MISSOULA – The cross-state rivalry between Montana and Montana State showcased Montana sophomore Chase Reynolds and junior Marc Mariani on Saturday, each scoring two touchdowns in a game that let the Grizzlies take advantage of five Montana State turnovers to post a 35-3 victory.
With the win, coupled with Eastern Washington’s 33-26 upset of Weber State, the fifth-ranked Grizzlies clinched a share of their 11th consecutive Big Sky Conference crown.
Both Montana and Weber State finished the regular season with 7-1 league records. Weber State gained the league’s automatic bid to the Football Championship Series playoffs by virtue of its 45-28 win over the Grizzlies in October. Montana, 11-1 overall, has won seven straight since then, by an average margin of 25 points since then.
“Any time you beat your rival 35-3 it’s a great day for your football team and for your fans and constituents,” said coach Bobby Hauck. “I’m real enthused. I’m excited about our football team.”
The game was played in front of a record 25,629 in Washington-Grizzly Stadium, where Montana has won 10 of 11 against its cross-state foe. The Grizzlies came out in copper-and-gold uniforms, colors replaced by maroon and silver after they won their first Division I-AA championship in 1995.
Reynolds scored on runs of 6 yards in the second quarter and 15 yards in the fourth. He finished with 115 yards on the ground, more than half of them in a 98-yard drive that ate up nearly 10 minutes in the final quarter.
Mariani scored Montana’s first touchdown on a 75-yard punt return, his second return for a score in as many weeks. His 37-yard reception from Cole Bergquist put the Grizzlies up 21-3 late in the third quarter. He suffered an injured ankle on the play and didn’t return.
That came after Montana’s Shann Schillinger picked off a Mark Desin pass at the home team’s 6-yard line, one of two interceptions thrown by Desin, a converted wide receiver for the injury-plagued Bobcats. The second was returned 73 yards by Grizzly lineman George Mercer with 12 seconds to play.
Montana State, 7-5 and 5-3 in Big Sky play, also lost three fumbles. Those mistakes negated a career-best 203-yard rushing game by Bobcat senior Demetrius Crawford.
Crawford, who carried 26 times, ripped off an 84-yard gain to the Montana 3-yard line on his first carry. But the Grizzlies stopped four straight Montana State runs, the last ending with a Desin fumble recovered by Montana safety Colt Anderson on the 5.
“That’s as good a goal-line stand as we’ve ever had here,” Hauck said. “That was huge for our team.”
“We got off to a good start with Demetrius’ big run, but definitely got ourselves out of it with those fumbles and turnovers and things like that,” said Desin, a sophomore making his second start. “I’d say we took ourselves out of the game definitely more than their defense did.”
Montana State failed to score a touchdown against Montana for the first time since 2000, despite outgaining the Grizzlies 294 yards to 283.
Montana led 14-3 at halftime despite having to punt on its first five possessions and failing to convert on fourth down and short twice, the second on a fake field goal. The Grizzlies were also 0-for-7 on third-down conversions in the first two quarters.
“We didn’t feel like we’d played real well, but that’s how these games go,” Hauck said.
Montana’s clock-eating fourth quarter drive lasted 20 plays. Reynolds had 10 of his 27 carries in the march and rushed for 61 yards. Bergquist completed third-down passes of 15 yards to Jabin Sabrano and 14 yards to Rob Schulte.
Both quarterbacks had lackluster passing games. Bergquist finished 11 for 22 with 156 yards and one touchdown. Desin was 7 of 20 for 81 yards.
“The errors in a game like this are very hard to recover from,” said second-year Montana State coach Rob Ash. “I thought we handled the situations well in the first half, but it really set the stage in the second half.”
Montana, a shoo-in for the Football Championship Series playoffs for the 16th straight year, is expected to host a first-round game next Saturday. The playoff pairings will be announced on ESPNU at 5 p.m. Sunday.
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