By AUSTIN SMITH
Despite freshman leadership and a new head coach, the Montana Grizzlies triumphed 35-24 over the South Dakota Coyotes in their season opener Saturday afternoon.
The Griz were up 16-10 at halftime thanks to Cam Warren’s shimmy-shake for a 17-yard touchdown. The Coyotes mounted a third-quarter comeback after Peter Nguyen’s muffed punt return gave them possession in the red zone, ultimately turning the tables to lead the Griz 24-16.
As the third wound down, freshman quarterback and Player of the Game Trent McKinney set Washington-Grizzly Stadium ablaze. The Griz had enjoyed moderate success with the screen pass throughout the first half, but were repeatedly snubbed in the first few minutes of the third quarter. With 7 minutes left, McKinney tossed a neat screen to tight end Greg Hardy, who then turned upfield and launched a 39-yard touchdown bomb to Bryce Carver.
A failed 2-point conversion still left the Griz within biting distance, 24-22. Senior running back standout Dan Moore scored on an untouched 13-yard sprint following a South Dakota punt. The Coyotes struggled to regain their feet, but as the clock wound down the Griz forced a fumble and Jordan Canada was able to make it across the goal line, setting the final score of 35-24.
Saturday’s game introduced to Missoula a Griz team packed with potential. Trick plays were executed with a veteran level of control, and composure was maintained even in the face of ill-timed turnovers and questionable refereeing. A University of Montana school record was also set when the boys tallied 34 first downs in one game.
Next week’s game will be away at Appalachian State, but the Grizzlies will return for the Hall of Fame game against Liberty on September 15.
Austin Smith is a 21-year resident of the Missoula area, and an ardent fisherman, hunter, and snowboarder. When not working on the University of Montana campus, taking classes in the Journalism program, or contributing to the social media efforts of several local organizations, he enjoys spending time outdoors with his Akita and his family.