlies battled and were within a possession at the half, but big plays sparked a Jackrabbit team that won its 29th straight game to claim the FCS crown after a 23-3 victory.

In Montana's first trip to the title game since 2009, the Grizzlies just couldn't get the offense going against the top-ranked Jackrabbit defense. Montana held SDSU under its season averages by 163 yards and 15 points, but turned the ball over three times and couldn't find the end zone.

They end the season as national runner-up with a 13-2 record. It's the most wins in a single season for Montana since going 14-1 in 2009.

"I'm proud of them. It's an honor to coach them," Hauck said of his team. "What a great season for our team, and we hope to continue on and have a chance to be back here at some point."

The Grizzly defense held for most of the game, giving up just 17 first downs and forcing SDSU to go 4-of-11 on third down. They also forced two Jackrabbit turnovers, scoring on one of them, but two touchdowns within two minutes of each other in the third quarter proved the difference maker.

Braxton Hill had a game-high 12 tackles in his final game as a Grizzly, and the Anaconda native also had the team's only sack on the day. Corbin Walker had his third interception of the season to go with four tackles.

Ryder Meyer had seven tackles, and Alex Gubner had six stops.

The SDSU defense that has held opponents under 10 points per game this season in a historic season was as good as advertised. They held Montana to a season-low three points with just 273 total yards. Montana couldn't get it going on the ground or in the air, averaging just 2.0 yards per rush and 7.6 yards per completion.

Quarterback Clifton McDowell completed 56 percent of his passes for 165 yards. Aaron Fontes hauled in seven catches for a team-high 76 yards. The running backs Nick Ostmo and Eli Gillman each had five catches as well.

The backs couldn't get it going on the ground, as no Griz player finished with more than 20 yards rushing.

"In terms of the game, I think that's when you look at each team with 17 first downs that's two pretty good defenses," Hauck said. "I think that in terms of evaluating how they won the game and we didn't, it's the critical things that are critical in every football game. When you have good teams on each sideline, you can't turn the ball over and you can't get behind the chains and take negative plays."

 

More From Missoula Current