Ford, O’Connell named Finalists for Buchanan Award

13 Dec 2021 | 08:29 | Football

A pair of Montana defensive standouts have been named finalists for the 2021 Stats Perform Buck Buchanan Award, which is presented annually to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision’s defensive player of the year.

Cornerback Justin Ford and Linebacker Patrick O’Connell, both juniors and both two of the top statistical performers in the FCS, are now two of 25 finalists for the premiere defensive award in the subdivision.

Together, they represent two of just three finalists from the Big Sky Conference, with only one other team (Florida A&M) placing more than one player on the list.

In his first season as a Grizzly, Ford has been one of the most dominant defensive backs in all of Division-I football, going on an unprecedented streak of collecting eight interceptions in eight-straight games.

His eight interceptions are the most, not only in FCS football but in FBS and D-II football as well. And in addition to interceptions, he also ranks third in the nation in total passes defended and is second in the Big Sky and top-15 in the FCS in fumbles recovered.

He added to that total Saturday when he scooped up a Montana State fumble recovery forced by his teammate Jace Lewis and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown. It was his second defensive touchdown of the season following a 26-yard pick-six against Southern Utah.

Ford ends the regular season as Montana’s No.8 overall tackler with 38 total stops and has registered a stat in nearly every defensive category with two TFLs, one sack, 16 pass deflections, one QB hurry, and one forced fumble.

His eight interceptions currently rank him fourth in Montana history in single-season INTs.

O’Connell, who was named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week on Monday after yet another massive game over the weekend, has also been a commanding presence in coordinator Kent Baer’s defense.

The Kalispell native leads the Big Sky and is third in the FCS in total sacks with 13 to his name, getting in on at least one in 10 of UM’s 11 games to date. He also ranks third in the league in both tackles for loss and forced fumbles and is ranked No. 8 in the conference in total tackles.

Against Montana State, he posted a game-high 11 tackles with 1.5 sacks for an MSU loss of 11 yards and one QB hurry.

Following Saturday’s game, he now ranks No. 10 in career sacks with 19.5 and is top-15 in career TFLs with 29.

Together Ford and O’Connell have played a key part in Montana’s suffocating defense this season that is has put up the second-best scoring defense in the nation, allowing an average of just 13 points against it over 11 games. The pair have also helped UM to an FCS-best five defensive touchdowns and the No. 3 red zone defense in the FCS as well.

The Buchanan Award, now in its 27th season, is named for the legendary Hall of Fame defensive lineman. Past recipients include two-time winner Dexter Coakley, Rashean Mathis, and Jared Allen.

A 50-member, national media panel will select the winner, who will be announced on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas – the eve of the FCS championship game.

Montana’s Dante Olson won the Buchanan Award in 2019 – the last complete season of FCS football played. Other Grizzly Buchanan Award winners include Tyrone Holmes in 2015 and Kroy Biermann in 2007.

Also this season, Stats Perform will present the Walter Payton Award (FCS offensive player of the year), Jerry Rice Award (FCS freshman player of the year), Eddie Robinson Award (FCS coach of the year), and Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

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