MISSOULA – It was a tale of two halves Friday night. For the Montana Grizzlies, who seemed dead in the water, that meant a rousing comeback victory in the first round of the FCS playoffs.
The Grizzlies erased a 21-point third-quarter deficit to defeat Southeast Missouri 34-24 in front of a small Thanksgiving-weekend crowd that came to life after halftime.
Malik Flowers returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to fuel Montana’s surge. That was followed by 17-yard TD throw from Lucas Johnson to Keelan White and a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown by Junior Bergen as the Griz came roaring back.
UM looked like a completely different team after Flowers’ kickoff return and stole the momentum from SEMO, which made the playoffs by virtue of a tie-breaking coin flip over fellow Ohio Valley Conference team UT Martin.
Turning point: Montana needed a spark. Something. Anything. Malik Flowers provided it, returning a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown in third quarter that completely turned the momentum.
Before that, SEMO had taken command with two long touchdown drives — a 92 yarder to end the first half and a 75 yarder to open the second half to take a 24-3 lead.
Stat of the game: With 15 stops, Griz safety Robby Hauck became the Big Sky Conference’s all-time leading tackler.
Hauck now has 474 tackles, which surpasses the previous record of 473 set by Eastern Washington’s Ronnie Hamlin from 2011-14.
Grizzly game balls: WR Malik Flowers (offense). When Montana struggled to get much going in the first half, Flowers was about the Grizzlies’ only producer. He finished the game with seven catches for 108 yards with a long of 44.
LB Patrick O’Connell (defense). O’Connell seemed to aggravate an ankle injury in the first half but gutted it out with eight tackles and two QB hurries.
KR Malik Flowers and PR Junior Bergen (special teams). Flowers returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, and Bergen followed later with a 58-yard punt return for a TD.
What's next: The Grizzlies improved their overall record to 8-4 and kept their season alive, earning a date next week with third-seeded North Dakota State (9-2) next week in the quarterfinals.
The Bison are the defending national champions and have won nine of the past 11 FCS titles.