(Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series on the 25th anniversary of the Montana Grizzlies' 1995 national champion football team. For Part 1, click here. For Part 3, click here. For all 95 at 25 content and stories, click here).
MISSOULA -- The Montana offense was a powerhouse in the NCAA Division I-AA en route to the Grizzlies' 1995 national championship victory. The Montana offense outscored its opponents 163-14 in the first three playoff games at Washington-Grizzly Stadium before the Grizzlies' 22-20 win over Marshall in the title game.
Outscoring opponents by 149 points in what’s supposed to be the more competitive part of the season showed just how dominant the Griz offense was, but it was nothing new for a team that averaged 42.5 points per game and had been on a roll all year.
In 1995 the Montana offense was on a tear, and whenever it had an off game, the defense was right there to back it up.
“To have a special offense you kind of have to have everything working," said Griz wide receiver Matt Wells. "Obviously everybody knows we have the greatest quarterback in Montana history, but we also had great coaching and great play-calling.”
The 1995 Montana Grizzlies went 9-2 in the regular season with losses to Washington State in Week 2 and another to Idaho in Week 8.
But when the time came to dominate, the Griz rolled into the playoffs with a full head of steam and didn’t look back, rattling off three straight dominant home wins against Eastern Kentucky, Georgia Southern and Stephen F. Austin.
“When we talk about playoffs and how many points we scored, the real funny thing is, I think most of those points were scored in the first half,” said Wells.
However, when the Griz arrived at the national championship game in West Virginia, they were met with one of the best defenses, if not the best, they had ever faced.
“It felt like we were working very hard to get every tiny, little yard that we could get," said Wells. "It was a real struggle that game. The other games it was just whatever we wanted to do, and in the (championship) game, they were a great defense.”
While the Griz knew their foe was not to be taken lightly, Marshall didn’t seem to approach it the same way.
“They were kind of making fun of the guys on our team and I feel like Marshall didn’t give us a real shot," said Griz quarterback Dave Dickenson. "I felt like they thought they were better, and they were a great team, there’s no doubt about it. I definitely had a little chip on my shoulder, and I thought it was going to be the end. I thought it was going to be the last game I ever played.”
What Marshall thought would be an easy victory turned into a seesaw battle with both teams going back and forth on the defensive end while the offenses picked up any points they could.
Montana was the lone scorer in the first quarter with a field goal and took a 10-3 lead into the half after Dickenson connect with Wells for the first touchdown of the game.
In the third quarter, Marshall tied it up before Montana recorded a safety to regain the narrow lead, 12-10. Then Dickenson found Wells for his second touchdown catch of the game to make it 19-10 in the fourth quarter.
But Marshall kicked a field goal, then took a 20-19 lead after a long touchdown run from Chris Parker with 4:45 to play.
However, Montana's offense came through when it mattered most, putting together a game-winning drive as Dickenson threw a strike to Mike Erhart over the middle before kicker Andy Larson sealed the deal with a 25-yard field goal.
While it was a road game at Marshall, Dickenson recalled the spirit of Missoula and Washington-Grizzly Stadium right there on Dec. 16, 1995.
“If you look back at the people in Missoula, we sold about 2,500 seats, but we could’ve sold another probably 10,000," said Dickenson. "Being at Marshall in their home stadium, it was definitely a hostile environment, but I think our fans stepped it up and were maybe just as loud by the end of it.”