MISSOULA — Makena Simis threw for 321 yards and tied a school record with six touchdowns in his first start, and the Montana Grizzlies swamped North Dakota 42-16 on Saturday.
Montana (4-3, 3-1 Big Sky), trailed early after John Santiago scored on an 80-yard run on North Dakota’s first snap. The Grizzlies dominated after that, taking the lead for good at 14-10 on a 36-yard touchdown pass from Simis to Ellis Henderson with 5:27 left in the second quarter.
Henderson and Jamaal Jones each caught two touchdown passes. Henderson hauled in a 63-yarder to push the lead to 21-10 before halftime, and Jones caught touchdowns covering 74 and 22 yards, the last pushing the gap to 42-10 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Simis, a sophomore, began the season as the third-string quarterback. He completed 15 of 22 passes.
“He did a great job of executing the game plan,” Bob Stitt, UM’s first-year coach, said. “We gave him some options and had some other things where we didn’t give him options. He did a nice job checking protections when we needed it, and he gave our receivers a chance. And they made plays.”
The game turned after North Dakota drove 57 yards to a short field goal from Reid Taubenheim for a 10-7 lead. Montana scored 36 seconds later, with Henderson snaring a TD pass at 5:27 of the second quarter.
Simis and Henderson hooked up again at the 2:43 mark, with the junior receiver going up and over a falling defender.
“It’s easy when you’ve got dudes on the outside that can create separation,” Simis said. “You just have to get them the ball. They made some incredible plays.”
North Dakota quarterback Ryan Bartels was making his second start in place of the injured Keaton Studsrud, and the junior completed 10 of 21 passes for 113 yards.
Bartels was intercepted once, by linebacker Jeremiah Kose on North Dakota’s first possession of the second half. Simis then found Josh Horner for 12 yards and a touchdown to make it 28-10 with 11:33 left in the third quarter.
“It was a back-and-forth game in the first half, but once again, you just can’t give up big pass plays,” North Dakota coach Bubba Schweigert said. “You’ve got to make offenses earn their scores and we didn’t do a good enough job of that today.”
Simis also had a 23-yard touchdown pass to Ben Roberts. Jones caught four passes for 139 yards, while Henderson had three catches for 114.
Santiago, a freshman, ran for a career-best 178 yards for North Dakota (4-4, 2-3).
Montana returns to the road next week for another must-win battle at Portland State.
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