Story and photo courtesy of Montana State Athletics
MISSOULA, Mont. - Montana State receiver Kruiz Siewing described catching his first touchdown pass in a Cat-Griz game as "surreal." Siewing's teammate, defensive end Caleb Schreibeis, used the same word to describe Montana State's 16-7 win over Montana on Saturday.
But the win was very real, clinching for the Bobcats a share of the team's third consecutive Big Sky Championship and boosting MSU into the Division I Football Championsip Subdivision (FCS) Playoffs. The Cats learn their playoff draw Sunday at 11:30 am.
But on Saturday, Montana State's second straight win over UM in Missoula is all that mattered. "I'm very, very proud of our team to come back and find a way to get Montana stopped, and get enough points to win this game," said Bobcat coach Rob Ash. "We kept working at it until we found a way to get points."
Nine of the points came from the foot or Rory Perez, whose field goals in the third - from 38 yards - and fourth - from 22 - were the only points scored after halftime.
"I thought he had fabulous day," Ash said of his kicker, who also averaged 43.3 yards on nine punts. "He punted extremely well, and those field goals were very clutch. That last one was not very long, but it was a crucial kick. We knew it would give us a two-score lead and probably be the game-winner."
Perez's role in setting up that clinching field goal was huge. On fourth-and-three from the Bobcat 39, Perez nailed a 57-yard punt that pinned the Grizzlies at their own four-yard line. The Bobcat defense forced a three-and-out, and after the punt MSU took over at the Grizzly 49.
"I wrote down on my card that we took over with 8:55 to play," Ash said, "and when we kicked off (after the field goal) there was 2:24 left. That's huge."
That driver of six-and-a-half minutes started with a two-yard run by Cody Kirk, and after a six-yard pass from McGhee to Brian Flotkoetter, Kirk picked up two more to move the chains. A nine-yard completion by McGhee to Flotkoetter sandwiched between runs by Kirk moved MSU to the 19, where, on a third-and-two, McGhee ran for eight yards and a first down. In fact, four consecutive McGhee runs set up the field goal.
The teams battled through an intense and physical first half, with Montana holding sizeable advantage in yards but the Bobcats a narrow lead on the scoreboard. UM out-gained the Bobcats 224 yards to 190 in the first half, including a 127-to-24 rushing advantage. Peter Nguyen gained 88 yards in the first half 88 in the first quarter.
After MSU took a 3-0 lead late in the opening period, Montana moved inside Bobcat territory. Nguyen took a third-and-two handoff near midfield and dashed 47 yards for a touchdown. Two possessions later, Montana State drove 78 yards in nine plays to reclaim the lead. DeNarius McGhee found Kruiz Siewing alone in the end zone for a 16-yard scoring strike to give MSU the 10-7 lead it would carry into the intermission.
While UM moved the ball nearly at will in its first drive, the Bobcats came up with a big play to set up their first score. On a Grizzly first-and-10 from the Montana 33, Cole Moore recovered a UM fumble to give the Bobcats possession at the Grizzly 45. Battling two false start penalties but aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct call on UM, the Bobcats moved to the 24 before the drive stalled. Rory Perez nailed a 42-yard field goal to open the scoring.
The Cats could muster little offense in the first half. McGhee was 15-for-30 passing with a touchdown and interception, although the pick came on a third-and-long right at the end of the half. UM quarterback Shay Smithwick-Hann was efficient through the air, 12-for-16 for 97 yards.
While MSU's offense was able to nail the game down, its defense kept it an open question for some time. After Montana gained 171 yards in the first quarter, the Griz gained only 187 the rest of the game. Schreibeis was in on 16 tackles, getting two crucial pass breakups and one big sack. Jody Owens had 12 tackles, two for a loss, and forced a fumble. Senior cornerback Darius Jones broke up three passes.
McGhee finished the day 26-for-47 for 247 yards. Kirk rushed for 55 yards, and McGhee added 46. Flotkoetter led the Cats with seven catches for 84 yards.
As the game melted away and the time ticked off the clock, McGhee knelt in victory formation, and the Bobcats had their 10th win of the regular season, the most in school history.
"It's a great feeling," Owens said.
Some might say, surreal.