MACOMB, Ill. — Montana had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, but Western Illinois' Steve McShane had other plans.
Standing at the 42-yard line, the senior two-sport athlete caught a Montana punt and dodged a Grizzly defender seconds after the catch.
McShane darted down the field for a 58-yard score, electrifying the Leatherneck sideline.
The play didn't give Western Illinois the lead at that moment, but it gave the Leathernecks the momentum they needed to upset No. 15 Montana, 31-27, Saturday in a nonconference football game.
"All I was thinking was, ‘I need to score a touchdown,'" McShane said after the game. "I caught the ball and everything happened so fast out there, but trust your instincts and play football. I knew I needed to score because if I didn’t I don’t know if we could have scored if I didn’t finish."
Montana coach Bobby Hauck acknowledged how impressive McShane's return was too.
"It was an electric play by that kid," Hauck said. "We knew all about him. He's a really, really fine football player. We had people get ahold of him throughout that return. We had a lot of shots at him and we didn't get him on the ground. Good play by him, not good by us.
"Certainly there's the other side of that coin. We still had a lead and we were ready to go move the ball down the field again like we had been doing and we turned it over."
Montana held on to a narrow, 27-24 lead after McShane's punt return and hoped to march down the field with more than 5 minutes on the clock to snuff out Western Illinois' hopes.
That didn't happen.
Montana junior quarterback Dalton Sneed threw a dart to junior wide receiver Jerry Louie-McGee, but Mr. Electricity fumbled right in front of the Montana sideline. Western Illinois' Zach Muniz recovered the ball.
A few minutes later, McShane found the end zone again, giving the Leathernecks a 31-27 lead. Despite Sneed's best efforts, that score held.
On Montana's last drive of the game, Sneed found Louie-McGee for 8 yards, Matt Rensvold for 9 yards and Samuel Akem for 5 yards before an incompletion and then two deflating plays — getting sacked for a loss of 8 and getting picked on a prayer heave on fourth-and-13.
"Wild game. We were pretty disappointed to let that one slip from our grasp," Hauck said. "The tendency will be to point to the last couple minutes of the game and certainly we had a chance to close it out and didn't do that. There were a lot of things in that game we could have done better and found a way to win it."
Sneed completed 24 of 41 passes for 229 yards with two interceptions and two touchdowns. Akem paced the wide receivers with seven catches for 64 yards and two touchdowns. Sneed led on the ground with 42 yards rushing, followed by Louie-McGee with 41.
Dante Olson and Robby Hauck paced the Griz defense with 11 tackles. Olson added 1½ tackles for loss, an interception and a quarterback hurry.
The Grizzlies didn't hold a commanding lead early. Montana had to claw out of a 14-0 hole just two minutes into the game.
Two plays in, Western Illinois' quarterback Sean McGuire threw a rainbow pass to wide receiver John Brunner for a 71-yard touchdown.
Montana's Colin Bingham fumbled the ball after taking a hard hit and McGuire threw another touchdown pass to Brunner — for 37 yards this time — on the next play.
McGuire finished the game completing 26 of his 45 passes for 360 yards with three passing touchdowns and an interception. Brunner finished the game with 180 yards receiving — 144 of which came in the first quarter alone.
"We've had some fast starts every week," Western Illinois coach Jared Elliott said after the game. "You always want to start fast but the biggest thing for us, we had a quick jump up on them and I knew playing a quality opponent like we were today — a top 15 ranked team — is well coached. Coach Hauck, he's going to be a Hall of Famer. I have so much respect for him.
"I knew we were in for a dog fight.We were trying to encourage our guys to keep playing, keep playing. Obviously, no question, they got back in the game."
Montana redshirt freshman return specialist Malik Flowers ignited the Grizzly comeback. On the ensuing kickoff, Flowers flew down the field for a 95-yard kick return touchdown.
No Grizzly had scored a touchdown on a kickoff return since 2013 when Ellis Henderson returned a one for 98 yards against South Dakota.
"Any time you score on a kickoff return it's a big play. A lot of people go years without doing that," Hauck said. "We kinda thought we'd have a shot with that play and that call and the guys blocked it well and he finished it. Good play by those guys.
"Certainly, it got us back. That was a huge play in the game when you talk about being down 14 and then being right back into it in the blink of an eye."
Montana gained the lead by the end of the first quarter. Tim Semenza drilled a 36-yard field goal to cut the Grizzlies' deficit to 14-10 and on the next Grizzly drive, Sneed found Akem for his first touchdown of the day — a 4-yard score.
The Grizzlies decided to go with some trickery on the point after attempt. Senior safety and holder Reid Miller took the snap like normal from sophomore long snapper Matthew O'Donoghue, but then passed to O'Donoghue to put the Grizzlies up 18-14.
Western Illinois kicker Sam Krosa made a 44-yard field goal as the lone score in the second quarter to put the game at 18-17 at halftime.
Semenza had the only score of the third quarter — a 31-yard field goal — extending Montana's lead 21-17.
Montana got things started early in the fourth quarter as Sneed found Akem on a 3-yard score up the middle to put Montana up 27-17.
But then charged Western Illinois (1-2).
"When you care about something, then it's going to hurt and I think our guys care," Hauck said. "They're going to be licking their wounds a little bit, but what was said in the locker room is, 'We need to get ready to go Monday.'
"We start conference play this week. It's time for the Griz to rise up. I'm sure it will be a pretty somber plane ride home and then we'll get ready to go Monday."