MISSOULA, Mont. (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 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.
- Peter Nguyen