Records Fall as Griz Advance to FCS Quarterfinal


The No. 6 Montana Grizzlies, hosting an FCS Playoff game for the first time since 2015, ran away from Southeastern Louisiana behind a record-setting offensive performance. The Grizzlies scored a season-high 73 points while punching its ticket to a quarterfinal rematch against No. 3 Weber State.

The 73-28 win improved the Grizzlies to 7-0 inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium, and the fans that braved the December Montana weather were treated to an absolute show from the Montana offense. Samori Toure became the first Grizzly ever with over 300 receiving yards in a game, Dalton Sneed set a new career-high with 459 passing yards, and Marcus Knight set the new single-season program record with 23 rushing touchdowns thanks to another three-touchdown performance.

Toure also set the new FCS Playoff record for receiving yards in a single game, breaking Randy Moss’s record from 1996. Knight, with a receiving touchdown as well, also reached 25 overall touchdowns on the season to break a single season Montana record set by Chase Reynolds in 2009.

Samori Toure. Photo courtesy of Grizzly Athletics.

The Grizzlies reached 10 wins for the first time since 2013 thanks to the offense that finished with 600 yards of total offense (477 passing, 123 rushing) and 30 first downs. Montana scored double-digit points in all four quarters, highlighted by a 28-point second quarter that put them in control.

“It was certainly an exciting day,” Head Coach Bobby Hauck said. “It’s great to have playoff football back in Missoula, and it’s exciting for us to be back in the quarterfinals for the first time in a long time. Good job by our assistant coaches and players having a great plan and executing it and just attacking. Our group hadn’t played in a playoff game before, but they looked like veterans and handled all of that really well.”

It will be Montana’s first official trip (the 2011 appearance was vacated) to the FCS Quarterfinals since 2009, the final season of Hauck’s first stint as head coach.

Sneed finished 29-of-45 for a career-high 459 yards and five touchdowns. The quarterback said the week of rest they gained from having a first-round bye helped significantly, and it’s hard to argue with the results.

Knight continued doing what he does best; finishing drives. He scored four times on the day to break the record, and seemed to make the right play every time he was called upon. He ran 16 times for 75 yards.

“Marcus has been great,” Hauck said. “He’s made a lot of progress as a player, and he’s just a sophomore. I can remember when Chase set that record in 2009, that was a big year for him, and it’s pretty impressive to go by that so good for Marcus and good job by a lot of people.”

Coach Bobby Hauck. Photo courtesy of Grizzly Athletics.

The offensive success came in large part to a dominant game by the offensive line. They created holes for Knight while also not allowing their quarterback to be sacked a single time. Sneed credited them after the game.

“It starts up front,” Sneed said. “I know Samori got that record today, and we’re sitting here talking about how many yards I passed for, but zero sacks is the highlight of the day for me, and that’s because of the offensive line and the job that they did.

Southeastern Louisiana found success through the air, passing for 467 yards, but the Grizzlies didn’t allow anything on the ground and came up with plenty of big plays on defense. Despite the large number of passing yards, the Lions entered the red zone just twice.

It was another day in the office for Dante Olson, who finished with a game-high 13 tackles to go along with a sack, 1.5 tackles for loss and two pass breakups. He extended his own school record for tackles in a season as he is now up to 165.

“Today was a lot of fun,” Olson said. “It’s kind of how it goes, the offense has our back, and we have the offense’s back. If the offense is rolling and the coaches feel comfortable to dial up some pressure, it’s always fun to pin the ears back and try to get after the quarterback.”

Gavin Robertson also had a nice game with nine tackles, several big hits and a clutch sack that ended a Lion drive. The lone turnover of the game came from freshman Corbin Walker, who intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown late in the game.

It took Montana’s offense nearly six minutes before they found the field after a lengthy SELA drive was extended by a roughing the kicker penalty. The penalty would give the Lions their first score, but it didn’t take the Grizzlies long to respond. Sneed found Toure on the first offensive play of the game for 62 yards and a Montana touchdown.

“We decided Wednesday or Thursday that we wanted to open up with that just with the defense that they play, and we got the right look and Samori did his thing,” Sneed said of the opening touchdown.

It was an early sign of what was to come between the two on a record-setting day. Toure has stepped up significantly since the loss of Samuel Akem to injury, but not to the heights that he reached on Saturday. He closed the game with 12 catches, 303 yards (an FCS Playoff and Montana program record) and three touchdowns.

Toure now has 1,410 receiving yards this season to go along with 13 touchdowns. And he also gets to say he passed a record set by one of the best of all time, Randy Moss.

“It is surreal just because he’s always been my favorite receiver and my role model growing up, so that definitely means a lot to me,” Toure said of the record. “But right now, I’m just happy we got this first playoff win out of the way, and I’m excited to see what’s next for our team.”

The Lions responded with another long drive into Montana territory, but the Griz defense held. SE LA went for it on fourth down, but the front flushed Virgil from the pocket. A lofted pass was defended well by Dareon Nash, giving the ball back to Sneed and the offense.

The lead went in favor of Montana following a 32-yard field goal from Brandon Purdy with just over a minute remaining in the quarter. The Grizzlies drove into field goal range again early in the second quarter but went for it on fourth down this time. The gamble paid off, as Toure made a diving catch for a first down to set Knight up for a touchdown on the outside.

Montana kept its momentum with a defensive stop before another scoring drive. Toure provided some big plays to move the Grizzlies down the field, where Mitch Roberts then hauled in his first career receiving touchdown with a back corner fade. Montana — by way of 24 unanswered points — took a 17-point lead with 4:47 remaining in the half.

Southeastern Louisiana found the end zone again with a quick drive down the field, but they didn’t get to celebrate for long. Apparently scoring two total plays after the Lions’ first touchdown wasn’t quick enough, as Montana scored on the very next play this time.

Malik Flowers handled a short kickoff off the bounce, cut toward the middle of the field and took it 81 yards for his second kickoff return touchdown of the season. The Lions quickly responded with a 37 second touchdown drive to cut the Grizzly lead back to 10 points.

The fireworks didn’t stop there in an electric first half. Montana, with just 1:11 left on the clock at the start of the drive, drove for the final score of the half. Toure and Colin Bingham had first-down catches, and Knight caught a touchdown pass on the outside to give the Griz a 38-21 halftime lead.

In the second half, Flowers very nearly broke another kick return, beating 10 men on a 47-yard return. If not for the kicker tripping him up, he would have gone the distance again.

“We’re pretty good at kickoff returns, Malik is good at it and it was well blocked,” Hauck said of the special teams performance. “Everybody got their block on the touchdown and he hit it right. He knows where his eyes should be and he generally hits it in the right spot and he did that one and he did the next one. It was a shame the kicker got him down on the other one, we could have had two today.”

Less than a minute later, the Grizzlies were in the end zone again. On a play-action pass, Sneed found Toure for yet another big play between the two. This time, they went 29 yards for Sneed’s fourth passing touchdown of the game to give the Griz a 45-21 lead.

Southeastern Louisiana scored in response, and then got the ball back with a chance to cut the lead back down to 10. But Montana’s defense met the challenge, and a massive sack by Olson cut short the next drive.

The Griz moved into Lion territory again with another big play from who else but Toure, who found an opening across the middle of the field for a 46-yard gain. The big play set up the record-tying run from Knight. The running back bounced outside and won a footrace to tie Reynolds’ single-season marks and give Montana a 51-28 advantage.

The tie with Reynolds didn’t last long. Knight once again bounced a rush outside on the next drive, using his speed to dive for the pylon and score his 23rd rushing (25th overall) touchdown of the season.

The records continued to fall on Montana’s next possession, when Sneed aired it over the top to Toure yet again. The 47-yard touchdown – Toure’s third score of the day – brought him to 303 receiving yards.

The other No. 8 – freshman cornerback Corbin Walker – also got in on the scoring late in the game with a 47-yard pick-six that brought Montana’s lead to 73-28.

It was a statement win for a program that has certainly returned to dominance this year, but there is a long way to go for this team to be satisfied. The playoffs continue next week in an all-Big Sky battle in Ogden, where the No. 3 Weber State Wildcats will be looking for revenge. The Grizzlies defeated the Wildcats 35-16 in Missoula just three weeks ago.