Central Takes First Loss 38-35 to Montana - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Central Takes First Loss 38-35 to Montana

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MISSOULA, Montana -- Central Washington University rallied from an 11-point deficit late in the fourth quarter to tie the game on a Garrett Rolsma (University Place/Curtis HS) field goal with 2:47 remaining, but the University of Montana's Brody McKnight nailed a 42-yard kick with one second left to foil the Wildcats' upset bid, 38-35, on Saturday afternoon at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, Mont.

The Wildcats, ranked ninth in this week's American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Division II poll, suffered their first loss this season, dropping to 4-1. Montana, ranked fourth in the NCAA Division I-Football Championship Subdivision this week, remained undefeated at 4-0.

The game, which was played in front of a CWU school-record and Washington-Grizzly Stadium record crowd of 25,326, started inauspiciously after the Wildcat offense went three plays without a first down on their opening series. That fortune changed immediately, however, when Montana's Marc Mariani fumbled the Rolsma punt at his own 35-yard line and CWU junior Buddy Wood (Chattaroy/Riverside HS) recovered. The Wildcats then used a three-play drive to score the game's first points on a 32-yard pass from Mike Reilly (Kalispell, Mont./Flathead HS) to Ryan Dyer (University Place/Life Christian Academy). For Dyer, it was his first career offensive touchdown on just his sixth career pass reception.

Montana tied the game with a 12-play, 63-yard drive on a two-yard TD pass from Cole Bergquist to tight end Dan Beaudin. Central did not score on its next drive after another three-and-out, but after Montana began putting together another lengthy possession, Wood sacked Bergquist at the Grizzlies' 20-yard line on the opening play of the second quarter, forcing a fumble. Wood then picked up the fumble and ran 20 yards untouched to give the Wildcats a 14-7 lead.

The Wildcats held the Grizzlies on Montana's next series, and then added to their margin on their next possession. Reilly connected with senior tight end Jared Bronson (Kent/Thomas Jefferson HS) on a 17-yard scoring pass with 8:50 remaining in the first half to give Central Washington a two-touchdown lead at 21-7. But as was seemingly the case all day, Montana responded with a quick possession, as Bergquist hooked up with Mariani on a 64-yard touchdown pass -- the first of two lengthy scoring strikes between the duo -- to make it a 21-14 score. The Grizzlies then tied the game on a 42-yard pass from Bergquist to Mariani that knotted the game at 21 apiece with 2:47 to go in the opening half.

Central took advantage of its final possession of the period, marching 62 yards on eight plays and putting Rolsma in position for a 23-yard field goal as time expired to give the Wildcats a 24-21 lead at the intermission. The go-ahead field goal was highlighted by a scramble toss on third-and-six by Reilly when he eluded a sack and then found junior Johnny Spevak (Edgewood/Puyallup HS) near the sidelines that put CWU into field goal range.

Montana came out firing in the second half, but the Grizzlies' opening series, which advanced all the way to the Wildcats' eight-yard line, was stopped when Central's Adam Bighill (Montesano) intercepted Bergquist's pass in the end zone. The Wildcats were unable to score on either of their next two possessions, which were sandwiched around another takeaway on which Wood forced his second fumble of the game and senior J.R. Jamerson (Pasco) recovered.

Montana took the lead for the first time after inheriting the ball at the Wildcat 31 after a Central fumble. The Grizzlies went the distance on just four plays, as Chase Reynolds scored on a 12-yard run. McKnight's extra point made it a four-point margin for Montana.

Reynolds then made it an 11-point lead on a three-yard scoring run, capping a 12-play, 59-yard drive that chewed up more than seven minutes of possession time in the fourth quarter. Trailing 35-21 with 7:30 to go, Reilly began to engineer a comeback for the Wildcats with some help from trickery on special teams. After facing a fourth-and-six, Central lined up to punt at its own 38-yard line. The snap went directly to Bighill, who served as the up-back, and he gained the six necessary yards on the ground to extend the possession. Two plays later, Reilly and Spevak connected on a 56-yard touchdown strike, and the ensuing two-point conversion pass from Reilly to Bronson brought CWU to within three at 35-32 with 3:54 left.

Central went for the on-side kick on the kickoff and recovered at its own 48 and, after two completed passes netted 25 yards, Reilly had three straight incompletions. Rolsma then came in and kicked a 44-yard field goal -- the school-record-breaking 26th field goal of his career -- to tie the game once again at 35-35.

Montana traversed its way down the field, getting to a fourth-down play at the Central 38. The Grizzlies initially appeared to set up for a 55-yard field goal attempt, but after a timeout, elected to go for the first down. Bergquist converted with a 15-yard completion to Mike Ferriter for a first down and after two offensive plays that lost two yards, UM brought in its field goal unit for McKnight to attempt a 42-yarder with five seconds left. The freshman converted, splitting the uprights with the game-winner and foiling the Wildcats' upset efforts.

Central finished with five takeaways including four fumble recoveries, and scored 35 points despite having the ball for just under 24 minutes of the contest. The Wildcats also surrendered 27 first downs and 531 yards of offense to the Grizzlies while managing a season-low 315 yards of their own. Reilly completed 21 of 35 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns, while Spevak was once again his favorite target with seven grabs for 136 yards and one touchdown.

On defense, three Wildcats finished with more than 10 tackles, including a career- and game-high 15 stops from senior captain Chris James (Tacoma/Bellarmine Prep). Wood, who had a sack, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries, added 13 stops while a third linebacker, Bighill, totaled 12 tackles.

Montana's Bergquist threw for a career-high 377 yards, completing 25 of 34 passes. Two of his receivers -- Ferriter (9 receptions, 133 yards) and Mariani (six receptions, 161 yards) -- combined for 15 of those receptions for 194 yards. The Grizzlies' ground game was led by Reynolds, who finished with 87 yards on 16 carries.

Central Washington will return to NCAA Division II and Great Northwest Athletic Conference play as it hosts Dixie State on Saturday, Oct. 4, at Tomlinson Stadium.