Ground Game, Defense, Lead Griz to Win Over Portland State

Saturday was a picture-perfect day in Missoula, with temperatures in the mid 60’s and not a cloud in the sky. It was picture-perfect on the field as well, as Montana closed its abbreviated spring season with a 48-7 win over Portland State.

“We’re excited to win against a real quality opponent. We have high regard for them for what they do, how they coach, how they recruit. So, we’re really pleased with our effort today and how things went,” said head coach Bobby Hauck in his post-game press conference.

“We had a couple of goals this spring. The first one was to win, certainly. The second one was sending a message that we have a good football team here in Missoula, at the University of Montana, and I think that message has been sent. I like our team. I’m fired up about the next couple of months getting ready for the fall, and I can’t wait for September.”

Montana was dominant throughout the game, scoring on seven of their first 11 offensive possessions while keeping Portland State out of the end zone all but once. In fact, the Vikings reached Griz territory just three times and the red zone just once.

Montana quarterback Cam Humphrey completed 19 of 26 passes for 239 yards, with seven different receivers catching multiple passes. The Grizzlies’ rushing tandem of Xavier Harris (109 yards, 8.4 average) and Nick Ostmo (82 yards, 5.1 average) accounted for nearly 200 of Montana’s 248 rushing yards.

Photo courtesy of Grizzly Athletics

“These two young guys (Harris and Ostmo) did a nice job, both last week and this week. I think the thing that will go un-talked about is we had two young guys, you know, freshman and sophomore, who took care of the ball really well. We didn’t give the ball up. And that was a physical game today,” said Hauck.

“Five and a half per carry. That’s, that’s awfully good… They ran hard. The front played great. The quarterbacks got us in the right checks.  So, it was a good team effort today.”

While Montana’s offense put up 511 yards, Portland State was held to under 300 yards of total offense while being limited to 2-of-17 on third and fourth down.

After turning the ball over on downs on its first drive, Montana got the scoring going on its next offensive possession, with freshman Xavier Harris scoring a 28-yard touchdown to put the Grizzlies on the board. They didn’t slow down after that, scoring on four of their final five first-half drives to take a 27-0 lead into halftime.

The Griz out-gained the Vikings 353 to 129 in the first half and surrendered just five first downs, compared to 16 for Montana.

As impressive as the offense was, the defense was even better. After Portland State marched 57 yards into Griz territory on the Vikings’ first offensive possession before missing a 44-yard field-goal attempt, Montana’s defense was dominant moving forward.

Over the Vikings’ final five first-half drives, they totaled just 66 yards of offense and three first downs, punting four times and getting stopped behind the line of scrimmage on 4th-and-1 another time.

“Coming in this game, I think everybody was pretty fired up to get going, and coach always gets us going. So, we were excited,” said senior linebacker Jace Lewis.

“I think there are some mistakes we made that we still need to clean up a little bit, but I think it’s a good direction going into the summer and then for the fall.”

On offense, Harris had himself a day. In addition to his 28-yard score to get Montana on the board – cutting back after finding a hole created by the offensive line – he showed off his speed on the next drive with a 34-yard burst before running the ball in from 4 yards out to put Montana up 14-0 early in the second quarter.

The score was set up on the previous play, however, when Hauck elected to go for it on 4th-and-7 from the 34-yard line. Humphrey found freshman wide receiver Ryan Simpson at the 20-yard line, good enough for a first down, but Simpson then broke a few tackles after the catch and extended the play another 16 yards to the 4-yard line, resulting in Harris’ touchdown on the next play.

After a big game last week vs. Central Washington, junior Gabe Sulser was again a factor on Saturday. Humphrey found a crossing Sulser just past midfield and perfectly placed the ball to his receiver, who had already beaten two defenders and out-ran another into the end zone for a 54-yard score. Sulser also had a 53-yard punt return early in the third quarter and finished the game with 172 all-purpose yards.

After Montana came up with a big fourth-down stop late in the second quarter, the Grizzlies got the ball back with good field position and took advantage, scoring in just 43 seconds as Humphrey connected with wide receiver Samuel Akem with 9 seconds remaining in the first half.

Montana posted a 3-and-out on Portland State’s first drive of the third quarter, but the Vikings scored on their next possession, the first touchdown allowed by the Griz defense since 2019.

Montana’s defense was once again dominant after that singular play, though – a 73-yard strike – holding the Vikings to 62 yards and zero points over their final five offensive possessions. The Griz defense forced two punts, two turnovers on downs, and a Jace Lewis interception. Lewis led the Griz with eight tackles, including four for lost yards.

Meanwhile, Montana’s offense continued to apply pressure. While Harris was big in the first half, Ostmo was the featured back in the second half, scoring three touchdowns, including two in a span of 2 minutes, 16 seconds. His third running score allowed Montana to put up its 48th point, with more than 12 minutes still remaining in the fourth quarter.

The final quarter allowed for Montana to play some of its second-and third-string players.

After an altered and abbreviated spring season, the Grizzlies will now turn their attention to their Sept. 4 opener at Washington. Montana, which has now won nine consecutive home games since the start of the 2019 season, will be back inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium Sept. 11 vs. Western Illinois.

“There’s always stuff to improve on, and we haven’t played a perfect game yet, but we’re going to keep trying,” added Hauck.

“We wanted to win both games, one at a time. And then we want to send a message that we have a good football team, and I think we did that. So, we’ll get back to work and get ready for the fall. There’s one constant, you always work to get better.”