BADLANDS BOWL: Backfield duo helps Montana overcome deficit, beat North DakotaMILES CITY, Mont. — Cole Moller had a feeling Saturday night would be a big night for Justin Pierson at Denton Field. The Billings (Mont.) Central quarterback was dead on.
By: Mike Zimmer, Special to The Dickinson Press
MILES CITY, Mont. — Cole Moller had a feeling Saturday night would be a big night for Justin Pierson at Denton Field.
The Billings (Mont.) Central quarterback was dead on.
Pierson, a 6-foot, 190-pound powerhouse from Bozeman, Mont., rushed for 72 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 46 yards to help Montana overpower North Dakota 34-13 in the 18th annual Badlands Bowl.
“Pierson is amazing,” smiled Moller after the game. “That guy is so good. We saw it all week in practice. I knew at some point he was going to take the game over.”
Pierson’s running, Moller’s precision passing and relentless defensive pressure helped Montana dominate the game after overcoming an early 10-0 deficit.
Pierson scored on touchdown runs of 4 and 5 yards, while Moller connected with Great Falls High’s Jake Olson on a 31-yard TD pass and scored on an eight-yard run.
“We had to work out some kinks at the beginning of the game and North Dakota got a couple of big plays on us,” said Pierson. “But after that we meshed together as a team and played a solid team game.”
“I definitely don’t feel like I took the game over,” Pierson added with a smile after being told of Moller’s comment. “This was a team win. We ran the ball well, we passed the ball well and our defense was great.”
Indeed it was.
The Montana defense chased and hit North Dakota quarterbacks Carson Wentz of Bismarck Century and Griffin Neal of Fargo South all night, recording six sacks and two interceptions.
Montana also held North Dakota to just 40 yards rushing on 31 attempts.
“Their front seven was the difference,” said North Dakota coach Troy Mattern, of Fargo South. “They gave us fits all night. We knew they were fast and we had a lot of things designed to get rid of the ball quick, but we just couldn’t do it quick enough for most of the night.”
Wentz completed 15 of 23 passes for 230 yards, one interception and one touchdown — a 26-yarder to Fargo South’s Andrew Okland just 2½ minutes into the game.
But that would be North Dakota’s only TD of the night. Their second drive stalled at the Montana six, forcing North Dakota to settle for a 21-yard field goal by Fargo Shanley’s Dan Jordan. From there, it was all Montana.
“I think the key to the win was our kids not panicking when we got down early,” said Montana coach Dan Stanton. “Once we got going, we kept them honest with balancing the run and the pass.
“And our defense was great. North Dakota had a lot of talent on that offense, but we kept coming after them.”
Okland caught seven passes for 166 yards.
Wentz was named North Dakota’s offensive MVP and West Fargo’s Jon Pistorius was the defensive MVP. Pierson and Helena High linebacker Sean Blomquist were named Montana’s MVPs.
With the win, Montana avenged last year’s 41-38 North Dakota win now leads the all-time series 13-5. Montana is 8-2 in games played in Miles City.
North Dakota has not won back-to-back games in the series.
ND 10 0 0 3 — 13
Montana 7 13 0 14 — 34
ND–Andrew Okland 26 pass from Carson Wentz (Dan Jordan kick), 12:21.
ND–Jordan 21 field goal, 7:39.
M–Jake Olson 31 pass from Cole Moller (Matt Berg kick), 3:06.
M–Justin Pierson 4 run (Berg kick), 11:35.
M–Berg 32 field goal, 8:39.
M–Berg 25 field goal, :00.
MT–Moller 8 run (Berg kick), 12:10.
ND–Jordan 32 field goal, 7:55.
MT–Pierson 5 run (Berg kick), 1:46.
RUSHING: ND, Carson Wentz 11-23, Eric Kuntz 2-15, Billy Binstock 3-13, Adam Woroneicki 1-2, Adam Boe 3-(-3), Brock Larson 1-(-3), Griffin Neal 4-(-7). Montana, Justin Pierson 13-72, Travis Knoll 10-49, Tyler Molyneaux 9-26, Cole Moller 2-9, Matt Berg 3-1.
PASSING: ND, Carson Wentz 15-23-1, 230 yards; Griffin Neal 8-18-0, 100 yards; Brock Larson 0-1-1, 0 yards. Montana, Cole Moller 18-23-1, 210 yards; Matt Berg 3-4-0, 35 yards.
RECEIVING: ND, Andrew Okland 7-166, Nate Moody 4-68, Dylan Dunn 3-41, Adam Boe 5-18, Adam Woroneicki 3-18, Billy Binstock 2-15, Brock Larson 2-2, Zach Neer 1-2. Montana, Jake Olson 5-81, Dunk Abbott 6-49, Justin Pierson 3-46, Jonathan Richards 4-41, Travis Knoll 1-10, Kyle Stanton 1-10, Chase Ballantyne 1-8.
Zimmer is the sports editor of The Billings (Mont.) Gazette.