MISSOULA — The Bigfork football team opened its season on a big stage and made the most of it, pulling away from Manhattan late to beat the Tigers 27-14 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium Friday night.
Randy Stultz ran for a touchdown and caught one for the Vikings (1-0), who didn't allow Manhattan (0-1) to score any points on offense after the first quarter.
"We went down twice, and didn't give up, kept fighting back," Bigfork coach Todd Emslie said. "I think for both teams, it was just a matter of settling down and getting into the rhythm of the game. Our defense got up to game speed. ... Manhattan came out with some fire and we just settled in."
Landon Liudahl had a 90 yard interception-return touchdown for the Tigers, which gave Manhattan its second lead of the game at 14-13 early in the third quarter.
But Bigfork struck back with a 14-play, 59-yard drive, which Stultz capped off by taking a pitch around right end for a 3-yard touchdown with 2:55 left in the third quarter.
The Vikings wouldn't trail again, and Luke Taylor clinched the win by intercepting Manhattan's Michael Nehring and returning it 20 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Manhattan took an early lead, with the Tigers scoring on their second drive of the game. After Liudahl converted a third-and-14 by reversing field on a pitch for a big gain, Nehring found Lane Veltkamp over the middle for a 4-yard score with 1:19 left in the first quarter.
"We came out of the gates right away, we were able to move the ball pretty well," Manhattan head coach Chris Grabowska said. "They switched up on defense a little bit and we just weren't able to make that adjustment right away."
Bigfork answered, with quarterback Anders Epperly keeping it himself on a bootleg and scoring easily from the 1-yard line midway through the second.
The Vikings then took the lead going into halftime with a brilliant late drive.
After a bad punt set them up at midfield, Epperly hit Stultz for 24 yards, ran it himself for one, and then found Stultz again down the middle. The running back bowled over a safety and took it into the endzone for a 25-yard score with just 12 seconds to go until halftime. The extra-point attempt was missed.
"Anders hit the right guys coming down, and it was nice to get some good points going into half," Emslie said. "It's [Epperly's] first start. When you go into a game situation and you're running around, it's a different game."
After throwing a pick to in the red zone in the second quarter, Epperly made another mistake to kill a good drive on Bigfork's first possession after halftime, rolling left and throwing it right to Liudahl, who turned on the jets down the sideline and took it all the way to the house for a 14-13 lead.
But that was all Manhattan would get, as the Bigfork defense continued its dominance.
Stultz's go-ahead touchdown was followed by another missed extra point, keeping Manhattan in the game down just 19-14, but Nehring tossed the ball right to Taylor in the flat for an easy pick-six to give Bigfork a two-score lead. Stultz ran in the two-point conversion.
Manhattan got the ball back a few more times, but Clayton Reichenbach intercepted Nehring's heave with under three minutes to seal it.
Bigfork will travel to Anaconda next week.
The Tigers will go to Huntley Project.