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Sep 1, 2012 11:23 PM by Q2 Sports

Griz avoid opening upset with big final 20 minutes

MISSOULA - The University of Montana Grizzlies' two senior running backs rushed for more than 100 yards each, as the 10th/11th-ranked host Grizzlies defeated the University of South Dakota Coyotes 35-24 in the season opener for the teams Saturday afternoon in front of 25,156 partisan fans in UM's Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

Dan Moore had career-highs of 27 carries for 148 yards and a touchdown, while fellow UM senior halfback Peter Nguyen had 10 totes for 192 yards and a score. The Grizzlies picked up a school-record 34 first downs in the win.

The Grizzlies (1-0) dominated the Coyotes in total yards (568 to 233) and first downs (34 to 9), but found themselves in an eight point (24-16) deficit mid-way through the third quarter.

Montana led 16-10 at halftime, but the Coyotes, coached by former (2000-02) Griz mentor Joe Glenn, scored back-to-back touchdowns in a little more than a minute to take a 24-16 lead at the 9:47 mark of the third stanza.

On its first play of the third period quarterback Josh Vander Maten hit fellow sophomore Terrance Terry for an 80-yard downtown bomb, giving USD a 17-16 edge. Just a few plays later safety Charlie Goro picked off a Trent McKinney pass and returned it 50 yards for another score to give the visitors the 24-16 advantage.

The Grizzlies quickly regained the momentum, though with a bit of trickery, as on the their next series senior tight end Greg Hardy connected with senior wide receiver Bryce Carver for a 39-yard touchdown, and UM cut the USD lead to 24-22 with 7:11 left in the third.

Two series after Hardy's first career pass attempt and subsequent TD, the Grizzlies scored back-to-back touchdowns thanks to two straight USD turnovers.

The first USD mistake came when junior linebacker John Kanongata'a picked off a Vander Maten pass and the Griz took possession of the ball on the Coyotes' 34-yard line. Two runs by Nguyen picked up 20 yards, and then after that Moore broke free for a 14-yard scoring jaunt, and Montana led 28-24 with 4:49 remaining in the third stanza and would lead the rest of the way.

The Griz added an insurance score when sophomore defensive end Tonga Takai recovered a Coyote fumble on the USD 13-yard line. Three plays later Nguyen scored on a 3-yard run with 3:25 left in the third, in what proved to be the final points of the game.

Montana took an early 10-0 lead on a 21-yard field goal by redshirt freshman kicker Chris Lider and a 4-yard scoring pass from McKinney to senior wide receiver Sam Gratton. USD then cut the UM lead to 10-3 on a field goal by Kevin Robb with 10:33 left in the second quarter.

The Griz took a 16-3 lead on an 18-yard scoring strike from McKinney to junior wide receiver Cam Warren (his first career TD) with 6:08 left until intermission. An 8-yard Vander Maten to Terry pass made it 16-10 Grizzlies at the break.

The USD pick for a touchdown was one of the few mistakes that McKinney, a redshirt freshman in his first start, would make in the contest. The 6-0, 205-pounder from Mililani, Hawaii, was 26-of-32-1 (81.3%) for 214 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and he also rushed 13 times for 65 yards.

Gratton and sophomore wide-out Sean Haynes had a game-high 5 receptions each, while Carver and Nguyen had 4 grabs each. Warren had 3 grabs for 41 yards and a score.

The Griz racked up 315 yards rushing on 64 carries; ran 98 plays; had a 11-minute (35:57 to 23:03) edge in time of possession, to go along with their single-game record of 34 total first downs.

Junior linebacker Jordan Tripp led the Griz defense with 10 tackles, and also had a sack and a forced fumble. Kanongata'a added 8 stops, while senior linebacker Josh Stuberg added 6 tackles. UM's "D" held USD to 233 total yards (61 rushing) and 9 first downs.

Vander Maten was 12-of-19-1 for 172 yards and two TDs. USD sophomore linebacker Kyle Guziec had a game-high 15 tackles.

Montana plays sixth-ranked Appalachian State next Saturday, Sept. 8, in a 4:30 p.m. (Mountain Time) game in Boone, North Carolina. The Mountaineers lost 35-13 at FBS member East Carolina today (Sept. 1) in front of 49,023 fans, ASU and out-gained ECU 419 to 390 in total offense.

USD hosts Colgate on Sept. 8.

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