MISSOULA — A pair of Montana natives are among the top-three finalists for the Buck Buchanan Award, which is given to the FCS defensive player of the year.

Montana junior linebacker Pat O'Connell, a Kalispell Glacier grad, is joined by Montana State senior linebacker Troy Andersen, a Dillon grad. The third finalist is Florida A&M linebacker Isaiah Land.

Andersen, who stands at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, was already named the Big Sky defensive player of the year. He tallied 111 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions, including a pick-6, seven pass breakups, one quarterback hurry and one fumble recovery in the regular season.

O’Connell, who is 6-2 and 225 pounds earned first-team All-Big Sky honors for the first time after he began his career at Division II University of Mary. In the regular season, he totaled 91 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, led the Big Sky with 13 sacks, and added five QB hurries, three forced fumbles and one fumble return for a touchdown.

Land is a 6-4, 215-pound redshirt junior from Buffalo, New York, who was named the Southwestern Athletic Conference defensive player of the year. He had only 43 tackles, but 25.5 were tackles for loss, and 19 of those were sacks. He also had five QB hurries, two pass breakups, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Montana cornerback Justin Ford finished fourth in voting for the award. Like O'Connell, he's a junior and will be back next season.

Voting for the award came from a 50-member national media panel. The winner will be announced on Jan. 7 at the FCS National Awards Banquet in Frisco, Texas, site of the national championship game.

Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at frank.gogola@missoulian.com.

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