MISSOULA – Even Montana coach Bobby Hauck was unsure if he made the right call when he decided to go for a touchdown on fourth down from the 1-yard line Saturday with 1:20 to play in a tie game with Eastern Washington.
“You can’t accuse me of not having courage,” Hauck said after his gamble paid off and the Grizzlies defeated the Eagles, 41-34.
“I don’t know if that was a smart play, but it worked out,” he said.
Chase Reynolds plunged into the end zone on the fourth-down play — Montana’s third successful fourth-down try of the day — to lift the Grizzlies to victory.
“I would have rather scored on third down,” Reynolds said. “But I had a great push from the guys up front and my job was just to beat one guy.”
Reynolds’ touchdown capped a wild second half that saw the Grizzlies and the Eagles each put 21 points on the board.
The win kept Montana perfect on the season at 6-0 overall and 3-0 in Big Sky Conference play. Eastern Washington fell to 4-3 and 3-2.
The Eagles jumped out to a 10-2 lead on a 13yard pass from Matt Nichols to Nathan Overbay and a 39-yard field goal by Mike Jarrett.
Montana’s only points in the first quarter came on a safety after the ball was snapped over punter Cameron Zuber’s head and out of the end zone.
Montana ran off 17 straight points to go up 20-10 in the second quarter. Brody McKnight booted a 27-yard field goal, Justin Roper threw a 1-yard TD pass to Robert Overton, and Reynolds rumbled in on 16-yard TD run.
Jarrett cut Montana’s lead to 20-13 with a 48-yard field goal as time ran out in the first half.
Then came the wild second half. The Grizzlies scored on an 18-yard pass from Andrew Selle to Ty Palmer in the third quarter. The Eagles bounced back when Nichols threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Ashton Gant and a 50-yard TD pass to Aaron Boyce to knot the score at 27-27.
Marc Mariani put Montana back on top with an 80-yard punt return.
“That was huge,” Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin said. “He’s a great player. I have a lot of respect for the way he plays the game.”
The Eagles came right back, tying the game again at 34-34 on a 1-yard run by Taiwan Jones with 4:58 left in the game.
Montana marched back down the field, going 74 yard in 12 plays to clinch the win on Reynolds’ 1-yard run.
“I knew it was going to be a fight,” Baldwin said. “They made one more play than we did.”
Reynolds ended the day with 69 yards on 21 carries. Montana’s receivers were lead by tight end Steve Pfahler, who hauled in five passes for 79 yards.
Nichols completed 32-of-49 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns. Jones rushed for 145 yards on 17 carries. Linebacker J.C. Sherritt recorded a game-high 17 tackles.
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