By ERIC TABER for GoGriz.com Photos By MARK MESENKO
One week ago, Montana linebacker Connor Strahm intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown against Mississippi Valley State to tie the game 7-7 with 10:47 left in the first quarter.
The Grizzlies then went on to score 128 unanswered points through six quarters of football, not allowing an opponent to score until the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Big Sky Conference showdown against Sacramento State.
In 100-plus years of Griz football, Montana has never posted back-to-back games of 60 points or more. It did just that against the Hornets, winning 68-7 in front of 25,351 fans at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, a week after defeating MVSU 67-7.
The victory moves the No. 10 Griz to 5-1 on the season (2-1 BSC) and loads the Griz with confidence headed into the second half of the season.
“I was really proud overall about how we go out and play regardless of where we’re at and regardless of who we’re playing. We play with the same intensity and execution every week,” said head coach Bob Stitt.
“It’s what we strive for every single week, is going into the week preparing the exact same way. The defensive staff puts together an unbelievable game plan for these guys and then they go out and execute it to a tee.”
Quarterback Brady Gustafson was once again outstanding, passing for four touchdowns and 246 yards in less than three quarters of football. He was the catalyst for igniting a Montana offense that produced a season-high 655 yards of total offense with 433 coming in the air.
Senior running back John Nguyen broke a school record for the longest touchdown run in program history, breaking loose for an 81-yard scoring run up the middle. The previous record was an 80-yard run, achieved by six different players since 1968.
Nguyen was the first Grizzly this season to crack the 100-yard rushing mark, picking up a total of 116 yards on the ground. He led a rushing attack that set a season-high mark of 222 rushing yards. Jeremy Calhoun accounted for the bulk of the remaining yards, rushing for two touchdowns, 62 yards and catching a pass for another touchdown to give the sophomore three scores on the day.
Nguyen’s touchdown came on the first play for the Grizzlies of the second half.
“I was actually shocked,” said the senior upon learning of his record. “I didn’t expect that would be the longest touchdown, but it’s also a great feeling to be in the record books.
“It was just the perfect play call at the right time. The O-line did a great job, the receivers did a great job and I just did my job as well,” Nguyen added.
After two stalled drives to start the game, the Grizzlies got on the scoreboard first on the third drive and never looked back.
Brady Gustafson worked the short game masterfully, chipping away at the Hornet’s defense with screens to the perimeter.
Jeremy Calhoun scored his first TD of the game and eighth of the season, capping the 12-play, 80-yard drive with a 32-yard burst up the middle early in the first quarter.
On the ensuing Sac State drive, the Griz defense allowed only a single first down before Josh Busstackled Hornet QB Nate Ketteringham for a loss on third and 10, forcing the Hornets to punt.
Buss earned player of the game honors with a huge defensive performance. The sophomore from Boise led the Griz with 10 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, and the one sack.
The Montana offense would then capitalize on good field position thanks to a shanked punt from Sac State, putting Gustafson and the Griz back on the field at their own 40.
Calhoun would strike once again, capping the drive with a 23-yard touchdown run up the middle to put the Griz up 14-0 on his ninth TD of the season.
The Grizzly defense again came up big with another sack on the next drive. Ryan Johnson and Caleb Kidder froze Ketteringham in his tracks as he dropped back to pass, sandwiching the Hornet QB for a loss of six yards on the sack, forcing the visitors to once again punt away possession.
Gustafson then marched the Griz down the field again with Colin Bingham hauling in a pair of big catches for 17 and 20 yards respectively that would move the Grizzlies into Hornet territory at the 33-yard line.
Two plays later Keenan Curran would catch his third touchdown pass in two games on a five-yard pass from Gustafson to put the Griz up 21-0 to start the second quarter, and the offense was well and truly on its way.
Following another Grizzly drive where Jeremy Calhoun scored his tenth touchdown of the season, this time on a 10-yard pass reception from Gustafson to put UM up 28-0, the Grizzly special teams stepped up and made an impact.
Wanting to keep the pedal to the medal, Gustafson went for the end zone again on the first play of the drive, checking out of two options with players in motion, and another to the back of the end zone, instead opting for a wide-open Colin Bingham along the left sideline who strolled in for a 26-yard score to put the Griz up 35-0 with eight minutes left in the half. The route was well and truly on.
Bingham had a career-high day, leading all 14 Griz receivers who caught a pass in the game with 77 receiving yards.
Montana closed out the half with a nine-yard touchdown pass from Gustafson Josh Horner to put the Grizzlies up 41-0 as halftime closed in.
The Hornets had one last drive in them, however, and made a late push for the end zone on the ensuing drive. Connor Strahm sacked Ketteringham however, and Sac. State would be forced to kick a field goal as time expired.
Big Sky preseason Defensive Player of the Year Caleb Kidder made sure that wouldn’t happen, though, getting a hand on the field goal attempt for a block, and sending the Hornets to the lockers scoreless.
For the second time in as many games, the Griz scored on a pick-six, this time on a 78-yard interception by Oregon State transfer Justin Strong that put the Griz up 61-0.
Sac. State would snap the Grizzly defense’s scoreless streak partway through the fourth quarter on a 36-yard run from Quincy Jountti for the Hornet’s only score of the day.
Joey Counts made the last statement of the game for Montana, taking a screen pass from Chalich 60 yards for the final score of the game, giving the Griz the 68-7 win.
Montana now moves to the business end of the season, with a pair of demanding Big Sky matchup on the road at Northern Arizona on Oct. 22, followed by Eastern Washington on Oct. 29.
Split-the-Pot: A winner did not come forward at today’s game. The winning ticket is ORANGE and the number is 534375. The approximate amount is $9,796.00.
If you have this winning ticket, you can contact Sue DeMers at (406) 243-2233 or firstname.lastname@example.org.