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Montana surges to 30-24 win over PSU

MISSOULA, Mont. - The Portland State Vikings' outside hopes of gaining at least a piece of the Big Sky title and earning an FCS playoff spot all but went down in flames Saturday as the Montana Grizzlies turned up the heat on them as them game went on at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

As Montana so often does at home, the Grizzlies got stronger as the game went on.

The Griz were able to turn things around after their very slow start and win 30-24.

Portland State led 13-0 after little more than one quarter - but the Vikings may have lost the game in the opening frame or so. They had to settle for a couple of field goals and came up empty on another drive when they were stopped on a fourth-and-goal run.

That and penalties - 13 for 88 yards - hurt the Viks against a Montana team that regrouped and stiffened defensively at the break.

In the end, we felt like we made too mistakes to beat a good football team on the road," Portland State coach Nigel Burton said.

The Grizzlies were able to hold the Vikings to 109 total yards in the second half - and PSU lost standout running back Cory McCaffrey to a lower left leg injury in the fourth quarter. The initial report said that McCaffrey would be sidelined indefinitely.

PSU fell to 3-3 overall and 2-2 in the Big Sky, while Montana improved to 5-1, 4-2 in the conference, with a game still ahead against first-place Montana State, which is unbeaten in Big Sky play.

The Vikings have a breather next week. They will play host to Willamette of the Northwest Conference at 5 p.m. Saturday at Jeld-Wen Field.

Saturday's loss was the second straight close defeat for Portland State, which came up a yard short on a two-point conversion that would have tied Montana State a week ago at Jeld-Wen.

PSU showed that it had gotten over that disappointment by jumping on Montana. The Vikings blocked a punt, intercepted a pass and got two field-goals - one a career high-tying 53 yards - from Zach Brown to lead 13-0. The block, which was the third this year for Nevin Lewis, gave PSU the ball at the UM 11-yard line. Two plays later, PSU quarterback Connor Kavanaugh scored on an 8-yard run.

Montana drove 70 yards in seven plays to cut the gap to 13-7 before halftime.

After a successful fake punt run by Thomas Duyndam, PSU went on top 21-7 on McCaffrey's 3-yard TD run.

Brody McKnight made a 27-yard field goal for Montana just before halftime to pull the Grizzlies within 21-10.

In the first half, the Vikings ran 43 plays to Montana's 24, and had nearly 21 minutes time of possession to the Grizzlies' nine minutes.

Things began to shift early in the third quarter, though.

Brown made a 31-yarder to extend the PSU lead to 24-16, but the Griz tied it late in the quarter with a touchdown, set up by Jordan Canada's 75-yard run, and a two-point conversion pass from QB Jordan Johnson, a former star at Sheldon High.

A little later, a tipped Kavanaugh pass was picked off in PSU territory.

The Grizzlies took advantage with a field goal for their first lead, 27-24.

With 1:49 left, Montana added another three points and then intercepted Kavanaugh to seal the home team's victory.

Kavanaugh (93 yards on 23 carries) and McCaffrey (103 yards on 25 carries) did just about everything for the PSU offense.

Linebacker Ryan Rau led the defense, making a career-high 18 tackles, including two sacks.

Brown missed a fourth-quarter try from 53 yards that would have tied the game. He had connected on 16 field-goal attempts in a row.

Canada led Montana on the ground with 14 carries for 159 yards.

It was PSU's ninth consecutive loss in Missoula. The Vikings' last road win over the Grizzlies came in 1987.

Montana also has won seven in a row overall in the series.