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Badlands blowout: Montana scores 55 unanswered in rout over North Dakota

Filled with physical, hard-hitting action from the opening kickoff, the Silver Anniversary of the Badlands Bowl was a slugfest throughout the first half.

Montana teammates rush over to embrace linebacker Tyler Buckingham after a stop in the backfield during the first half of the Badlands Bowl on Saturday, June 16 from the Biesiot Activities Center. (Patrick Bernadeau/The Dickinson Press)
Montana teammates rush over to embrace linebacker Tyler Buckingham after a stop in the backfield during the first half of the Badlands Bowl on Saturday, June 16 from the Biesiot Activities Center. (Patrick Bernadeau/The Dickinson Press)

Filled with physical, hard-hitting action from the opening kickoff, the Silver Anniversary of the Badlands Bowl was a slugfest throughout the first half.

But soon after the two teams exited the locker rooms for the start of the third quarter, Montana left little doubt who was the better squad on the field.

Trailing 7-0 at the halftime, the Montana All-Stars scored eight unanswered touchdowns, running away with a 55-7 victory over North Dakota on Saturday, June 16 from the Biesiot Activities Center.

The boys from "Big Sky Country" have captured 76 percent of the match-ups between the two states (19 out of 25), including the last four by a combined margin of 194-39.

"The two running backs that we had were dynamic tonight and the quarterbacks and receivers executed when they had to, then our offensive front really took over," said Montana head coach Mark Sulser, who will be retiring from coaching after 24 years on the sidelines. "We saw glimpses of that in the first half where we played well in spots, but we couldn't finish drives and put things together.

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"We just told our guys at halftime to 'settle down, the most important play is the next play, keep banging away. Trust our defense and once we score, then things will get better.' That's kind of the way it went."

Forcing a North Dakota punt minutes into the second half, Montana marched down the field on a six-play, 59-yard drive. The drive was capped with a bruising run from running back Andrew Turner, who broke multiple tackles on his way to a 25-yard touchdown scamper.

Before hauling in the game's last score late in the fourth quarter with a 31-yard interception return touchdown, linebacker Seth Schneider picked off a North Dakota pass on the ensuring possession as the tide began to turn.

Set-up by a 37-yard reception from offensive MVP Mark Estes, Montana quickly converted the turnover into points after a one-yard touchdown plunge of running back Layne Sumner.

Sumner and Turner combined to rack up 261 yards on the ground and five touchdowns.

"We couldn't have done any of the stuff without the offensive line, you got to give them all of the credit," Turner said. "Without them, I wouldn't be able to do any of the stuff I was able to do. ... We were just enjoying it and having fun, just going out there and having a good time."

Montana scored 35 points in the third quarter and 20 points in the fourth. They also forced three turnovers, blocked a punt and limited North Dakota to just 38 rushing yards. The home team committed seven penalties for 60 yards while only picking up eight first downs.

"Montana didn't play very well in the first half. They didn't come ready to play. ... It just took them a while to wake up and when it rains, it pours," North Dakota head coach Jay Gibson said. "We knew we couldn't run the ball against them, they're really quick and really good on defense.

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"I don't know if I've been on a team that's given up 35 [points in a quarter] so I guess they gave me an experience I've never had. I got to give all the credit to Montana, they're really good."

Pinned down to its own two-yard line following a Montana punt, North Dakota lit up the scoreboard on its first possession of the game as West Fargo teammates Andy Gravdahl and Joe Pistorius entered the record books.

Gravdahl delivered a perfect spiral over the outstretched arms of a Montana defender and in stride to the 6-foot-4 Pistorius, who raced down the sideline for an 85-yard touchdown reception. It is the single longest play in Badlands Bowl history.

"We had the play set out before the game and we ran it to perfection. Andy gave me a great ball, I got to give credit all to him, he put it on the money," Pistorius said. "I tried to make a play. I'm not the fastest guy out here, probably not as fast as half of the guys out here, but I tried to do my best and score a touchdown. I did and I was pretty excited about it."

North Dakota maintained the advantage into halftime thanks to its defense. Montana failed to convert on three fourth-down attempts, two of which were halted by Conner Hoenke. The Dickinson High product assisted on a tackle, stopping Turner short of the sticks in first quarter. He also broke up a pass intended for Micah Ans in the endzone during the second quarter.

"I was just so excited to play in the game," said Hoenke, who will play football collegiately at Minnesota State Moorhead next season. "I've been watching it since I was a little kid and just coming out here today, it brought out a new me. ... I kind of had to go out with a bang and make my last one count."

Badlands Bowl

Results Saturday

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Montana 55, North Dakota 7

M 0 0 35 20 - 55

ND 7 0 0 0 - 7

First quarter

ND: Joe Pistorius 85 pass from Andy Gravdahl (Austin Wolf kick), 11:48.

Second quarter

No scoring

Third quarter

M: Andrew Turner 25 run (Cody Gagnon kick), 11:20.

M: Layne Sumner 1 run (Gagnon kick), 6:32.

M: Sumner 25 run (Gagnon kick), 3:41.

M: Mark Estes 7 pass from Kaleb Winterburn (Gagnon kick), 3:30.

M: Turner 7 run (Gagnon kick), 1:10.

Fourth quarter

M: Turner 7 run (Gagnon kick), 9:33.

M: Winterburn 2 run (Kick failed), 4:21.

M: Seth Schneider 31 interception return (Gagnon kick), 1:16

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING: M: Sumner 31-184, 2 TD; Turner 16-77, 3 TD; Winterburn 9-13, TD; Estes 1-4. ND: Alex Sell 15-59; Gravdahl 6-2; Isaiah Kludt 6-(-4); Jonah Krebs 3-(-5); Cole Gendreau 5-(-14).

PASSING: M: Winterburn 20-30-0, TD, 203; Estes 1-1-0, 6. ND: Gravdahl 9-20-1, TD, 144. Gendreau 2-10-1, 11.

RECEIVING: M: Estes 8-85, TD; Logan Kleinhans 6-54; Max Morris 2-30; Turner 3-26; Tyler Chouinard 2-8. ND: Pistorius 3-96, TD; Krebs 2-22; Lofton Klabunde 1-15; Peyton Lamoureux 1-6; Tanner Beaton, 2-5; Devin Beck 1-5; Lane Hanson 1-5.

MVPs:

Montana Offense: Mark Estes

Montana Defense: Tyler Buckingham

ND Offense: Andy Gravdahl

ND Defense: Tanner Zepeda

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