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'Nova ends Montana's perfect season, 23-21
Montana’s perfect season ended in Chattanooga at the hands of Villanova, 23-21. The win marks the Wildcats’ first NCAA FCS football title.
The Griz led 14-9 at halftime, but ‘Nova shut down the Montana offense in the second half, limiting the Griz to just six first downs after the intermission, and shut out senior receiver Marc Mariani, who didn’t catch a ball after gaining 178 yards and a touchdown on nine catches in the first half.
All-American Matt Szczur had 14 carries for 159 yards and two touchdowns to go with 68 receiving yards and 43 return yards to lead the Wildcats, who had two 100-yard rushers. Quarterback Chris Whitney rushed for 102 yards while passing 10-of-13 for 142 yards, a touchdown and a pick. Montana’s Shawn Lebsock intercepted Whitney in the end zone early in the second quarter.
Montana got two touchdowns from sophomore receiver Jabin Sambrano, who caught five passes for 79 yards. Quarterback Andrew Selle threw 27-35 for 351 yards and three touchdowns, and was sacked twice. Junior running back Chase Reynolds rushed 64 yards on 15 carries.
Montana had a chance to take the lead early, but kicker Brody McKnight never got a foot on the 32-yard field goal attempt. Jeff Larson mishandled the spot, and was forced to try a pass that fell incomplete.
Villanova grabbed the game’s first lead at 5:12 in the first quarter. Nick Yako drilled a 23-yard field goal to cap an 8-play, 79-yard drive. 50 of those yards came on a Szczur rush.
Montana answered with two touchdowns. The first came on Mariani’s 24-yard reception from Selle with 3:15 to go in the first quarter. Selle connected with Sambrano from four yards out in the second quarter to finish an 80-yard drive. The scores gave Montana a 14-3 lead with 6:48 to play in the half.
‘Nova got into the end zone with 3:34 to go in the second when Szczur ran it in from the Montana 5-yard line to finish up a 66-yard drive. Yako missed the point-after, and the teams when to the locker rooms with Montana leading 14-9.
The Wildcats ate up 7:28 of the third quarter on a 13-play, 81-yard drive. Whitney found tight end Chris Farmer wide open at the goal line with a 3-yard scoring pass to grab the lead, 16-14, with 5:27 left in the third quarter.
Szczur scored again in the fourth quarter. Villanova went 95 yards on ten plays, highlighted by Szczur’s 3-yard touchdown run, to stretch the VU lead to nine points with 11:04 to play.
Montana took the ball at its own 8 with 2:17 and covered 92 yards in four plays, the last being a 53-yard Selle-to-Sambrano pass. Sambrano adjusted to an underthrown ball at the ‘Nova 20-yard line and ran untouched to the end zone. The Griz picked up three of their six second-half first downs on the drive.
After the extra point, Montana was left down 21-23 with just 1:07. Although the on-side kick went out-of-bounds, The Griz had all three timeouts remaining and still had hope if the defense could force the Wildcats into a three-and-out. However, a 10-yard Szczur rush for a first down ended Montana’s chances for the title.
Montana ends its season at 14-1.
By Gordon Terpe of MontanaGrizzlies.Com