Dec. 12, 2009

Sidebar: Battle Of Decade's Best Comes Down To Details

By Glenn R. Junkert
Special to

MISSOULA, Mont. --  Montana quarterback Andrew Selle hit wide receiver Javon Sambrano with a 25-yard scoring pass with 1 minute, 31 seconds remaining, as the Grizzlies broke an icy deadlock for a 24-17 win over the Appalachian State Mountaineers in a Football Championship Subdivision semifinal Saturday.

The Selle-to-Sambrano scoring strike was upheld by an official review before Brody McKnight's point after gave the Grizzlies their winning margin.

Sambrano said he stayed calm while the review was made.

Of the scoring strike, Sambrano said, "I just remember when I lined up, I saw the safety run over to the sideline. I just gave him an inside move, and prayed to God my (cut to the corner) would be there. It was."

The game was far from over.

The Montana crowd of 24,207 then shivered with icy tension as ASU quarterback Armanti Edwards drove the Mountaineers to the Montana 3-yard line before Edwards'  pass with .02 seconds remaining popped off of ASU wide receiver Brian Quick's outstretched gloves to secure Montana's win.

Quick said, "I didn't catch it."

This time the Moutaineers' last-second fortunes were put on ice. It was Edwards who drove ASU to a quarterfinal win over Richmond in last week's quarterfinals.

With the win, Montana (14-0)  advances to the NCAA FCS championship game against Villanova University Dec. 18 at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Saturday's semifinal between the two top-ranked teams in wins in the FCS over the past decade lived up to its billing. The Mountaineers had 497 total yards on offense, while Montana had 373.

But it was the running of Montana's Chase Reynolds, who racked up 193 yards on 23 carries, that put the Grizzlies in position to win.

Reynolds ran for 121 of those yards in the second half, rolling for 24 yards on three carries and 24 more on a reception from Selle to give Montana a 14-10 lead on the first possession of the second half at 13:22.

The teams unleashed a flurry of yo-yo possessions, several decided by key mistakes on both sides.

The Mountaineers responded under Edwards' sure hand, driving to the Montana 19-yard line before Jason Vitaris' field goal attempt was blocked by Montana's Austin Mullins.

Selle engineered a quick reversal of the field with completions of 17 yards to Dan Beaudin and 23 yards to Steve Phaler. But ASU middle linebacker Jacque Roman stepped in front of Selle's next pass for an interception and returned it 34 yards.

Nine plays later running back Devon Moore scored to put ASU back in command, 17-14.

Reynolds responded almost single-handedly, rushing for 56 yards on  four carries, the longest at 33 yards. Montana kicker Brody McKnight then booted a 32-yard field goal through swirling snow only 10 seconds into the final quarter, knotting the score at 17-17.

That set up the theatrics of the tension-filled final quarter.

Two more drives engineered by Edwards ended in failure. Montana's Shann Scillinger intercepted an Edwards pass at the 10-yard line. Then, after a Montana punt the Mountaineers drove again, only to be stopped at the Montana 24, where Vitaris' 44-yard attempt was either missed or tipped by a Montana defender.

Montana took over from there and Reynolds ripped off a 26-yard gain at which point Selle, after a 10-yard Montana holding penalty, made the game-winning connection to Sambrano.

Disappointed ASU coach Jerry Moore, said his team made some "costly mistakes," against a good team.

"The real critical stats showed we had 11 penalties for 131 yards," said Moore. "The ones in the red zone took us out of several scoring opportunities."
The Mountaineers appeared to control the game in the first half.

Montana jumped to a 7-0 lead on its first drive at the 7:44 mark of the first quarter when Reynolds broke left on a hand off from Selle, cut sharply to the middle, and sprinted untouched from 38 yards out.

Selle hit Montana wide receiver Marc Mariani on passes of eight and five yards, and Reynolds ran off left tackle for two 5-yard gains. A quarterback sneak by Selle gave Montana the score. Early signs indicated a revitalized Montana running game.

It was not to be. From there Edwards and the Mountaineers took over. After an exchange of punts, Appalachian State evened the score with an 80-yard drive fueled by Quick's  leaping grab of an Edwards 33-yard pass to the Montana 3-yard line.

Edwards, who was hit by a Montana blitz as he threw the pass, delivered it accurately, but high. Quick still gathered it in.

Running back Moore took it in from the three.

Appalachian State moved to a 10-7 lead on its next series when Vitaris lofted a 46-yard field goal just over the goal posts to culminate a 10-play Mountaineer drive that delivered the goods despite two Mountaineer penalties and a crushing hit on Quick by Grizzly cornerback Andrew Swink.

From that point on to the half, the Mountaineers dominated the line of scrimmage on defense, while Edwards continued to engineer positive yardage, despite an absence of points.

Quick finished with 135 yards on 10 completions while Matt Cline caught seven for 101 yards.

ASU running back Moore rushed for 93 yards on 21 carries.