Griz Rebound From Slow Start to Route Bengals

A week after a big road win, back home for Homecoming, a bye week coming up, and even the pouring rain at the time of kickoff. There were plenty of reasons why the Grizzlies may have had a letdown performance against Idaho State on Saturday. But Montana proved it is a championship-caliber team and kept its season rolling with a 59-20 win over the Bengals to improve its record to 5-1.

Quarterback Dalton Sneed continued his incredible offensive season, passing for 397 yards and rushing for another 67 yards. He had four total touchdowns, two through the air and two on the ground. His 464 total yards — a new career-high — led Montana’s offense to eclipse 50 points for the second time on the season. In three home games this season, Montana is averaging over 55 points per game.

“His stat line is pretty fantastic, and his practice this week was pretty fantastic as well,” Head Coach Bobby Hauck said of the quarterback. “But he’s such a competitive guy that I think he was awfully juiced up and wanted to be perfect in the game and missed some things in the first quarter. But after that, he was money.”

The big day from Sneed also led to a couple of spectacular performances from his outside receivers. Samuel Akem and Samori Toure both went over 100 yards. Toure had eight catches for 188 yards and a touchdown. Akem had 10 grabs for 135 and a score.

The Griz didn’t get the same type of yardage on the ground, but the rushing game was crucial when it came to scoring. Marcus Knight ran for three scores, Sneed had two, and Adam Eastwood tacked one on at the end for a six-touchdown day from the rushing attack.

Overall, Montana had 588 total yards compared to just 386 for Idaho State. The Grizzlies had 15 more first downs than the Bengals and also nearly 70 fewer penalty yards.

“We just have a really great offense in general,” Toure said. “When everybody does their job, I don’t think there are too many people that can stop us. So, we just had to trust in the system and keep on going and staying persistent, and ultimately, we found success.”

Montana’s defense made an adjustment early and confused the Bengals offensively for the rest of the game. Dante Olson and Jace Lewis slowed down a dangerous Idaho State run game, recording 18 and 14 tackles, respectively. Robby Hauck had eight tackles and one sack, but we will get to that in a moment.

After giving up 17 points on the first three drives, the Griz defense allowed just a field goal over the final 12 drives of the game.

The specialty stats in the box score also continued to lean in favor of Montana. The Grizzlies were 7-for-7 in red-zone trips and converted nearly 50 percent (5-of-11) of their third-down attempts. The defense limited Idaho State to just five conversions on 16 third-down attempts.

The Grizzlies started slow, and while a football game never comes down to a single play, Robby Hauck completely changed things for Montana with a sack in the second quarter. He shot into the backfield like a rocket, sacking quarterback Matt Struck. At the time, Idaho State led 17-7, had scored on all three drives and had completely silenced the home crowd. The play led to Montana’s first defensive stop, which they turned into the first score.

“Just in general, if you are able to get to the quarterback, it is definitely a positive for the defense,” Robby Hauck said of the play. “I think when you get hit by someone you aren’t used to seeing come, then he started eyeballing me a little bit. I think that the defense out, ratting the quarterback is big.”

The play seemed to give Montana a boost instantly. From that point, they would go on to outscore Idaho State 52-3. It started in the second quarter, which the Grizzlies won 24-7. Montana then dominated the second half as well, a trend that has been true all season long. The Grizzlies entered the game outscoring opponents 116-47 in the second half. On Saturday, they won the second half 35-3.

“It’s a great win for us, Idaho State has a good football team,” Hauck said. “They were well-coached and ready to play, and they came in and punched us and had us down big early on, so a lot of credit to them. A lot of credit to our guys as well, we don’t have much give in us. I was proud of our resilience and our ability to fix things when they weren’t going well.”

Idaho State moved quickly on their opening drive, scoring to take an early lead. After stopping Montana, the Bengal offense went right down the field again and put three more points on the board late in the first quarter. To start the second quarter, Ty Flanagan busted off a 71-yard touchdown to put the visitors ahead 17-0.

Montana finally broke the Bengal defense on its first drive of the second quarter. The Griz went 68 yards in nine plays, capping off the scoring drive with a four-yard rush by Marcus Knight, the sixth of the season for the transfer.

Robby Hauck had the play of the half, blitzing on a first down play and delivering a massive hit on Bengal quarterback Matt Struck. The hit helped Montana’s defense stop Idaho State for the first time all game, and re-energized a cold and wet crowd at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

It also helped put the ball back in the hands of Sneed, who completed five passes and had another interfered with to bring the Grizzlies to the two-yard line. Knight handled it from there, scoring his second touchdown of the game to cut the lead to 17-14 with 6:37 left in the half.

Montana’s defense then forced a three and out, allowing the offense to drive and tie the game up with a 35-yard field goal from Brandon Purdy. The Griz defense came up big again, forcing another punt to get the ball back in the hands of Sneed with 2:15 remaining in the half.

The offense kept the incredible quarter rolling. They drove methodically down the field and Knight picked up his hat trick in the first half, scoring on another two-yard rush to give Montana its first lead of the game.

“Once we hit our rhythm and were able to start going fast, that’s when things clicked for us,” Sneed said of the big second quarter. “I was able to take easy throws and get the ball to our playmakers and let them do the rest.”

The Robby Hauck sack changed the tone of the game, as Montana scored 24 unanswered points to take the lead. Sneed connected with Akem eight times for a 104-yard quarter. Knight also had three touchdowns in the second quarter alone. On defense, Montana didn’t allow a first down after the sack, and Struck failed to complete a pass for the remainder of the quarter.

In the second half, Idaho State scored first with a field goal to cut the lead to four. Montana responded, putting together a five-play scoring drive. The Grizzlies very nearly connected on a trick play, throwing to Gabe Sulser in the flat and having the receiver fire a deep pass back to Sneed, but the diving attempt from the quarterback just hit the ground. It didn’t matter. On the very next play, Sneed connected with Akem on a route up the sideline to make it 31-20 Montana.

Samori Toure delivered a big 40-yard gain on a nice run after catch to bring Montana into Bengal territory again on the next drive. Toure then finished the drive on a broken play later, as Sneed extended it by escaping the pocket and his receiver found open space in the back of the end zone. The touchdown put Montana ahead 38-20 with just two minutes left in the third quarter.

Montana got the ball back, and once again the Sneed-Toure connection proved fruitful. The quarterback fired a deep pass nearly 50 yards in the air, and Toure found his way under it, setting the Griz up at the two-yard line. Sneed then kept it himself, hurdling a defender while crashing his way into the end zone to make it 45-20 Montana.

“I’m not sliding at the goal line. When I have a chance to get in there, I’m going to do it at all costs.”

It was deja vu for the Idaho State defense on the next drive, as Sneed found Toure on a 37-yard deep pass that once again put Montana in scoring range. Again, Sneed finished the drive on a quarterback keeper up the middle, putting the Griz up 52-20.

Adam Eastwood busted off a 51-yard touchdown on Montana’s next possession to make it the 59-20 final score.

It was the 100th Homecoming celebration for the Grizzlies and the 65th win on the day. Even more impressively, the Grizzlies improved to 30-4 in Homecoming games played inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium with the win.

The Grizzlies now have a week off, as they return to action on Oct. 19 against Sacramento State. The game will be on the road and kick off at 7 p.m. MT.

“I think if you have to assess it, you do it by the record. You put them in front of you, and you either beat them or you don’t, so we’re happy to be where we are right now,” Hauck said. “There is always room to improve, the perfect game has not been played yet, but we’re going to keep trying to get it done and we will try again in two weeks.”