No. 12 Montana upsets No. 1 NDSU in opener

The first game of the 2015 college football season was a great one as the number one ranked FCS team North Dakota State traveled to Missoula, Montana to take on the twelfth ranked Montana Grizzlies. There was an unfamiliar haze over the stadium as the West Coast wildfires still hung in the air around the stadium, but that didn’t stop the two teams from putting on an entertaining game.

Montana head coach Bob Stitt entered into his first season as a head coach at the FCS level and junior quarterback Brady Gustafson starting his first collegiate game of his career. The Grizzlies drove eighty yards in two minutes to take the lead 38-35 with two seconds left on the clock, but that is just where the fun began.

The four-time defending national champions got the scoring going early after quarterback Carson Wentz was 4-4 with 52 yards. He hit running back Chase Morlock out of the backfield with a 27-yard strike for the first touchdown of the season.

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It didn’t take long for the Griz to answer that as they drove right down the field on the next drive. Gustafson hit Josh Horner with a 32-yard strike to make it a goal to go scenario. Two plays later, Gustafson hit Jamal Jones from 7 yards out to tie the game up. Montana took their first lead of the game with a 22 yard field goal by Daniel Sullivan after Kendrick Van Ackeren recovered a Bison fumble at the Bison 20.

Wentz scored his first rushing touchdown of the game with a 19 yard run on the Bison’s next drive while the Griz drove down to set Sullivan up with another field goal from 24 yards out to make the score 14-13 with ten minutes left in the half. Wentz ran his second touchdown in for the game with an 11-yard scamper to make the score 21-13.

Griz receiver Ben Roberts made what was possibly the best play of the game on the next drive for Montana. He took a 38-yard bomb from Gustafson and the former Washington State basketball player went up and snagged it out of the air. He then converted the two-point conversion to tie the game at 21 with just over six minutes left in the half.

The Bison forced a fourth down for the Griz two drives later. Stitt is an unorthodox coach and had already went for it twice in the game. This time it didn’t work for his team as the Bison took over on downs at the Montana 43. Wentz hit Zach Vraa with a 10-yard pass with twenty-six seconds left in the game as the Bison went up 28-21, which was the halftime score.

The Griz took the opening kickoff of the second half and didn’t wait to get back on the board. Gustafson connected on his third touchdown pass on the day as he hit Ellis Henderson who raced 62 yards to the endzone to tie the game at 28.

On the next Grizzlies’ possession, Gustafson threw his first and the only interception of the game as Bison safety Nick DeLuca made a good play on the ball. The Bison’s drive went into the fourth quarter as they kept driving down the field. King Frazier snagged a 42-yard pass from Wentz to get to the Grizzlies’ 9-yard line. Two plays later the Bison took the 35-28 lead with Frazier’s touchdown from 7 yards out.

Montana took advantage of a NDSU fumble and drove down the field to kick a 28-yard field goal to make the score 35-31 with just under three minutes left in the game. The Griz got one more shot at the victory as they got the ball at their own 20 with 1:39 left in the game.

The Griz converted a big fourth down after Gustafson hit Reese Carlson with a 31-yard strike to get to the Bison 13 with twenty-one seconds left. Henderson hauled in a pass for 12 yards to the one yard line. On a fourth and goal from the one, Joey Counts got the call and scored the winning touchdown, making the final score 38-35.

Gustafson had a huge day throwing for 434 yards and three touchdowns. Henderson caught passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. For the Bison, Wentz threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 70 yards and two touchdowns.

It was a great showing for Stitt’s first game as a FCS head coach. I’m sure he will have a great season. What a way to open the college football season.

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*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports

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