By ERIC TABER
Chad Chalich threw three touchdown passes, and the Montana defense forced four turnovers and held UC Davis scoreless in the second half as the Grizzlies improved to 2-0 in the Big Sky Conference with a 27-13 victory Saturday afternoon at Davis, Calif.
Chalich hit Ben Roberts and Jamaal Jones for first-half scores to give Montana a 14-13 halftime lead. Chalich connected with Ellis Henderson in the third, and Jeremy Calhoun capped a 16-play, 85-yard drive in the fourth quarter with a five-yard scoring run that put the game out of reach.
“We made it a lot more interesting than we needed to. We could have had this under control a lot earlier than the fourth quarter,” said coach Bob Stitt. “We were playing hard, but we were making a lot of mistakes and mental errors. We just kept grinding away in the second half and finally pulled away.”
Montana won its second straight game to improve to 3-2 overall. UC Davis (0-5, 0-2 BSC) remains winless.
The Grizzlies, who would eventually run a season-high 97 plays and generate 441 yards of offense, were slow out of the gate offensively, but the defense kept the Aggies in check, including an important goal-line stand in the first quarter.
Montana went nowhere on its first four drives, and that allowed UC Davis to strike early. The Aggies went up 3-0 on their first possession and later used consecutive passing plays that covered 54 yards to get first-and-goal on the Griz 1-yard line midway through the quarter.
After an incomplete pass, Tyrone Holmes stuffed Manusamoa Luuga for no gain, then sacked quarterback Ben Scott for a three-yard loss, forcing UC Davis to settle for a field goal that made it 6-0.
“Offensively we struggled early, and our defense really did a nice job of bailing us out,” said Stitt. “That’s what team football is all about.”
Montana finally got rolling offensively on its next possession. Chalich hit four different receivers on the drive and connected with Roberts from 20 yards out to give the Grizzlies their first lead of the afternoon, 7-6. It was Roberts’ second touchdown of the season.
The Aggies answered right back, going 75 yards in five plays to retake the lead 13-7 on an 11-yard pass from Scott to Derek Baljeu at 13:44 of the second quarter. It felt like the start of a shootout, but they would be UC Davis’s final points.
Montana needed just 80 seconds and six plays to cover 72 yards on its next possession and took the lead for good when Chalich hit Jones with a 42-yard strike.
The Grizzlies could have extended their lead before half, but their only turnover of the game kept it a one-point game.
UC Davis’s Chris Martin mishandled a punt late in the second quarter, and Treshawn Favors recovered the fumble at the Aggies’ 3-yard line. Two plays later, with the ball at the one, Chalich fumbled it back.
With the Montana offense in one-score-per-quarter mode, the team’s defense made sure that was enough. The Grizzlies forced turnovers on the Aggies’ first three possessions of the second half.
First it was Caleb Kidder with an interception, then Ryan Johnson. In between picks, Montana went up 21-13 when Chalich found Henderson from four yards out.
The quarterback hit three different receivers for touchdowns Saturday, and that did not include Chase Naccarato, who caught 13 balls, two off the school record.
“You come out and see what they’re doing, and the way they were lining up, we knew we could get Chase a bunch. He got a lot of catches and did some nice things after the catch,” said Stitt.
“Those guys are dynamic. They make big plays and are a lot of fun to have out there for a quarterback.”
Montana created its fourth turnover of the game the opening play of the fourth quarter when Jamal Wilson forced a Luuga fumble. Kidder was there for the recovery.
Two possessions later the Grizzlies put the game out of reach. Taking over at their own 15, the Grizzlies went 85 yards in 16 plays, with Calhoun making it 27-13 with 6:28 remaining.
UC Davis turned the ball over on downs and punted on its final two possessions.
Chalich finished 29-of-49 for 265 yards. He also ran 17 times for 64 more to finish as Montana’s leading rusher.
“Chad did a lot of great things in the run game today and moved in the pocket really well, and did some nice scrambling,” said Stitt. “They were in a lot of three-man fronts and dropping a lot of people, so he was able to make some yards with his legs.”
Kendrick Van Ackeren led Montana, which had five sacks and three other tackles for loss, with 11 tackles. Holmes, last week’s STATS FCS national defensive player of the week for his performance against Northern Arizona, finished with three tackles, two coming on the early goal-line stand.
“I’m sure they were worried about Tyrone and did some things to cover him up,” said Stitt, “but you can’t block him all day. That opens things up for other guys to have some success.”
Montana will host Weber State (2-3, 1-1 BSC) next Saturday at 2 p.m. at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The Wildcats were shut out at home Friday night by Southern Utah, 44-0.