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'Keep stacking': No. 2 Montana overcomes elements, opens playoff run strong as Grizzlies continue to roll

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Posted at 5:33 PM, Dec 03, 2023

MISSOULA — Night games at Washington-Grizzly Stadium can be a little funky and weird but definitely memorable.

That was the case again on Saturday night, as for the second straight year, Missoula played host to a snow bowl under the lights as the Montana Grizzlies dominated the Delaware Blue Hens 49-19 in the second round of the FCS playoffs.

PHOTOS: MONTANA TOPS DELAWARE IN SNOWY FCS PLAYOFF GAME

For the Grizzlies (11-1), they're just keeping this train rolling with their eighth straight victory as Montana now advances to the FCS quarterfinal round.

"It was a nice job by our guys," UM head coach Bobby Hauck said. "I think the elements are a bit of a struggle for us with our style of play, the type of player we have on our team, and I was proud of our guys for fighting through it, so good by our guys.

"We're excited to get the win and we'll be real excited for next week against Furman here. Let's go get them."

When the snow starts falling during a game, the atmosphere transforms completely at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, and the crowd and players reflected it as the calendar turned to December and winter finally arrived.

For Griz quarterback Clifton McDowell, who hails from Texas, it was his first experience in a game like that.

"That was my first snow game, it was a fun experience," McDowell said. "Just, I mean, it was kind of hard seeing out there with all the snow and the snowfall was like very thick, so it was fun experience."

GRIZ POSTGAME: HAUCK, MCDOWELL, LEE BREAK DOWN WIN OVER DELAWARE

And after throwing an interception on the second play of the game, McDowell rebounded well to lead the offense from there as he finished 10 for 19 for 186 yards and two touchdowns, the pick, and he also rushed for 51 yards and another score.

"Just relying on my guys keeping my head up allowing me not to just fall into throwing a pick on the second play," McDowell said about adjusting. "Just shout out to my guys, just keeping me going and keep my confidence up."

"Our guy from the south did a pretty good job handling the snow, and Cliff’s handled the elements well for a guy that hasn't played in a bunch of it. We practice in it," Hauck said. "You know, balanced (offense) is what we want. You know, our offensive line is pretty athletic. They're not road grader type athletes, they're more long and athletic. And, you know, when the footing is bad, they can struggle a little bit. I thought we did at times, but, you know, our guys overcame it. I thought they fought their tails off and did a good job getting the win."

McDowell threw touchdown passes to Keelan White and Evan Shafer. Nick Ostmo and Xavier Harris added rushing touchdowns as well as UM racked up 389 yards of offense in the snow.

Up 3-0 in the first quarter, UM threw a big punch when Sawyer Racanelli blocked a punt that the Grizzlies turned into a touchdown from Harris on the very next play. From there, the Griz were rolling and never looked back.

"Certainly big in the game to block the punt and then score," Hauck said. "Sawyer made a nice play, came off the edge and got there. The punter was going away from him. I actually think Jaxon (Lee) did a nice job of getting the punter pulled up so he couldn't take it totally away from Sawyer, who was loose off the edge. I mean, that's the protection. So, just good play by those guys."

Defensively, the weather presented challenges, as Montana gave up a few big plays and allowed Delaware to gain 347 yards on offense.

"I think it's important as a defensive guy or just a football player in general to wipe away mistakes, have short-term memory, and you can't get down on yourself and you just gotta keep playing football," Lee said. "There's a whole lot of football to play left."

But the Grizzlies still settled in and prevented any flooding, and the back-breaker proved to be a fumble recovery for a touchdown by Lee in the third quarter.

"It's always hard to play in elements," Lee said. "It's hard for the (defensive) line to get off the ball fast. And it's hard to get out of your breaks in the secondary. So, I mean, the snow definitely presents a challenge. But I think our guys did pretty well at it (Saturday) and handled elements well."

UM's defense held Delaware to 5 for 16 on third down and 3 for 7 on fourth. Corbin Walker also picked off a pass for Montana that led to Shafer's score.

From start to finish, the game was never in doubt as Montana started its playoff run strong, took care of business and weathered a couple of slip ups, and now is back in the quarterfinals for the third time since 2019. Montana will take on No. 7 Furman next Friday in Missoula with kickoff slated for 7 p.m. at Washington-Grizzly Stadium with a national TV audience on ESPN2.

It'll be a rematch of the 2001 national championship game between the two programs, a game Montana won 13-6.

"I think it starts with the fact that our team's willing to put in the work week in week out," Hauck said about UM's run. "I mean, we have guys that are mature about their focus and their want to execute within the scheme and play for their teammates. I think that’s showing up on Saturdays."

"I feel like it gives us a huge momentum going into the next week game versus Furman," McDowell added. "And just keep stacking off of this win right here."