MISSOULA, Mont. — Freshman quarterback Gresch Jensen showed no rust and Montana’s defense had little mercy in a 44-14 win over Northern Colorado Saturday.
Jensen threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, and the Grizzlies intercepted five passes while closing out their home schedule at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Jensen, returning to the lineup after a concussion kept him out of Montana’s 17-15 win over Northern Arizona last week, broke a 7-7 tie with a 6-yard pass to Makena Simis at 3:43 of the first quarter.
In the second quarter the Grizzlies (7-3, 5-2 Big Sky Conference) used a Jeremy Calhoun scoring run and a 24-yard touchdown pass to Samori Toure to push the lead to 37-7.
Montana’s defense intercepted three passes and forced a fumble and the Grizzlies also blocked a punt in the quarter, setting up three Brandon Purdy field goals. The Grizzlies also turned the ball over on downs at Northern Colorado’s 7-yard line.
“We wanted to play quality football today,” said Montana coach Bob Stitt, whose club won for the fifth time in six games. “We wanted to go out and start fast and really by physical, but disciplined.”
Jensen threw a 56-yard scoring strike to Justin Calhoun to open the third quarter, pushing Montana’s lead to 44-7. He completed 17 of 25 passes for 228 yards. He also ran for 30 yards, including a 2-yard scoring run on Montana’s first drive.
“I was just really antsy,” said Jensen, who made his sixth start. “I just really wanted to get back in there. I didn’t sleep very well last night. I just wanted the game to get here and get back out there with my teammates.”
Northern Colorado (2-7, 1-6) tied the game at 7-7 on Conor Regan’s 26-yard touchdown pass to Alex Wesley midway through the first quarter. But the Bears ended up with seven turnovers and Regan gave way to backup quarterback Keaton Mott late in the second period.
Mott passed for 144 yards and was picked off twice in the fourth quarter.
“We’re having a blast playing football right now,” Stitt said. “We love coaching them and they love playing, and we’re playing at a very high level.”
Evan Epperly, Josh Buss, Dareon Nash, Korey Alexander and Ryan McKinley all picked off passes for Montana. Tucker Schye forced one fumble and recovered another.
“That’s how we’ve been the last couple games,” Stitt said of his defense. “You just have a lot of confidence in those guys. Once we can kind of see what their game plan is, it’s tough on an offense. Man, you’ve got a chance to win every week with a defense like that.”
Northern Colorado also got a touchdown from cornerback Marshaun Cameron, who took an interception of Caleb Hill 21 yards for the score in the fourth quarter.
Anthony Davis rushed for 102 yards for the Bears.
Alijah Lee led Montana’s running attack with 98 yards. Keenan Curran caught four passes for 85 yards.
The win keeps the Grizzlies on the Football Championship Subdivision playoff bubble ahead of next Saturday’s showdown at in-state rival Montana State.
“Super Bowl Saturday,” Stitt said of the 117th Brawl of the Wild, which MSU won last season. “We’ve been talking about it a long time. I’m very excited about getting to work tomorrow.”
Northern Colorado: Other than one quick score in the first half, the Bears showed little life while falling behind 44-7 and losing their sixth straight game. Starting quarterback Conor Regan threw three interceptions in the second quarter.
Montana: A ball-hawking Grizzlies’ defense paved the way after Gresch Jensen hit Makena Simis for a touchdown to break at 7-7 tie. Montana allowed just six first downs while coming up with four turnovers in the first half. The Griz ended up with five picks, two fumble recoveries and blocked a punt.
Northern Colorado: The Bears conclude their season at home against Cal Poly on Saturday.
Montana: The Grizzlies head to Montana State for the 117th Cat-Griz “Brawl of the Wild” on Saturday, a game with playoff ramifications.