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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.