By ERIC TABER for GoGriz.com Photos By MARK MESENKO
The No. 11. Montana Grizzlies offense racked up 600 yards of total offense for the first time since 2013, and the defense threw a clutch third quarter shutout to take a 43-20 homecoming victory over the Southern Utah Thunderbirds on Saturday.
The Griz (3-1, 1-1 BSC) used nearly every tool in the shed to defeat the T-Birds (2-2, 1-1 BSC), distributing the offensive attack with over 202 yards rushing, and 425 yards passing in front of 26,092 fans, the sixth-largest crowd in Washington-Grizzly Stadium history.
While the Grizzly offense scored four-straight touchdowns in the second and third quarter, the Montana defense held the Big Sky’s third-best rushing attack to 138 yards and came up with big plays when SUU was knocking on the door to put UM out to a 36-14 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The win puts the Grizzlies back in the “W” column after falling last week to Cal Poly with two more home games over the next two weeks on the schedule.
“It’s great to get a win in the Big Sky because this league is so tough. Any time you win a game in this league you’re really doing something,” said head coach Bob Stitt at the post-game press conference. “This is a good win, a really good win. It was a real strong, very blue collar, tough football game today.”
Senior quarterback Brady Gustafson earned Player of the Game honors, passing for four touchdowns and spreading the good majority of his 415 yards in the air between Jerry Louie-McGee and James Homan, who caught passes for 118 yards and 103 yards, respectively.
Gustafson enjoyed plenty of time in the pocket throughout the game, throwing his four touchdown passes to four different receivers and only taking one sack on the day.
“Our offensive line is playing phenomenal,” added Stitt. “You throw the ball as many times as we do and get one sack, that’s pretty darn good. Brady’s getting the ball out, guys are catching it. That’s what this is all about.”
Louie-McGee, who broke the Montana record for receptions in a game last week, collected the bulk of his yards in the first half, receiving for 112 yards before the break. With 22 yards in the return game, he posted a game-high 175 all-purpose yards.
“All I’ve heard since the first couple of games is more Jerry, more Jerry. It’s kind of like more cowbell,” said Stitt with a laugh. “If they want more Jerry, we’ll find him more ways to get him the ball.”
After winning the coin toss and electing to defer, the Grizzly defense came out and made a statement stop on Southern Utah’s first drive of the game, forcing the T-birds to go three-and-out.
The Griz would get to work quickly on the ensuing drive, with Gustafson hitting Justin Calhoun for 28 yards to bring the Griz within striking distance at the SUU 12-yard line.
The Montana drive would stall in the red zone, however, and Tim Semenza would put the Griz on top 3-0 with a 25-yard field goal.
Sothern Utah answered right back on the ensuing possession with a four play, 75-yard drive, capped off by a 30-yard touchdown pass to second-team All-Big Sky receiver Mike Sharp to give SUU the early 7-3 lead.
The Griz and T-Birds then exchanged three and out drives before Montana would get back on the board with a five play, 60-yard scoring drive highlighted by a 40-yard pass to Louie-McGee on a right flag route, and the Griz were once again within striking distance.
Gustafson capped the drive with a play-action pass to James Homan in the back of the end zone for the three-yard score. Semenza’s PAT would miss, but the Griz retook the lead 9-7 with five minutes left in the first quarter.
SUU running back Malik Brown would put the thunderbirds in position to go on top again with a 38 yard rush up the middle into UM territory. Two plays later, the T-Birds scored on a 22-yard pass from QB Patrick Taylor to Sharp for his second of three TDs on the day.
Jerry Louie-McGee would come up big for the Griz on the ensuing drive, catching a Gustafson pass for 41 yards down to the SUU 28-yard line. That play set Nguyen up for his first receiving touchdown of the year with a wide open 28-yard touchdown catch that put the Griz in front for good 15-14 with seven minutes left in the second quarter.
Later in the quarter, Montana and Southern Utah swapped turnovers to help keep the momentum in UM’s corner. Treshawn Favors gave up a fumble in the red zone, but on the very next play the Griz defense came up big for the first time in the game as Connor Strahm forced a Malik Brown fumble that was recovered by Markell Sanders to keep the T-Birds from scoring.
Two drives later, Montana extended its lead when Gustafson hit Justin Calhoun on a 43-yard bomb to extend the Grizzlies’ lead to 22-14 with only 16 seconds to play in the half.
Montana’s deferment of possession in the first half paid dividends to open the second half when Gustafson capped off a six play, 55-yard drive with a 10-yard TD pass to Horner that extended the Montana lead 29-14 with 11:31 to play in the third quarter.
With the game not quite out of reach for the visitors, the Grizzly defense put the nail in the coffin on the ensuing drive.
Just as SUU had marched down to the UM 17-yard line, Ryan Johnson came up with the defensive play of the day, intercepting a Tyler pass at the line of scrimmage, returning it 40 yards with stiff-arms flying the whole way.
Seven plays later, Jeremy Calhoun burst up the middle for the first of his two TDs from eight yards out, and the Griz lead grew to 36-14.
Jeremy Calhoun would seal the Game for the Griz in the fourth quarter, busting up the middle again for a 45-yard scamper to seal the 43-20 win.
Montana now turns its attention to Mississippi Valley State, who visits Missoula on October 8 for the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
Kickoff for that game is set for 2:30 p.m. at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Split-the-Pot: A split-the-pot winner did not come forward during the UM/SUU game on Saturday. The winning ticket is number 192212 for the approximate amount of $12,383. If you have the lucky ticket, contact Sue DeMers at 406-243-2233.