FCS No. 12 Montana pulled off a tremendous upset Saturday in Missoula, taking down No. 1 North Dakota State with a last-second comeback after what was a whirlwind first game of the season.
The game was advertised as a clash of styles, and it certainly lived up to the billing. North Dakota State's power-based offense spent much of the game running the ball down the gut, while new Montana head coach Bob Stitt used some trickery from his unconventional, high-paced offensive playbook.
The two teams traded the lead back and forth in the first half, but North Dakota State took a 28-21 lead into halftime thanks to four total touchdowns from quarterback Carson Wentz.
After a slow start to the second half, Montana tied it up with this explosive play.
North Dakota State took the lead back in the fourth quarter, but fumbled the ball away with just over six minutes left and a 35-28 advantage. Montana kicked a field goal to bring the game within four points, and forced a punt to get the ball back with 96 seconds on the clock and a chance to win it. On fourth-and-10 with less than 30 seconds remaining, Montana completed a pass over the middle to keep the drive going.
On fourth-and-goal, Joey Counts pounded the ball in from 1 yard out to take the lead and the win.
3 things you should know:
1. Bob Stitt at Montana is going to be just as fun as you hoped. The Grizzlies tried a hook-and-lateral (it didn't work), ran offensive 92 plays and provided a terrific stylistic counter to North Dakota State's own excellent game plan. The Grizzlies put up 544 yards against the Bison (NDSU gave up an average of 280 last season) as a two-touchdown underdog, defeating the four-time repeat national champions in the coach's very first game at the FCS level.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, a friend of Stitt who has used his plays before to great effect, approves.
If this is what the Stitt offense at Montana looks like in Game 1, the Grizzlies are going to be absolutely terrifying by the end of the season. To all FCS teams that haven't won four straight national championships: watch out.
2. The march for five straight titles is (still) on. North Dakota State was not handed an easy task to start off its title defense, and a last-second touchdown ended up being the difference.
The Bison have undergone changes at head coach, quarterback and everywhere else over their four-year title run. If a new defense can hang with a Bob Stitt offense, there's plenty of reason to hope for a fifth straight title. This first game is a misstep, but the FCS Playoff system allows plenty of room for early-season error.
3. Carson Wentz is probably your next FCS-to-NFL quarterback. Wentz had to take over the Bison's QB position from all-time FCS wins leader Brock Jensen last season, and he proceeded to set program record in yards and completions en route to another national title. He started off his campaign for the 2015 Payton Award in style, totaling four touchdowns, including the season's first WHEEL ROUTE.
Wentz finished the game 16-of-28 for 198 yards and two touchdowns, running 13 times for 70 yards and two more scores. He looked impressive in all phases of the game, and looks likely to join former FCS QBs Joe Flacco and Jimmy Garoppolo at the next level.