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'Moments we live for': Montana prevailed in thriller to climb back into FCS semifinals

Junior Bergen
Posted at 6:55 PM, Dec 09, 2023

MISSOULA — What a scene it was at Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Friday night, as the Montana football team was playing in its third quarterfinal game in four years.

This time the Griz got over the hump, thanks to an historic performance from returner Junior Bergen and the team buckling down in overtime. With a 35-28 victory over Furman, the Griz were able to punch their ticket to the FCS semifinals for the first time since 2011, where they'll face North Dakota State.

It was an electric atmosphere and the Griz got the job done. They'll be hosting a semifinal game for the first time since 2009.

"Terrific football game, just great effort by both teams," said Montana head coach Bobby Hauck. "They both obviously played hard right to the to the final play. And coach (Clay Hendrix), he should be proud of his team, as I am of my team."

One player that stood above the rest was Bergen, with 244 all-purpose yards including returning the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown and later setting a school record with the fourth punt return TD of his career, a 59-yarder in the fourth quarter, to put the Griz back in front.

"God is good, man," said Bergen. "My teammates blocked it up really well. And I was just back there praying to get a return ball and thankfully I did. I just had to beat the last dude and we ended up in the endzone."

Despite scoring 14 points in the first 10 minutes of the game, the Griz found themselves tied and heading into overtime. And after scoring on their opening possession, it was the defense that stepped up to the plate.

"It was crazy because on the field, I looked at Trevin (Gradney), I was like these are the moments we live for, you know what I mean," said redshirt senior safety Trajon Cotton. "I feel like our team is kind of made for that moment. And it was just fun. We were ready. And we were happy to come out with the W."

"It’s amazing, and all those guys come out and support us each and every week every time we're at home," Bergen said of the Griz crowd that showed up Friday night. "You know that student section is always packed, and I appreciate those guys for coming out and supporting us for sure."
 
While it wasn’t pretty, the Griz walked away with the win in their closest game in almost two months since defeating another quarterfinal team, the Idaho Vandals, in Moscow.

"Good teams find a way to win. But great teams win when they don't have their 'A' game and they aren’t playing their best," said Hauck. "And that was not our best game this season. We found a way to win. That is a championship effort by the Montana Grizzlies, so I'm proud of our football team."

Amid their deepest playoff run in over a decade, and one win away from a trip to the national championship game in Frisco, Texas, the Griz have just one thing on their mind: Whatever it takes, win. 

"It's awesome to win, it's fun to win a lot," said Hauck. "And like I said the last four years we've been 10 wins, 10 wins, eight wins, and then 12, whatever we've got. Playing in a national semifinal ... you know we have a good football team, we win a lot, and this was a big win for us, and we're excited about trying to get that next one."

The Grizzlies will host perennial power North Dakota State in the semis on Saturday in Missoula. The Bison are coming off a 45-17 quarterfinal victory over South Dakota.