By ERIC TABER
A little over an hour before the Montana Grizzlies emerged from the tunnel for the team’s first scrimmage of fall camp, the kicking and punting corps trotted out of the locker room to warm up, becoming the first players to set foot on the brand new turf inside Washington Grizzly Stadium.
The extra warm-up time paid dividends as the kickers produced some big highlights in a scrimmage where the offensive, defensive and special teams units each had a strong showing.
Redshirt freshmen Tim Semenza thumped two field goals, one from 49-yards, the other from 48 yards, and fellow redshirt freshmen Brandon Purdy swatted a field goal from 47 out to make the Griz 3/3 on field goals for the day. Semenza and Purdy also went 2/2 on PATs to give the kickers a flawless outing.
Sophomore punter Eric Williams brought a big foot with him to the scrimmage as well, booming a 59-yard punt, followed up by a 56-yard boot.
“People have been asking me about kickers for the whole off season and I had no comment, and now I have a comment,” said head coach Bob Stitt. “We’ve got a couple of really nice kickers and a nice punter, and we’re excited to take these guys through the next couple weeks and see who really rises to the top.
“I’m happy with the way they played today because they had a little pressure. They’ve been practicing very well, but today they had a little pressure with the fans, and they came through in a big way.”
The kickers weren’t the only story however. Quarterbacks Chad Chalich and Reese Phillips each threw for a touchdown as they look to step into the backup QB slot on the depth chart.
Starter Brady Gustafson only led the Griz for one drive as Chalich and Phillips roughly split the other 16 drives of the 90-play scrimmage. Both threw a touchdown, and both threw a pair of interceptions as well, tempting fate with a Grizzly defense that looked dangerous at every position.
“I think both of them had some really good moments out there, and both got some really good checks,” added Stitt. “They came out, got aggressive and went after some deep balls which I want to see because our defense is very aggressive, and if you sit back and try to be conservative they’re going to eat you up.
“We’re going to go in and evaluate those guys right now because in the next scrimmage Brady has to get the bulk of the one reps. We’ve got to get him ready to go, but we wanted to give the two backups reps today with the number one O-line.”
The offensive unit didn’t take long to break into the scoring column. On his first drive of the game, Chalich found a streaking Justin Calhoun on the left sideline for a long range touchdown. Semenza’s PAT was good, and just like that the offense had seven points on the board.
Not to be outdone, Phillips passed for a touchdown on his first drive of the scrimmage as well. Justin Calhoun (brother of running back Jeremy Calhoun) was once again heavily involved, connecting with Phillips for two consecutive big plays of 20 and 40 yards to bring up first and goal.
Phillips capped the drive with the offense’s second TD of the day, hitting true freshmen Dareon Nash in the corner of the end zone for the three-yard strike.
After Chalich’s next drive stalled and Semenza boomed his 49-yard field goal, the defense stepped up and started making big plays. Redshirt freshmen Jesse Sims and Cy Sirmon put in a pair of sacks on the next drive forcing Williams to come boom a 59-yard punt.
All told, the Grizzly defense put in four (non-contact) sacks on Chalich and Phillips. Cornerback Ryan McKinley attacked the line from the backfield for one. Caleb Kidder and Ryan Johnson showed why they are some of the most feared defensive ends in the conference, producing a combo sack on Chalich. Kidder would combine with senior Zach Peevey for another sack on the final drive of the scrimmage, and Reggie Tilleman would register one as well.
The UM secondary also came up with four interceptions as the quarterbacks pushed the limits of the coverage.
Junior safety Mick Delany picked off Chalich in the seventh drive of the scrimmage, and Wisconsin transfer TJ Reynard picked off a pass from Phillips on a 30-yard bomb one drive later. Jerrin Williams did the same thing he did in spring ball, picking off a pass that would have been a touchdown for a 20-yard return. Markell Sanders capped of the scrimmage with a defensive highlight, intercepting Chalich on a pass intended for Kobey Eaton.
The Griz will have four more days of practice before taking the field again for the second scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday, Aug. 20. That scrimmage is scheduled for 9 a.m. inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium and is open to the public.
Montana opens the 2016 campaign on Sept. 3 against Saint Francis, under the lights at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Tickets for that game as well as three-game mini packs are on sale now at griztix.com.