MILES CITY, Mont. - Facing a losing streak and a talented Montana team, North Dakota couldn’t have asked for a better opening half to the 26th annual Knights of Columbus Badlands Bowl.
Breaking through with the game’s opening points in the second quarter, the visitors on the scoreboard took advantage of a brutal error late in the first half and entered halftime up 14-0.
When the teams returned to the field, Montana woke up. The boys from Big Sky Country shutdown their neighbors to the east while scoring 41 unanswered points en route to 41-14 victory on Saturday, June 15, from Connors Stadium.
Montana has won the Badlands Bowl eight out of the last nine meetings and improved its winning streak to five.
After a scoreless first quarter in which each team blocked a field goal attempt, Shanley quarterback Cade Busek connected with teammate Haley Bucholz for a 29-yard reception, putting North Dakota on the Montana 1-yard line midway through the second frame. One play later, Busek plunged through the goalline, vaulting North Dakota to the lead.
Planted deep in their own territory with late in the first half, Montana chose to drop back and throw rather than take a knee to run out the clock. With 12 seconds remaining before halftime, that decision proved costly as Blake Thelen had his pass batted in the air, intercepted and returned for a touchdown by West Fargo linebacker Luke Lennon.
Just five minutes into the third frame, Montana finally broke through when quarterback Kristopher Brown connected with Camron Rothie on an out-breaking pattern. Rothie took it the distance, slicing the deficit to 14-7 following his 35-yard touchdown reception.
Montana proficiency through the air continued thanks in large part to University of Montana commit Jesse Owens. The shifty wide receiver tied the game on a 20-yard skinny post midway through the period. In the fourth, Owens, who was named Montana’s offensive MVP, caught a pair of passes in the middle of the defense, each went for touchdowns as he slithered past attempting tacklers and let his speed take him to the end zone.
To close out the onslaught, Trevin Gardney stepped in front of a out-breaking pattern for an 40-yard interception return touchdown and Zach Spiroff, who was named Montana’s defensive MVP, was responsible for the game’s last score on a 70-yard punt return.
On the North Dakota side, Busek was the offensive MVP and Lennon was the team’s defensive MVP.
Dickinson High defensive back Morgan Wardner, Dickinson Trinity lineman Isaac Fridrich, and Bowman County lineman Beau Jeffers competed in the game.