MISSOULA — In front of a maroon backdrop with Griz script printed all over it, JP Flynn confidently walked into the Sky Club at Montana’s Adams Center on Saturday and draped the Montana flag over the table.
In the last of his 43 starts at Montana State, Flynn plowed the way up front as the Bobcats ran for 368 yards in a 24-17 win over Montana in the 116th Brawl of the Wild that kept their most bitter rivals from retaining any postseason hopes.
“It’s funny, there is this old saying that the Bettendorf Bulldogs used to say when I was in eighth grade: You’re only as good as your last game,” Flynn said. “It feels good to go out with a win.”
Despite Montana (6-5, 3-5 Big Sky Conference) scoring on its first play from scrimmage on a 58-yard touchdown pass from Brady Gustafson to Justin Calhoun, the Bobcats (4-7, 2-6) controlled the game from the outset. Montana State’s spirited defense and ball-dominant offense allowed the Griz just 20 first-half plays, stripping the tempo from Montana’s quick-strike attack.
Freshman quarterback Chris Murray, who rushed for 177 yards, erased the Grizzlies’ early lead with a dramatic flip into the end zone that capped a seven-play, 40-yard drive.
After Montana State’s next drive stalled, it got the ball again only to face a third-and-3 and a confused Montana defense. As the Griz tried to get their players in the right position, Murray took off up field racing untouched for a 48-yard score and 14-7 lead with more 10:54 remaining in the second.
The game remained that way as the teams traded punts and missed opportunities. Montana State had a chance to kick two field goals, but both were blocked. Montana, however, did nothing with either chance. By halftime the teams combined for nine punts and converted just 4-of-16 third downs – Montana contributing zero in five chances.
Montana State opened the second half with Gunnar Brekke’s 61-yard run that set up a 1-yard Chad Newell plunge. Nick LeSane then picked up 61 yards before Newell went in for a 24-7 lead, seemingly buring the Griz.
Montana started its comeback late in the third with a 28-yard Brandon Purdy field goal. In the fourth, Montana capped a 9-play, 51-yard drive with a 3-yard Joey Counts touchdown that cut Montana State’s lead to 24-17.
“At any point this offense can catch fire,” said Gustafson, who finished 16 of 31 for 192 yards, a touchdown and an interception. “I couldn’t tell you what it was that led to the struggles early. I mean hats off to our guys never giving up and hats off to them for playing a great game.”
Montana stopped the Bobcats, regaining possession at its own 35. John Nguyen rushed for 23 yards and Brady Gustafson found Jerry Louie-McGee for 12 yards and then another 2. But Montana State stuffed Jeremy Calhoun for a loss of two and Gustafson was off the mark with two passes, including an over throw on fourth-and-8.
“Going out like this is a dream come true,” said Newell after rushing for 77 yards and a touchdown. “Five years ago this is what I came here to do and we got it done today.”