Coastal proves Big Sky not the limit by shocking Griz

alex ross at montana (2)Alex Ross rushed for a career-high 123 yards and completed 16-of-21 passes for 202 yards and three scores, to lead #11 Coastal Carolina to a 42-35 victory over eighth-seed and #4/5 Montana (11-3) in the second round of the NCAA Division I Championship Saturday in sub-zero temperatures at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

The Chanticleers improve to 12-2 and will be making the program’s first appearance in the third round of the FCS playoff next week, facing  North Dakota State following its win over Furman.

Ross was nearly perfect in the first half, completing 12-of-14 passes and two scores in leading the Chants to a 35-14 halftime advantage.

CCU All-Americans Lorenzo Taliaferro and Quinn Backus each figured proximately in the win as well.

Taliaferro, who had 16 rushes for 104 yards, tied two more Big South single-season records by scoring twice and giving him eight multi-rushing TDs as well as nine multi-TD games. Taliaferro is also the Big South single-season leader in rushing TDs (now with 26), games with 3-plus rushing TDS (5), most points scored (now with 167) and most total TDs scored (now with 28).

Backus, who came through with a critical interception midway through the fourth quarter, set the CCU single-season and career record for solo tackles. He finished with a team-high 10 stops, five solo, giving him 83 solo stops of the season and 170 for his career. Mike McClure added 10 tackles, including two for loss, while Richie Sampson had eight stops and three pass breakups.

Coastal was forced to punt on its first drive. A penalty on the punt return backed Montana to its own 16. However, the Grizzlies got a 39-yard run from Jordan Canada on the second play of the drive, followed by a 25-yard Jordan Johnson to Cam Warren completion. Three plays later Travon Van scored from the one yard line for an early 7-0 lead.

After some miscommunication on the following kickoff, Coastal started its second drive from the six. Two rushes got CCU to the 14 and, facing 3rd-and-2, Ross hit DeMario Bennett for an 86-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7. The pass was the longest pass play in CCU history – bettering the 81-yard Ross to Niccolo Mastromatteo completion last season at Gardner-Webb – and tied for the fifth-longest scoring play in school history.

Montana answered with an 11-play, 74-yard drive. Despite god coverage by CCU, Johnson threaded the needle to Chase Naccarato to a 15-yard TD and 14-7 lead with just over five minutes to play in the first quarter.

The Chanticleers got a 42 yard kick return to start the ensuing kickoff to start their drive on the CCU 44. Ross efficiently moved the team Montana 20. A pass interference call in the end zone gave CCU the ball on the five. From there, Lorenzo Taliaferro got the ball in the “wildcat” formation and scored his 25th rushing score of the season – 27th overall TD.

After stopping Montana twice on fourth down (on the CCU 26 and 33), Coastal took advantage the second time to take a 21-14 lead with 6:06 left in the second quarter.  Coastal converted three third downs on the 12-play, 69-yard drive with Ross hitting Niccolo Mastromatteo for a 14-yard strike for the seven-point lead.

Coastal’s defense forced a punt and Mastromatteo made a nice play on the bouncing ball to give CCU the ball near midfield. Ross had runs of nine and 20 yards. Two plays later Ross connected with Mastromatteo again for a28-14 lead.

A quick three-and-out by the Montana offense and short punt gave CCU the ball on the Montana 35 with 2:10 left in the first half. Five plays later, De’Angelo Henderson scored from nine yards out for a 35-14 lead with 31 seconds left before the break.

To open the second half, Montana’s Johnson hit Canada for a 42-yard completion. Then, facing 4th-and-9 on the CCU 29, the Chanticleer defense looked to have gotten a stop, but the incomplete pass was over-ruled by relay giving the Grizzlies new life on the CCU eight yards line.. Montana would face 4th-and-goal and went for it again, converting with a five-yard Johnson to Jamaal Jones touchdown pass to cut the Grizzlies’ deficit to 35-21.

Coastal needed just four plays to answer. Ross converted a 3rd-and-6 with a 21-yard run to near midfield. The next play, Taliaferro burst up the middle and hit the left edge for a career-long 51-yard rushing touchdown.

After a combined four drives without points, Montana broke the slump with a 13-play,94-yard drive. The big play was a 38-yard Johnson to Ellis Henderson completion. Johnson then made a nice throw to complete a nine-yard pass to Mitch Saylor to make the score 42-28.

The teams traded turnovers midway through the fourth quarter. Coastal would be forced to punt after a Backus interception. The Grizzlies tried one long bomb but it fell incomplete. Two plays later they went back to well and Johnson hit Jones for a 72-yard touchdown to make the score 42-35.

With 5:01 left in the game, Coastal converted two first downs on its final drive to run out the clock for the win.

Photo courtesy of CCU Athletics

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