Late TD lifts Montana, Stitt past NDSU

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(STATS) - They're all in.

If the Montana Grizzlies football program didn't quite know what it had in a new head coach stepping up from the Division II level, everybody must be believing after Bob Stitt and the 13th-ranked Grizzlies upset four-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State, 38-35, in the FCS Kickoff which opened the college football season on Saturday.

Joey Counts scored on a 1-yard fourth-down run with 2 seconds remaining to lift Montana before a record crowd of 26,472 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula.

Considering top-ranked North Dakota State had more national titles (four) than losses (three) since the start of the 2011 season, it was a surprising and entertaining start to the Stitt era at Montana.

"Our guys wanted it," an excited Stitt said moments after the late August win played with playoff intensity.

On its winning drive, Montana drove 80 yards on 16 plays to reverse its 35-31 deficit. It was exactly the opposite of how the Grizzlies expect to score often under Stitt, who was considered an offensive innovator while coaching the last 15 seasons at Division II Colorado School of Mines. His no-huddle spread attack has quick-strike ability, although his gutsy play-calling was prone to backfiring during the win.

The matchup of two of the most successful programs in the division's history even exceeded the buildup to the game. But North Dakota State is trying to overcome the loss of seven starters to its vaunted defense, and that was evident as the Grizzlies totaled 544 yards on 92 plays to the Bison's 427 yards.

Montana quarterback Brady Gustafson, a redshirt junior making his first career start, completed 30-of-55 pass attempts for 434 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. NDSU counterpart Carson Wentz, the outstanding player of the 2014 national championship game, had 268 total yards (198 passing, 70 rushing) and four total touchdowns (two passing, two rushing).

The Bison nearly held on for a win after King Frazier's 7-yard touchdown run up the middle provided a 35-28 lead with 10:37 left in the fourth quarter.

On Montana's second-to-last drive, the Grizzlies failed to punch in a tying score after reaching the Bison 2. The Grizzlies settled for Daniel Sullivan's 28-yard field goal to close within 35-31 with 2:48 left.

But Montana's defense then resembled NDSU's through the years while stopping Wentz and the Bison to a three-and-out series.

On Montana's final drive, Gustafson completed a 31-yard pass to Reese Carlson on 4th-and-10, giving the Grizzlies the ball at the Bison 13, and he followed with a 12-yard pass to Ellis Henderson to the 1.