SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Torrey Thomas returned an interception 17 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to highlight a strong defensive effort Saturday afternoon that helped top-ranked Montana defeat Sacramento State 17-3.
Montana scored a first-quarter touchdown and never trailed against the upset-minded Hornets, who have never beaten Montana, losing for the 13th straight time and disappointing their homecoming crowd.
Montana (6-0, 3-0), ranked No. 1 in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division 1-AA), is the defending Big Sky champ and has won 11 straight conference games.
Struggling Sacramento State (1-5, 1-3) outgained the Grizzlies 346 to 173 in total yards, but were hindered by six turnovers.
On a first down play from the Sacramento State 4, Thomas picked off an overthrown pass by quarterback Jason Smith and went untouched into the end zone with 4:13 remaining to clinch the victory. Both Thomas and Quinton Jackson had two interceptions.
Jackson intercepted Smith in the end zone on Sac State’s final drive and returned the ball near the Hornets’ 30. Montana took a knee to run out the clock.
Smith completed 23 of 50 passes for 202 yards, but threw five interceptions. Hornet running back Bryan Hilliard gained 83 yards on 17 carries and Ryan Coogler caught eight passes for 58 yards.
While its defense was stout, Montana had trouble offensively throughout, producing just one scoring drive in the opening half. Two-time all-conference running back Lex Hilliard was limited to 33 yards on 15 carries and the Grizzlies had four turnovers.
After stopping several second-half scoring threats by the Hornets, the Grizzlies used Dan Carpenter’s career-best 54-yard field goal to assume a 10-3 lead with 6:45 remaining in the game.
The Hornets, who trailed 7-3 at the half, threatened to take the lead following a fumble recovery by Brett Shelton on the Montana 48 early in the third quarter. But after Cyrus Mulitalo was stopped on a third-down run at the 3, Juan Gamboa missed a 20-yard field goal attempt.
Montana took the lead early after a Sacramento State gamble failed. On fourth-and-4 from its 39, Mulitalo was stopped short on a fake punt and the Grizzlies took over on the Hornets’ 36. The Grizzlies used an efficient eight-play scoring drive that included a couple of first-down passes by Cole Bergquist.
Hilliard carried four straight times, the final one a fourth-down TD run from the 1 that put Montana ahead 7-0 at the 7:17 mark of the first quarter.
Stymied for much of the first half offensively, the Hornets used the passing of Smith and the running of Travon Jones to set up Gamboa’s 28-yard field goal that cut the Montana lead to 7-3 midway through the second quarter.
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