Montana knocks out Landers, James Madison to secure spot in FCS finals

HARRISONBURG, Va. -- Chase Reynolds and three Montana teammates sat politely answering questions, showing no emotion until they were asked if it had sunken in yet that they were on their way to playing for the Football Championship Subdivision's national title.

The smiles and laughter than ensued was answer enough.

"Nobody thought we'd be this far, but we all did," said Chase Reynolds, who ran for two touchdowns and caught his first career touchdown pass Friday night as the Grizzlies beat top-seeded James Madison 35-27 to gain a spot in next Friday night's championship game.

Cole Bergquist threw three touchdown passes and the Grizzlies first knocked player of the year contender Rodney Landers out of the game, then ended the Dukes' dream season.

"I don't know if they were overlooking us or not," strong safety Colt Anderson said with a smile. "I mean, there were only four teams left. And now there's just three."

The Grizzlies will be making their sixth championship appearance and seeking their third title when they play Richmond or Northern Iowa, who meet in the other semifinal Saturday.

Montana (14-1) won its 10th straight, forcing four turnovers and twice turning James Madison's fumbles on kickoffs into demoralizingly short, easy touchdown drives.

"This is the first time in my 32 years in coaching that I've been in a game where we never punted and we lost," Dukes coach Mickey Matthews said. "I've never heard of that."

The Dukes (12-2), who rose to No. 1 in the nation after beating three-time defending champion Appalachian State in September, lost Walter Payton Award finalist Landers to a right ankle sprain late in the second quarter while already trailing 14-10. James Madison never recovered, in part because it was as inept immediately after halftime as before.

"That's something that we haven't done all year," said Landers, who fumbled once.

The Dukes did make it interesting, having the ball in the final 2 minutes needing a touchdown and 2-point conversion, but their drive ended on a fourth-and-20 incompletion.

Montana drove 56 yards in seven plays after the opening kickoff of the second half, Bergquist rolling left and throwing across the field to Reynolds at the goal line on the right, a 27-yard touchdown that made it 21-10. It was Reynolds' third touchdown of the game and school-record 22nd of the season, and the first for the sophomore on a reception.

On the ensuing kickoff, Patrick Ward fumbled for James Madison and Ryan Fetherston recovered for Montana at the JMU 34, the second lost fumble on a kickoff for the Dukes. Five plays later, Bergquist hit Steven Pfahler from 16 yards, Pfahler's first career TD catch.

"I think that they were really worried about our run game, and that's how some of the play actions and some of the passes caught them off-guard a little bit," said Bergquist, who finished 11-for-17 for 142 yards and also ran five times for 49 yards, including a 32-yarder.

James Madison drove for its second touchdown behind the running of backup quarterback Drew Dudzik, but Montana's two touchdowns in less than 3 minutes clearly left the Dukes gassed.

With Landers watching from the sidelines, his pads removed, he saw Montana drive 60 yards in seven plays, with Bergquist finding Mike Ferriter from nine yards out to give Montana a 35-17 lead with 1:06 left in the third quarter.

The Grizzlies seemed to secure the win by stopping Eugene Holloman on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 10:42 left, but Montana was forced to punt from deep in its territory and the snap went over the punter's head and out of the end zone for a safety. The Dukes took the free kick and drove 57 yards in six plays to Dudzik's 18-yard touchdown run and 2-point conversion.

There was 6:10 remaining, and with the crowd at frigid Bridgeforth Stadium imploring the Dukes to pull off one more stunner in a season filled with dramatic comebacks, they got the stop they needed, but a flag on the punt forced them to have to drive 93 yards for the tie.

"I thought we were going to score. I didn't care how far away we were," Matthews said.

They didn't make it, and when Dudzik's pass to a diving Rockeed McCarter on fourth-and-20 from the Dukes' 41 went off McCarter's hands, Montana was on its way to the title game.

The Dukes trailed 14-10 at halftime and were fortunate to be that close. They turned the ball over three times -- once at their 15 on a fumbled kickoff by Scotty McGee, and twice inside the Grizzlies' 10. The last came on an interception thrown by Dudzik, who came on for the Dukes' last five offensive plays before halftime after Landers limped off.

On the fifth play, a second-and-10 from the Montana 28, Dudzik threw towards the end zone for Ward, and Andrew Swink stepped in front of it and pulled it in at the 2.

Landers also fumbled at Montana's 8, Tyler Pelluer recovering for the Grizzlies.

Montana's first-half touchdowns came 57 seconds apart. Reynolds capped their first drive with a 2-yard run, and after McGee's fumble, he ran twice, the last for 7 yards and the TD.

The Dukes made it 14-10 with a 69-yard marched capped by Holloman's 1-yard dive.