Northwestern St 7

(8-4, 2-4 away)

Montana 56

(10-2, 8-0 home)

2:05 PM ET, November 27, 2004

Washington Grizzly, Missoula, MT

1 2 3 4 T
NWST 0 0 7 07
MONT 14 14 28 056

Top Performers

Passing: D. Vinson (NWST) - 102 YDS, 1 TD, 2 INT

Rushing: L. Hilliard (MONT) - 14 CAR, 171 YDS, 4 TD

Receiving: J. Talmage (MONT) - 5 REC, 57 YDS

Montana 56, Northwestern St. 7

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) -- Northwestern State came into the I-AA playoffs with the best rushing defense in the nation.

The Purple Swarm was allowing just 78 yards per game, but Lex Hilliard had more than that by halftime, en route to 171 yards rushing and four touchdowns in Montana's 56-7 victory over the Demons Saturday.

"They're the No. 1 rushing defense in the nation, and I didn't picture us running the ball that good against them," said Hilliard, whose four TDs tied a school record.

"I didn't anticipate we'd play that poorly on both sides of the football," said Northwestern State coach Scott Stoker, whose team has lost playoff games at Montana in three of the past four years.

Craig Ochs completed 19-of-30 passes for 234 yards and three more touchdowns as No. 7 Montana (10-2) advanced to the quarterfinals and will play host to New Hampshire, a 27-23 first-round winner over fourth-seed Georgia Southern.

Montana dominated the first half, allowing Northwestern State just two first downs and 29 yards in total offense and never allowing the No. 15 Demons (8-4) to cross midfield. The Demons had a negative nine yards in offense in the second quarter.

"I think we just came out with a lot of emotion," said Montana defensive tackle Alan Saenz. "We were having so much fun. We went three-and-out, three-and-out. The whole team was just gelling. It was so loud in the stadium."

Hilliard rushed for 111 yards and touchdowns of 24 and 61 yards in the first half.

Both scoring runs came after it looked like he was caught up around the line of scrimmage, before breaking free and running untouched into the end zone.

"I just had to be patient," Hilliard said, "let the o-line do their job. That's something I have a problem with sometimes is being patient. I just want to go, go, go, go. I listened to my coach today."

Levander Segars caught touchdown passes of 11 and 9 yards to give Montana a 28-0 halftime lead.

"Offensively, we really wanted to get a lead in the game," and force Northwestern State to throw the ball, Ochs said.

Hilliard scored two more TDs early in the third quarter, on runs of 30 and 2 yards to put Montana up 42-0. He rushed for a 28-yard gain before the 2-yard score with 11:18 remaining.

"We missed a lot of tackles, everything just progressed from there," said Northwestern linebacker Paul Mefford. "We missed assignments."

Northwestern State scored on its next drive on a 10-yard pass from Davon Vinson to Clayton Broyles with 8:24 left in the third. It was the first time the Demons crossed into Montana territory.

The Grizzlies answered two plays later with a 51-yard pass from Ochs to Tate Hancock to make it 49-7.

Vinson, who passed for 102 yards, was intercepted on the next two drives by Jimmy Wilson and Kevin Edwards. Edwards' pick led to Montana's final score, a 51-yard TD run by JR Waller with 48 seconds left the third.

"I just never really anticipated us playing this poorly," Stoker said. "It was a very good football team that made us play poorly, obviously. I didn't think they were that much better than us."

The 56 points are the most allowed by Northwestern State since it became a I-AA school in 1977. Montana had 543 yards in total offense against the Demons, which also led I-AA in total defense, allowing its opponents just 250 yards per game this season.

Northwestern also struggled with penalties, losing 122 yards on 13 penalties, several that gave Montana an automatic first down.