MISSOULA, Mont. — Jabin Sambrano had not caught a pass all night when Montana’s Andrew Selle looked his way with 1:31 remaining in a tied game.
The sophomore receiver pulled in the ball in the corner of the end zone from 25 yards out, and the Grizzlies survived a last-second rally to beat Appalachian State 24-17 on Saturday and reach the Football Championship Subdivision title game.
“We decided to take a shot at the end zone on first down,” Sambrano said. “I made a good move and the ball was thrown right where it needed to be.”
Montana (14-0) dealt with frigid temperatures and slippery conditions on a snow-covered field to make the championship game for the second straight year. The Grizzlies will play Villanova on Friday night in Chattanooga, Tenn.
“That’s as special as it gets in college football,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. “A whiteout blizzard on national TV against a great football team.”
The Mountaineers (11-3), making their fifth straight semifinal appearance, had a chance to tie the game after marching downfield in the final minute.
Armanti Edwards hit Brian Quick to convert a fourth-and-10 at the 24-yard line, and two plays later connected with Devon Moore to reach the 3 with 6 seconds left. After calling timeout and misfiring once, Edwards dropped back to pass as time expired.
His throw intended for Quick fell incomplete and Montana players rushed the field.
“I have been in that situation before,” Edwards said. “We had all of our time-outs and had plenty of time to win the game. We just missed opportunities.”
Montana had had used its offense to reach the semifinals, scoring the final 40 points to beat South Dakota State 61-48 in the opening round and then blitzing Stephen F. Austin 51-0.
The Grizzlies turned to their defense this time, holding Appalachian State to its lowest point total of the season. They were helped by 10 penalties that cost the Mountaineers 77 yards.
Chase Reynolds finished with 193 yards rushing and two touchdowns for Montana, which will be making its seventh trip to the national championship game. The Grizzlies won titles in 1995 and 2001, but lost 24-7 to Richmond in last year’s game.
“I felt like my line got on their blocks great,” Reynolds said. “They gave me the opportunity to get out and run.”
Reynolds gave Montana an early lead with a 39-yard scamper in the first quarter, but Moore answered with a 3-yard run and Jason Vitaris kicked a 46-yard field goal to give Appalachian State a 10-7 lead at halftime.
Reynolds scored again early in the second half, but Appalachian State regained the lead on Moore’s second touchdown with 3:52 left in the third quarter. Brody McKnight tied the game 17-17 with a 32-yard field goal early in the fourth.
Moore finished with 95 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and Edwards was 27 of 53 for 343 yards with an interception in his final game for Appalachian State.
The Mountaineers won three straight national championships from 2005-07, with Edwards guiding them to the last two. But he may best be remembered for leading the small school from Boone, N.C., to a 34-32 upset of then-No. 5 Michigan in Ann Arbor to open the 2007 season.
“I don’t think we went out and laid down,” Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore said. “We played as hard as we could and just came up a little bit short.”