By ERIC TABER | Photos by MARK MESENKO
The Montana Grizzlies rallied from a 21-14 halftime deficit to force overtime with the Weber State Wildcats, but a 27-yard field goal from Josh Kealamakia broke Grizzly hearts, and broke a 13 game losing streak for the Wildcats at Washington Grizzly Stadium with a 24-21 victory.
Montana takes its first Big Sky Conference loss on the season, moving to 2-1 in league play and 3-3 overall, heading into a bye week.
Montana’s hurry up offense tallied just 72 plays under two quarterbacks as UM’s starter Chad Chalich left the game injured at halftime, replaced by sophomore Makena Simis, who played his first minutes for the Grizzlies.
Despite having to go deeper in the quarterback depth chart, the Grizzlies tallied 383 yards of total offense, 245 in the air and 138 net yards on the ground.
Ben Roberts had a career day receiving for the Grizzlies, hauling in eight catches for 115 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His second TD reception was a 44-yard bomb from Simis that tied the game and gave the Griz an opportunity to take home a win.
Roberts, the 6-4, 205lb baseball transfer from Missoula, now leads the Grizzlies in TD receptions with four on the season.
Turnovers with ball in hand, and turnovers on downs led to scoring opportunities going awry for Montana, with an interception returned for a touchdown late in the second quarter being a key moment for UM.
The Griz also turned the ball over twice on downs inside Dan Sullivan’s field goal range that led to a critical lack of points for the home team.
“Those are on me,” said Coach Stitt on going for it on fourth down. “I want to score. I want to win the ball game. I don’t like to make it a field goal contest. When the guys grind down there and get it, I want to get give them a chance, and I’ll put them on me. I’ll take it. I take it because I want to stay aggressive.”
Weber State came out of the gates with nothing to loose in the first quarter, pulling out a trick play -double pass on its first play from scrimmage, a 38 yard pass from Drew Batchelor to Cory Thomson. Two plays later, Wildcat running back Eric Wilkes ran in for three yards to get WSU on the board first.
The Grizzlies responded in earnest however, with two quick scores to close out the first quarter.
Chad Chalich threw the first of Roberts’ touchdown passes for four yards to cap off a 12 play, 75 yard drive that took 3:58 off the clock to tie the game at seven. Roberts’ four-yard TD was set up by a crucial 15-yard completion to freshman Jeremy Calhoun to bring the Griz inside the red zone for the first time on the day.
The Grizzly defense forced a three-and-out on the next drive, and UM went back to work on offense, putting together another methodical scoring drive of 11 plays and 64 yards, capped off by a four yard scramble by John Nguyen to the end zone.
UM finished the quarter with a 14-7 lead and momentum heading into the second period.
“This one’s really disappointing,” said Coach Stitt. “We started out exactly the way we wanted to start out offensively and had a great first quarter.”
Weber Sate struck back in the second quarter with 14 unanswered points of its own.
Running back Eric Wilkes, who led the Wildcats with 24 carries for 122 yards, marched the visitors down the field before junior QB Jadrian Clark connected with Cam Livingston for a 15 yard score to tie the game at 14.
The next two drives for both teams resulted in punts, with the second one pinning the Griz on thier own 16-yard line. Just as the Griz were clawing their way out of the danger zone, Chad Chalich was intercepted by Cordero Dixon at the UM 30 yard line, who would return it to the end zone to give WSU a 21-14 lead just before halftime.
The Griz managed just a single touchdown in the second half when Simis saw Jamaal Jones in double coverage, and hauled one deep to Ben Roberts for his 44 yard strike. Sullivan’s PAT was good, and the game was tied at 21, where it would stay until the end of regulation.
In the extra period, the Grizzlies won the coin toss to take the first possession, but Makena Simis was sacked from behind for the fourth time in the afternoon, and lost ball in contact, turning it over to the Wildcats.
Kealamakia’s kick sealed the win for WSU on the ensuing drive from 27 yards, and the Wildcats went home with their first road win in Missoula in 28 years.
“Overtime was disappointing,” added Stitt. “We probably should have just handed the ball off, but again, you want to try to steal one. We had set something up, and we wanted to take a look at it, but again, I didn’t want to get into a field goal kicking contest in overtime either.
“Overall it’s very disappointing. I feel horrible for our players. As a coach, you feel like a parent. You want to help ‘em. And when it doesn’t go their way it’s heart wrenching that you can’t help them.”
Montana moves into its second bye week of the season, a feature made possible by the “FCS Kickoff” game against North Dakota State, played a full week earlier than the rest of the nation’s opening day.
North Dakota comes calling to Missoula after the bye on October 24.
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