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FCS Recap: Montana Stuns James Madison 35-27 To Punch Ticket to Chatty
All year, Montana methodically broke down their opponents through precision offense and physical defensive play. All year, James Madison sped through huge running lanes every which way to win games - and seemed to have fate on their side all year with several cardiac last-second wins.
Both scenarios played out in this Friday’s FCS semifinal game. Montana’s aggressive defense and special teams set the table, and the Griz offense cut through the James Madison defense like a scalpel. James Madison fell behind - and lost their Payton Award Finalist starting quarterback Rodney Landers late in the first half to an apparent ankle injury - but finally got on track offensively, ran through for the big score - and seemed to be pointing, once again, to Lady Luck to deliver just one more miracle to put them in Chattanooga.
Something had to give. And it would be James Madison’s final prayer - a twenty-two yard pass by backup quarterback Drew Dudzik to wideout Rockeed McCarter - that would not be answered tonight.
It would be head coach Bobby Hauck’s Montana Grizzlies who would finally get the big win out East he’s been looking for. A huge 35-27 victory that put the Griz back in the championship game for the first time since 2004 - a year when the Grizzlies fell to James Madison, 31-21.
The Grizzlies would win the battle of turnovers on this night, including two huge fumbles on kickoffs that would set up two key touchdown drives. The first fumble, recovered by Donny Lisowski, set up the Grizzly offense on a two play, two rush drive - ending with running back Chase Reynolds’ seven yard touchdown run to put Montana up 14-3.
At the start of the second half, the Grizzlies embarked on a 56 yard opening drive ending with a 27 yard pass to Reynolds from quarterback Cole Bergquist. Then the special teams of Montana struck again: another fumble on the kickoff, squirting its way out of bounds, was scooped up by Ryan Fetherston of the Grizzlies at the JMU 34 yard line. This time, Bergquist would find wideout Steve Pfahler for a 16 yard score to put Montana up 27-10.
After a leaping touchdown grab by Montana wideout Mike Ferriter made the score 35-17, all seemed lost for the quiet crowd in Bridgeforth Stadium. But the Dukes, down by three scores and led offensively by backup quarterback Drew Dudzik, weren’t done yet.
After missing a fourth-and-three early in the fourth quarter, the James Madison defense held the Montana offense to a three-and-out - and the resulting snap to the Grizzlies punter went wide left, giving the Dukes a safety and two crucial points. After the ensuing free kick, James Madison finally got their offense stuck out of neutral with a 18 yard touchdown run by Dudzik. On a two-point conversion, Dudzik leaped, was hit in the air causing him to backflip seemingly short of the end zone. Only the instant replay - a part of the officiating crew for this semifinal game, something that is not a part of the normal FCS regular season officiating crews - showed that Dudzik’s hand with the ball barely crossed the plane of the goal line, allowing the conversion. That made it a one score game with six minutes left.
Montana tried to run out the clock, and on third-and-two called a gutsy play - quarterback Cole Bergquist tried to lob a deep pass to wideout Marc Mariani. While on the initial look it seemed like Mariani came down with the ball, replays accurately showed that he didn’t have control of the ball as he fell, setting the stage for the final miracle shot for James Madison.
But it wasn’t meant to be for the Dukes. Driving down the field with under to mintues to play, James Madison’s miracle 4th-and-22 conversion failed, with Montana’s defense getting one hand into wideout Rockeed McCarter’s midsection to pry the ball out one last time - just like the Montana defense had been doing all evening - to give the Griz the ticket to Chatty.
Bergquist would finish the evening with 142 yards passing, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. In the second half he would only have one incompletion - the pass to Mariani that was overturned by replay. Mariani would lead the receiving corps with four catches for 85 yards, while sophomore running back Chase Reynolds would have a banner evening: 26 rushes for 123 yards and three rushing touchdowns to go with his three catches for 50 yards and one receiving touchdown.
Defensively, safety Colt Anderson would have a monster day on defense with 18 tackles - including a key stop on 4th-and-goal to stop at least one scoring drive. Defensive lineman Shawn Schillinger added 12 tackles and a forced fumble, and linebacker Brandon Fisher added 10 tackles.
For the Dukes, running back Eugene Holloman led the Dukes with 105 yards rushing and a touchdown, while Dudzik would fill the large shoes of the injured Rodney Landers admirably with 88 yards rushing, 70 yards passing, and 2 touchdowns. Defensively, safety Pat Williams would lead the Dukes with 11 tackles, followed by defensive tackle J.D. Skolnitsky with 9.