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Football

Montana Advances to FCS Semifinals with 35-28 Victory Over Furman in OT

Montana (12-1), the second seed, will host and take a nine-game win streak into its semifinal against the winner of Saturday's matchup between No. 3 seed South Dakota and North Dakota State

By Associated Press

MISSOULA – Junior Bergen returned two kicks for scores and Clifton McDowell threw a touchdown pass to Keelan White in overtime to send Montana to the FCS Championship semifinals with a 35-28 victory over Furman on Friday night.

Montana (12-1), the second seed, will host and take a nine-game win streak into its semifinal against the winner of Saturday’s matchup between No. 3 seed South Dakota and North Dakota State. The Grizzlies, making a record 27th appearance in the FCS playoffs, have won 11 straight at home and improved to 11-0 all time at home in the quarterfinals.

Montana, which grabbed a 7-0 lead on Bergen’s 99-yard kickoff return to start the game, had not trailed in the second half since its lone loss in the fourth game of the season — a 28-14 defeat at Northern Arizona — when Bergen took a fourth-quarter punt and raced 59 yards to the end zone for a 26-21 lead. McDowell passed to Sawyer Racanelli for the two-point conversion.

Furman (10-3), which punted 12 times up to then including nine after going three-and-out, got the ball for a final time with 1:37 left to play. A pass interference penalty gave the Paladins a first-and-10 at the Montana 13 with 36 seconds to go. Tyler Huff threw three straight incompletions before connecting with Mason Pline for a touchdown. Furman lined up to go for two points and the win, but a false start changed it to a kick and forced overtime.

Montana got the ball first in the extra period and McDowell connected with White for a 13-yard score. The Grizzlies stuffed Wayne Anderson Jr. for a 5-yard loss on a first-down run and Huff threw incomplete on the next three downs.

Bergen set a school record with his fourth career punt-return score. He is the first player in program history to return a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in the same game.

Furman needed 85 seconds and four plays to even the score on its first possession. Huff connected with Colton Hinton for a 70-yard gain on third-and-6, setting up Dominic Roberto’s 1-yard plunge on the next play.

The Grizzlies regained the lead with two rushes from McDowell. The senior ran for 8 yards on first down and covered the final 40 on the next play. The Paladins needed just three plays to knot the score at 14-14 after one quarter, using Huff’s 53-yard touchdown run on third-and-3.

Nico Ramos made 2 of 3 field-goal attempts in the second quarter to give Montana a 20-14 lead at halftime. Ramos had made all seven of his field goals this season — and 16 in a row dating to last season — before misfiring on a 42-yarder with 1:54 left. He missed a go-ahead 42-yarder late in the third quarter.

Furman used a turnover to grab its first lead of the game — with 6:22 left in the third quarter. Micah Robinson picked off a McDowell pass and returned it 34 yards to the Grizzlies’ 19. Four plays later Roberto bulled his way into the end zone from a yard out and the Paladins led 21-20.

McDowell rushed for a career-high 118 yards on 21 carries for Montana. He completed 17 of 31 passes for 208 yards. White finished with five catches for 91 yards.

Huff completed just 16 of 47 passes for 188 yards with one interception for Furman (10-3). He carried 11 times for 71 yards. Pline caught nine passes for 78 yards.

The game was a rematch of the 2001 title game, won by Montana 13-6 for its second and most recent championship. Montana beat Marshall 22-20 in Huntington, W.Va., in 1995 for its first title. Marshall came back the next season to beat the visiting Grizzlies 49-29 in the title game.

It was just the third Friday night game in the history of Washington-Grizzly Stadium, which opened in 1986.

Bobby Hauck has led Montana to seven of its 15 quarterfinal appearances in two stints with the Grizzlies (2003-09 and 2018-present). The Grizzlies are 16-10 under Hauck in postseason play.

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