MISSOULA — No miracle was needed this time.
The Montana Grizzlies handed Stephen F. Austin an old-fashioned postseason pounding.
Behind a rejuvenated defense and a whopping 10 takeaways, Montana marched all over the Lumberjacks for a 51-0 victory in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
A week after erasing two separate 27-point deficits in a wild comeback win over South Dakota State, the Grizzlies made sure they got started on the right foot against the Lumberjacks.
It was a dominating performance from beginning to end.
“The defense was playing with their hair on fire,” said Griz defensive tackle Tyler Hobbs who led the charge with five tackles, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and one interception.
“We knew they were fast and real athletic, so we had to fly around the football and get our motors going. Everyone was in pursuit doing their jobs. It worked out well.”
Montana, now 13-0, talked all week about improving its pass defense, which had been ranked 106th out of 118 teams in the FCS.
But whatever concerns the Grizzlies had about defending SFA’s vaunted passing game were quelled very early on.
It started early as Montana safety Erik Stoll intercepted Jacks’ quarterback Jeremy Moses deep in Grizzly territory on the game’s opening drive.
Then it became contagious. On SFA’s following drive, UM defensive tackle Austin Mullins picked off a screen pass. That set up Montana’s first score, a 34-yard field goal by kicker Brody McKnight.
But those were just two of Montana’s five interceptions. The Griz also had five fumble recoveries.
One of them came on a muffed punt by SFA’s Duane Brooks, which Shann Schillinger recovered on the Lumberjacks’ 22-yard line. That eventually led to a 3-yard touchdown run by Chase Reynolds and a 10-0 Montana lead.
The Jacks came into the game averaging more than 353 passing yards per game and were ranked second in the nation with an average of 484.7 yards of offense per outing, not to mention an FCS-best 37.8 points per game.
They finished with just 229 yards passing, 280 yards of total offense and a big goose egg on the scoreboard.
Moses, who was tops in the FCS with 3,920 passing yards and 40 touchdowns, was at a loss for words in the aftermath.
“Obviously turnovers aren’t going to a win ball game when you’ve got 10 them,” he said. “I really don’t have an explanation for it.
“We just … you know … I don’t know what to say about it.”
The snowball continued to roll when Josh Harris recovered a Ramont Hampton fumble on the Grizzly 2-yard line that led to a 98-yard scoring drive capped by a 4-yard touchdown run by Selle up the middle on play action.
From there, Hobbs recovered a fumble and made an interception on consecutive drives, followed by another fumble recovery by Josh Stuberg and a three-and-out from the Lumberjacks.
In between were a 14-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Selle to Marc Mariani, a 13-yard scoring pass from Selle to Jabin Sambrano and an 11-yard scoring strike from Selle to tight end Steve Pfahler.
At halftime, the Grizzlies led 38-0.
“I thought we played pretty well all across the board on defense,” said Schillinger who had an interception of his own in the third quarter. “We get a lot of credit in the back end for what goes on, but the guys up front did a good job of getting pressure and maybe rattling them a little bit.
“It was a great job by everybody on the defensive and needless to say I’m very happy and excited to be a part of it.”
After throwing five incomplete passes to start the game, Selle settled into a groove. The former Billings West signal caller finished 19 for 30 with 281 yards and three touchdowns.
Reynolds added a 9-yard touchdown sprint on Montana’s first drive of the third quarter. McKnight capped the scoring with a pair of field goals in the third and fourth quarters.
Led by Selle, coupled with the play of their defense, the Grizzlies have now scored 91 unanswered points in their last six quarters.
“We’ve been talking about the quarterback position all year, and I tell you what: When this guy comes in the huddle, everybody’s ready to roll,” Mariani said, referencing Selle.
“We started off a little bit slower than we would have liked to in the first quarter … but when you’ve got a guy executing plays in the backfield it makes it pretty easy on your offense.”
Mariani had six catches for 111 yards and a TD. Mariani now owns the school record for most career receiving yards with 3,071.
Reynolds had 18 carries for 54 yards and two touchdowns, but the Griz were led on the ground by Thomas Brooks-Fletcher, who garnered 89 yards on 14 attempts.
Montana amassed 183 total rushing yards while keeping possession for 36 minutes, 52 seconds.
The Grizzlies advanced to next week’s semifinal round, where they’ll face either Richmond or Appalachian State.
UM will host that game at Washington-Grizzly Stadium either Friday night or Saturday afternoon, a joint decision that will be made today by the NCAA and ESPN.
“Next week’s game, by my estimation, will be the biggest game in the history of our stadium,” said Grizzlies coach Bobby Hauck, who is now 79-16 in seven years at Montana. “It should be a lot of fun.”
NOTES: Montana is now 10-0 all-time in second round playoff games at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. … The Grizzlies held Stephen F. Austin to 51 rushing yards and an average of 1.9 yards per carry. … Montana was an impressive 9 for 10 in red zone scoring opportunities. … Former Montana State head football coach Mike Kramer was in attendance on the Grizzlies’ sideline as a guest of Hauck.