The FCS Quarterfinals got started Friday night, with the UNI Panthers traveling to Missoula to take on the Montana Grizzlies. UNI was coming off a defeat of Wofford, the Panthers' only previous game of the postseason because they had received a first-round bye.
By the time the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs come around, the remaining teams are usually fairly evenly matched. With the Panthers ranked No. 5 and the Griz ranked No. 4, it appeared that Friday's game would be a close one.
Except Friday's game between Montana and UNI turned out not to be one of those matchups of evenly matched teams, as the Griz absolutely demolished the Panthers en route to a 48-10 victory.
The Panthers got on the scoreboard first with a touchdown pass from Tirrell Rennie to Jarred Herring with about 10 minutes remaining in the first quarter. That would be the only time in the game that UNI had the lead. From that point on, Montana outscored UNI 48-3.
On a frigid night in front of over 23,000 fans at Washington-Grizzly stadium, the Montana defense stood firm, limiting the Panthers to 257 yards of offense while forcing three turnovers, all interceptions. UNI QB Rennie was largely contained, as he managed only 93 passing yards and was held to a 2.2 yards-per-carry average in the rushing game.
The Montana offense was also clicking on all cylinders, as Griz QB Jordan Johnson threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions, while averaging almost ten yards per attempt. He also added 86 yards and a touchdown on the ground on only 10 attempts, for a yards per carry average of 8.6.
The rest of the Montana offense also played well, with an extremely balanced effort. Peter Nguyen, Jordan Canada, Dan Moore and Brett Kirschner all had over 20 yards rushing apiece, which allowed the Griz to rack up 267 yards on the ground.
Even the Montana special teams played at a high level, as punter/kicker Brody McKnight pinned the Panthers inside their own 5-yard line on multiple occasions. Perhaps the only mistake he made all night was missing an extra point when the Griz were already up by over 30 points.
The Griz players showed an intense amount of focus and determination. In the fourth quarter, with Montana already up big, Johnson scrambled out of the pocket on a 3rd-and-long near his own goal line. Running back Dan Moore followed him out of the pocket and proceeded to lay down a huge block that allowed Johnson to get the first down.
In the last five minutes of the game, the Griz faced 4th-and-4 at the Panther 28-yard line. Instead of attempting the field goal or using a pass in order to run up the score, the Grizzlies ran the ball up the middle in order to show good sportsmanship and give the Panthers a good shot at getting the ball back.
Running back Brett Kirschner was met almost immediately, but still almost picked up the first down as he kept his legs pumping and lunged and twisted in order to make the mark. He came up barely short, but not for lack of effort on what was an otherwise meaningless play.
Montana didn't just beat UNI, they absolutely dominated them. When combined with the Griz's dominating 41-14 victory over Central Arkansas in Round 2 of the playoffs, the performance paints a picture of an extremely dangerous Montana team that has a lot of focus and determination, one that now must surely be the favorite to win the FCS championship.