Nailbiter: Griz top Furman in overtime thriller
(Montana Sports Information) The Mecca of FCS Football has played host to some classic playoff football games throughout the years. It has created moments that became legend. Players that became mythical. Games that will be remembered forever.
Friday night’s 35-28 overtime win over Furman in the FCS Quarterfinal is the latest addition to the Washington-Grizzly Stadium lore, and Junior Bergen the latest Grizzly hero. And it’s not a single moment, but two, that Bergen contributed to the storied history of Montana football.
Bergen returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown to start the night off on the perfect foot. But it was a punt return in the fourth quarter that cemented his legend. Bergen went 59 yards up Montana’s sideline, scoring his school-record fourth punt return touchdown to give Montana a late lead in the game.
It’s a double-up on return scores that hasn’t been done at Montana since 2002, when Jefferson Heidelberger ran both a punt and a kickoff back for scores against Northwestern State, also in the FCS playoffs.
Bergen’s heroics were backed by a stout Montana defense, which came up with an overtime stop thanks to a big tackle for loss from Alex Gubner and three straight pass breakups, the final from Trevin Gradney to seal the win.
It all led to Montana’s ninth straight win and advanced the Grizzlies to the FCS Semifinals for the 11th time in program history.
“What a game. Congrats to Furman,” head coach Bobby Hauck said. “What a wonderful battle they put up tonight to get that to overtime on the last play. Our defense was nails in the second half. After the first quarter they were really something. I was proud of them.”
In a game between two dominant defenses, big plays proved to be the difference-maker. The teams threw haymakers at each other with Bergen’s big play to start the game canceled out by a 70-yard Paladin’s pass that led to a touchdown. They also scored from 53 yards out and had an interception that they returned into Montana territory that led to another score.
Furman landed three massive blows. Montana withstood them all.
The Grizzlies had just one offensive touchdown in regulation, an eight-yard run from Clifton McDowell, but found the end zone in the overtime period and the defense did its job to seal the win.
Montana held Furman to 282 total yards in the game, and they picked up 123 of them on the two big plays early. Outside of that, the Paladins ran 78 plays for 159 yards. It led to an average of just 2.0 yards per play as Montana had two sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
The Paladins had nine three-and-outs and punted 12 times in the game, but were able to score a late touchdown on a desperation fourth down pass to force overtime. Furman quarterback Tyler Huff completed just 16-of-47 passes (34 percent) on the day as Montana’s athletic defense forced him into quick decisions and the secondary made plays on the ball.
Huff ran for 71 yards but was the only Paladin to find success on the ground as no other player ran for more than 20 yards. Huff also picked up 53 of his on one play as the Grizzlies held him in check for most of the game.
“If you take out those two plays they had about 180 yards of total offense on 78 plays. Terrific job by our defense,” Hauck said. “After that, they didn’t have any answers for us. He chucked it up on that last play, we have to play the ball and get it out but their kid made a good play. Our defense was absolutely nails tonight. It was just flat awesome. Those guys did a magnificent job tonight.”
Montana will appear in their first semifinal since 2009 after the 2011 appearance was vacated. Montana won that game 24-17, in another entry in the all-time classic games played inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium, over Appalachian State.
“We didn’t play great tonight, but it’s a national quarterfinal game,” Hauck continued. “We’ve been in a quarterfinal three out of the last four years but we haven’t gotten past this game. It’s hard to do. We are by it, we are into the semis, and we can’t wait until next weekend.”