MISSOULA – Under a hazy sky, the 14th-ranked University of Montana Grizzly football team defeated the visiting Liberty University Flames 34-14 Saturday afternoon in UM’s final non-league game of the season in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
They say the numbers don’t lie, but they did this time. In the first meeting of these two teams, Liberty had more first downs, more passing yards and more time with the ball. While the Flames may have seemed more dominant offensively, Montana used their time efficiently to rack up 201 rushing yards, almost ten times that of what Liberty (0-3) put on the board. And, it paid off by giving the Grizzlies (2-1) their second victory of the season.
Montana built up some much-needed momentum when senior halfback Peter Nguyen returned a 90-yard punt for a touchdown with 5:54 left in the first quarter. Nguyen’s return ranks as the third longest punt return in school history.
To open up the second quarter, Montana defense forced a fumble to give the Grizzlies possession of the ball at Liberty’s 32-yard line. On the next play, Dan Moore pummeled through Liberty’s defense for a touchdown. Montana lengthened is lead 14-0. With a little less than ten minutes left to go in the quarter, redshirt freshman quarterback Trent McKinney rushed six yards into the end zone to up the Grizzly lead to 21-0.
Redshirt freshman kicker Chris Lider was looking to improve his consistency, and he did just that. To close out the second quarter, Lider kicked a 42-yard field goal to put the Griz up 24-0. Lider also connected two PAT tries after the three UM touchdowns.
Liberty tried to stage a comeback with a 14-yard touchdown pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Woodrum to senior wide receiver Pat Kelly to put the Flames on the board in the third quarter, while their defense held Montana to no touchdowns in that stanza.
To start off the fourth quarter, Montana answered back with a touchdown of its own. McKinney connected a two yard pass with senior tight end Greg Hardy to put one in the end zone. The Grizzlies distanced themselves from the Flames 31-7.
Less than two minutes later, the Flames created some momentum of their own on a five-play, 92-yard scoring drive that culminated with a 31-yard pass from Woodrum to senior wide receiver Ryan Ferguson. The Grizzly defense held strong and handed the game off to the offense with 5:34 left to go in the game. They put Lider in position to connect on a 46 yard field goal – a career long.
The Grizzlies ended the game with a bang when redshirt freshman linebacker Nick Holt forced a Liberty fumble which was recovered by redshirt freshman safety Justin Whitted. Montana rolled down the clock and closed out the game at Liberty’s 17-ayd line.
McKinney completed 19 of 26 passes for 95 yards and rushed for 28 yards on seven totes. He had no interceptions and was sacked once. Hardy had seven receptions for 29 yards and one touchdown. Moore racked up 92 yards with 16 carries. The Grizzlies, who four turnovers last Saturday at Appalachian State, turned the ball over just once on a fumble.
Montana’s defense was led by junior linebacker John Kanongata’a, who had 10 tackles, while redshirt sophomore defensive end Zack Wagenmann had three stops for loss, a pair of sacks, and a pass deflection.
Woodrum was 34-of-440-1 for 322 yards and two touchdowns, while Kelly had 14 receptions for 88 yards and a TD.
Next Saturday Montana celebrates homecoming, and opens up Big Sky Conference play against the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks. Liberty hosts Lehigh.
– UM Sports Information