BOZEMAN (AP) — Cody Kirk scored three touchdowns, including a 6-yard run with 2:26 remaining, to lift Montana State to a 43-35 win over Stephen F. Austin on Saturday.
The lead changed hands four times in the fourth quarter, but Kirk's TD made it 40-35, and the Bobcats' Steven Bethley intercepted a pass to set up Rory Perez's 45-yard field goal with 31 seconds left. Kirk finished with a career-bes
t 105 yards on 30 carries for No. 3 Montana State, off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 1978.
"I thought the defense did a great job," Montana State coach Rob Ash said. "You don't usually say that after giving up 35 points and some big numbers, but I really don't care. The bottom line is the score at the end of the game.
"Our guys were fundamentally sound."
Tanner Bleskin caught 10 passes for 180 yards, also career highs, for Montana State in a game played in a thick fog of smoke caused by nearby forest fires.
"Everybody is coming after us," Bleskin said. "They mark Montana State on their calendar, so we know we're going to get their best shot."
Brady Attaway threw for 418 yards, a career high, and three touchdowns for Stephen F. Austin (1-2), with Cordell Roberson accounting for 10 receptions, 163 yards and a TD. Montana State held the Lumberjacks to 55 yards rushing and SFA was assessed 130 yards in penalties.
Montana State's DeNarius McGhee threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns.
"This was a great challenge for us," Kirk said. "It let us find out where we need to be. You've got to win games like this."
Gus Johnson's 4-yard run put SFA in front 29-28 early in the fourth quarter, but Kirk's TD made it 34-29 Bobcats. Attaway's 75-yard scoring pass to Roberson put the Lumberjacks ahead again 35-34 before Kirk scored his final TD.
"That was one heck of a football game and I think everybody really enjoyed it," Stephen F. Austin coach J.C. Harper said.
"We got down there and settled for field goals, and they didn't," Harper said. "They did a really good when they got down to the red zone of being physical and running the football and getting it in the end zone."
The Bobcats remain home this Saturday, opening Big Sky Conference play against Northern Colorado.
Griz 34, Liberty 14
MISSOULA (AP) — Montana came up with some big plays on special teams and offense Saturday afternoon in its 34-14 win over Liberty. But it was the defense that drew the most praise from Coach Mick Delaney.
"Anytime you go out and stop a team from being able to run the ball, you should do well," Delaney said. "I'm really proud of our defense, especially in the first half. They were just tenacious and got some key turnovers."
Peter Nguyen ran a punt back 90 yards for a touchdown as No. 14 Montana improved to 2-1 on the season. Liberty, of the Big South Conference, fell to 0-3.
"I'm a little disappointed," said Liberty coach Turner Gill. "I thought we would be able to run the ball a little better."
The Montana defense held the Flames to 21 yards rushing and harassed quarterback Josh Woodrum all afternoon -- sacking him five times.
After a slow opening 10 minutes, Nguyen brought the crowd to its feet with an electrifying jaunt down the left side of the field to give Montana a 7-0 lead.
"I had a lot of space and time to think," Nguyen said. "And there was great blocking. The whole punt return team was really excited to get one."
The Grizzlies tacked on another 17 points before halftime on a 32-yard run by Dan Moore, a 6-yard run by Trent McKinney and a 42-yard field goal by Chris Lider.
The Flames cut the Montana lead to 24-7 early in the third quarter on a 14-yard pass from Woodrum to Pat Kelly.
Montana answered back with 12:20 to play in the fourth quarter when McKinney hooked up with Greg Hardy on a 2-yard touchdown pass to go back up 31-7.
A 31-yard pass from Woodrum to Ryan Ferguson with 10:11 to play rounded out the scoring for Liberty.
Lider added a 46-yard field goal for Montana with 5:34 left in the game.
The Grizzly offense rushed for 201 yards and benefited from three Flames turnovers that resulted in good field position.
"If you can rush for 200 yards and hold the other team to 20 yards rushing, you've got a good opportunity to win," Delaney said.
Moore led the Montana rushing attack with 92 yards on 16 carries. McKinney finished the game completing 19 of 26 passes for 95 yards. Zack Wagenmann spearheaded the Grizzly defense with two sacks, three tackles for a loss and a pass deflection.
Liberty was paced by Kelly, who caught 14 passes for 88 yards. Woodrum completed 34 of 44 passes for 322 yards.
The Grizzlies open Big Sky Conference play this Saturday, at home against the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks.