MISSOULA — The Griz carry a No. 2 seed and No. 2 national ranking into their FCS-record 27th appearance in the playoffs. They host unseeded and 11th-ranked Delaware, another blue blood, in a second-round game at 7 p.m. Saturday in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Montana is coming off its Big Sky-record 19th conference championship. The Griz hold a 10-1 record and are on a seven-game winning streak after losing their league opener at Northern Arizona.
Delaware holds a 9-3 overall record and is coming off a 36-34 comeback win over Lafayette in the first round of the playoffs at home last week. The Blue Hens went 6-2 in the 15-team Coastal Athletic Association to finish tied for fourth place.
They’re making their first trip to Missoula since 1993, a 49-48 win for Delaware in its only showdown against Montana. The Griz won’t have to leave home as long as they keep winning, holding home field advantage through the semifinals until the neutral-site title game Jan. 7.
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This will be UM’s seventh night game, a single-season program record. The Griz are 6-0 in those contests, including 2-0 at home under the lights this year. Inside Wa-Griz, Montana is 32-7 in playoff games and 36-7 against teams from east of the Mississippi River.
Montana is looking to become the first Big Sky team to punch its ticket to the quarterfinals. Earlier in the day, Sacramento State lost at South Dakota, 34-24, and Montana State to North Dakota State, 35-34 in overtime.
Delaware junior QB Ryan O’Connor is taking some first-team reps during pregame. He was injured in the regular season finale two weeks ago and sat out the first-round playoff game. True freshman Nick Minicucci started that game. O’Connor has thrown for 1,907 yards, 17 TDs and seven INTs.
Don’t see left guards Hunter Mayginnes, Liam Brown warming up for Montana #GrizFB. Mayginnes hasn’t played since Idaho game. Brown got hurt in Portland State game. First-team reps in pregame: LT Chris Walker, LG Cannon Panfiloff, C AJ Forbes, RG Journey Grimsrud, RT Brandon Casey.
Delaware wins the coin toss and defers to the second half. Montana will receive the opening kickoff.
Montana QB Clifton McDonald is picked off on second pass attempt of the game. Delaware DB Tyron Herring with the INT at UM 34. McDowell had been picked off once in 155 attempts entering the game. Junior Ryan O’Connor starting at QB for Delaware after injury two games ago.
Delaware penalized for a false start on first down. The Blue Hens end up going three-and-out, lose 5 yards and punt as Montana’s defense shows its speed. Delaware came into the game with the eighth-fewest penalties per game in the FCS (4.5).
Montana’s Nico Ramos hits a 43-yard FG. McDowell overshot wide-open Bergen in end zone play before. That’s a 16-play, 54-yard drive over 7:30. Griz converted 3 of 5 third downs and had drive extended by a pass interference penalty on 4th down.
SCORE: Griz 3, Delaware 0, 5:21 left first quarter
Montana’s defense forces its second consecutive three-and-out to start the game. Delaware has 1 total yard through six offensive plays. Griz WR Sawyer Racanelli blocks the punt. The first blocked punt by the Griz this season. Montana starts at the Delaware 27-yard line.
One play after the blocked punt, Montana running back Xavier Harris rushes 27 yards for a touchdown. First TD for him since Sept. 23 against Northern Arizona.
SCORE: Griz 10, Delaware 0, 3:31 left first quarter
Frank Gogola is the Senior Sports Reporter at the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter/X @FrankGogola or email him at email@example.com.