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Griz, Cats put 6 on all-Big Sky first team

by Daily Inter Lake
| November 23, 2021 10:37 PM

FARMINGTON, Utah — The Big Sky Conference’s sack and interception leaders were among six all-league picks for the Montana Grizzlies Tuesday, as the honors teams for 2021 were announced.

Montana State senior linebacker Troy Andersen was selected as Defensive Player of the Year, and the Bobcats had six first-team picks as well in voting by the league’s 11 head coaches.

Griz cornerback Justin Ford earned one of the four individual awards for the league: The Louisville transfer, who picked off passes in eight straight games to lead the country in interceptions, was named Newcomer of the Year.

The Defensive POY award might have gone to Ford or to Montana’s Patrick O’Connell, a Glacier High product whose 13 sacks led the league. O’Connell and Ford were first-team all-Big Sky along with safety Robby Hauck. Hauck, a second-team pick last year, again led the Griz in tackles with 107.

All three defenders are juniors, and were joined on the first team by special teams standouts Malik Flowers, Brian Buschini and Trevin Gradney.

Flowers, another junior, took two kickoffs for touchdowns this season, bringing his career total to five; Buschini, a freshman out of Helena, led the Football Championship Subdivision in punting with a 46.7-yard average; Gradney, a freshman from Billings, had five solo tackles on special teams.

Montana State’s first-team picks were Andersen, end Daniel Hardy and tackle Chase Benson on defense; and running back Isaiah Ifanse, receiver Lance McCutcheon and lineman Lewis Kidd on offense.

There was some interesting voting. Montana State’s Ifanse was the 1a to Eastern Washington’s Eric Barriere on offense, but the Eagles’ quarterback was unanimously picked as Offensive Player of the Year. Barriere won the award for the second time.

Portland State’s Beau Kelly had 69 catches for 981 yards and 10 touchdowns, all league highs, but was second-team behind Eastern’s Talolo Limu-Jones, MSU’s McCutcheon and Pierre Williams of league champion Sacramento State.

The coaches somehow made Flowers and fellow kick returner Rashid Shaheed of Weber State unanimous first-team picks, a serious bit of mathematical gymnastics; Northern Colorado defensive coordinator Scott Darnell pointed out, in a since-deleted tweet, that Weber State’s Conner Mortensen made first-team at outside backer with 51 tackles, 6 tackles for loss and three sacks while NC’s David Hoage was second-team with 69 tackles, 22 FLS and 10.5 sacks.

Remarkably, UC Davis swept all five second-team special teams picks.

MSU’s Andersen is winding down a storybook career. The Dillon product was the league’s freshman of the year in 2017 (NAU quarterback RJ Martinez got it this year); unanimous first-team quarterback in 2018; unanimous first-team outside linebacker as a junior in 2019; and now the Defensive POY while playing middle backer.

This season Andersen has 111 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, two interceptions (returning one for a TD; the other came Saturday against the Griz), a fumble recovery and seven pass break-ups.

Teammate Hardy led MSU with 10.5 sacks and forced a fumble, while Benson had eight TFLs, 3.5 sacks and a fumble recovery from his defensive tackle spot.

Ifanse led the league in rushing yards with 1,258; helping clear running lanes was teammate Kidd, who was a unanimous pick along with Ifanse.

In all MSU had 13 players honored: Three on the second team, two more on the third team and two honorable mention. Montana had 14 honorees, with three on the second team, one on the third team and four honorable mentions.

Second-team picks for Montana are offensive lineman Conlan Beaver, defensive tackle Alex Gubner and linebacker Jace Lewis. For MSU they are linebacker Callahan O’Reilly, safety Ty Okada and O-lineman Taylor Tuiasosopo.

The Grizzlies’ Mitch Roberts, who leads the team in receptions and yards (50 and 634), was honorable mention; teammate Samuel Akem, whose five TD receptions this season give him 23 for his career, received no mention.

The honors teams can be found on Page B2.