MISSOULA — You can’t keep an old warrior shackled for too long.
Chase Reynolds proved that on a chilly Saturday afternoon.
In what was by far the best performance of an up-and-down campaign, Reynolds rushed for a season-high 173 yards and three touchdowns to lead Montana to a 27-17 victory over non-conference foe North Dakota at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Reynolds also established his name further in the UM record book. With a 4-yard touchdown burst in the fourth quarter, Reynolds got the 51st rushing TD in his illustrious career, which broke the mark previously held by Lex Hilliard.
For a guy who hadn’t scored a rushing touchdown since Oct. 9, this was Reynolds’ resurgence.
“I think our o-line stepped it up quite a bit,” said Reynolds, who increased his season rushing total to 802 yards. “They gave me some great looks to get open and run. It’s been awhile since I’d seen the end zone. It was good to get in there.”
The game was played in the aftermath of a decision made earlier in the week by UM President Royce Engstrom to keep the Grizzlies in the Big Sky Conference and out of the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Montana had been wooed by the Western Athletic Conference, and speculation swirled for months that the Griz were on the cusp of making a big move.
Beyond that, Montana was hosting a school that had recently accepted an invitation to join the Big Sky from the Great West Conference beginning in the 2012-13 academic year, and the game served as a preview of a certain future rivalry.
But in the end, Reynolds reminded everyone of glory days gone by.
The senior from Drummond entered the year on the heels of back-to-back 1,500-yard seasons. But a coaching change and a new scheme in the running game had reduced Reynolds’ smash mouth style and turned him into more of a zone-read player. His statistics have suffered accordingly.
Still, Reynolds is never worried about his numbers. He just wants to win.
“My sense of urgency is always up, whether we’re up 50 points or not,” said Reynolds, who also had 39 yards receiving. “I can’t speak for the other guys, but I think maybe they kind of buckled down. There was a time when we needed to score and get on top of those guys.”
“Our offensive line is getting a little bit better,” added first-year Griz coach Robin Pflugrad. “It’s an evolution – I wish it would have been a revolution after the first game of the year. They really helped Chase get through the line of scrimmage on the inside runs, and then he also had some nice outside runs as well.”
Reynolds scored his first touchdown on a 12-yard jaunt after the start of the second quarter. Taking a shotgun handoff, Reynolds ran left and blew through the first level of North Dakota’s defense, eventually leaping head-first over a Sioux defender into the end zone.
After a fake extra-point attempt that was stuffed, the Griz held a 13-0 lead.
Montana took its initial lead on a 58-yard touchdown pass from Justin Roper to Antwon Moutra down the far sideline in the first quarter.
North Dakota got on the board with a second-quarter scoring plunge by running back Mitch Sutton. That came one play after Dominique Hawkins’ 99-yard kick return to the 1-yard-line.
Zeb Miller closed the gap further with a 29-yard field goal just before halftime, and the Sioux eventually grabbed the lead when Sutton scored on a 50-yard run early in the third quarter.
But Reynolds answered that with a 51-yard run of his own on the ensuing drive. That burst set up his 14-yard touchdown that put the Griz back in the lead, this time for good.
Reynolds capped the scoring with a 4-yard touchdown with 5:21 remaining in the game.
“He’s a tough kid. I like watching him play,” Sioux coach Chris Mussman said of Reynolds. “He’s one of those guys you want on your team. He’s not real flashy but he does all the dirty work they need him to do.”
Roper, coming off a poor performance two weeks ago in a loss at Weber State during which he threw three second-half interceptions, had 231 yards on 14-of-22 passing. Roper’s bomb to Jabin Sambrano down the sideline set up Reynolds’ final touchdown.
But perhaps Roper’s biggest play came after he was intercepted by Sioux defensive lineman Ty Boyle on a screen pass in the second quarter. Boyle tipped the ball and snagged it in mid-air, and looked poised to score.
But Roper, the last man between Boyle and the end zone, made a key tackle and UND eventually had to settle for Miller’s field goal before halftime.
“That was a really good play by (Boyle),” Roper said. “When that happens, there’s no way I’m letting him score.”
NOTES: The announced attendance was 24,151. … Sioux P Brett Cameron averaged 38.2 yards on 12 punts, helping UND win the field position battle for much of the game. … Griz P Brody McKnight also had a nice day, averaging 39 yards on 10 boots. … UM had 190 rushing yards total, and out-gained North Dakota 421 to 209 in total offensive yards.