Griz Look to Avenge 2019 Loss to Hornets at Home

With renewed momentum, the Montana Grizzlies return to Big Sky Conference play this week looking to avenge a 2019 loss to Sacramento State, while at the same time trying to extend their winning streak inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium to a baker’s dozen.

At the halfway point of the season, the Griz enter Saturday’s game against the Hornets ranked in the top-five nationally with one of the best defenses in the FCS and an offense that has regained its rhythm last week with a slew of fresh faces in the lineup.

But the last time the Big Sky Conference played a full season of football in 2019, Sac State came out on top, winning the program’s first conference title under first-year head coach Troy Taylor.

Led by Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year Kevin Thomson at QB, the 2019 Hornets broke numerous records with over 4,000 yards of total offense, leading to Taylor being named Big Sky Coach of the Year and the winner of the Eddie Robinson Award for FCS Coach of the Year.

Photo courtesy of Grizzly Athletics.

The 2021 Hornets come to Missoula this Saturday with recent history on their side as well, having knocked off the Griz 49-22 on Oct. 19, 2019, in Sacramento when they were ranked No. 15 in the nation.

Montana has now won 12-straight home games, however, and holds a 212-33 (.865) all-time record inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The Griz celebrated their 200th win in the friendly confines back in 2018 with a win over the very same Sacramento State Hornets.

But this year’s edition of the Hornets can sting, and with neither team completing a full spring season, Sac State comes to town looking to put an end to that streak and pick up where they left off almost exactly two years ago to the day.

CELEBRATING THE CHAMPS: The University of Montana welcomes back the 2001 National Championship team this weekend, with a reunion planned for Friday night and an on-field celebration scheduled prior to kickoff on Saturday.

2021 marks the 20th anniversary of Montana’s second, and most recent national championship, with more than 50 members of the team are expected to return home for the celebration. One of those former players that is guaranteed to be in attendance is Andy Thompson, a former UM linebacker who now serves as the Hornets defensive coordinator.

Led by former head coach Joe Glenn, the 2001 Griz are also reuniting for a good cause with an ambitious fundraising effort underway to endow a scholarship in memory of three players from that squad, Tim Bush, Curt Colter, and Herb Fernandez, that the world lost too soon. The funds they raise will also support the ongoing facility improvements for Grizzly Athletics and the football program.

THE MATCHUP: Sacramento State is 3-2 on the season and 2-0 in Big Sky play after missing the spring season, having not competed since their 2019 conference championship run.

The Hornets beat Dixie State to start the year 19-7, then dropped a pair of non-conference games to then-No. 15 Northern Iowa 34-16 at home, and the Cal Golden Bears 42-30 in Berkeley. Sac State has now won two in a row, beating Idaho State 23-21 in Pocatello and Sothern Utah 41-20 in Sacramento.

Montana enters the game back to its winning ways at 4-1 and 1-1 in Big Sky play after beating Dixie State a week ago to rebound from a heartbreaking loss to Eastern Washington.

At No. 5 in this week’s polls, the Griz are still on the prowl for a conference championship with proven success following a week one win over the No. 20 Washington Huskies in Seattle.

SERIES HISTORY: Sacramento State has never won in Missoula, with Montana holding a 12-0 all-time record in Washington-Grizzly Stadium since the first meeting between the two schools in 1993.

However, Sac State improved its all-time record against the Griz in 2019 when the Hornets beat UM 49-22 to cut into UM’s series lead, now at 20-2.

WATCH: ABC Montana (SWX in Billings) will provide a statewide broadcast of Montana’s return to conference play against the Hornets, and fans around the nation can tune in via the ESPN+ streaming service. Fans who live in the state of Montana can also pick up a stream of the game on their mobile devices via the Watch SWX App.

Once again, Ron Davis will be on the play-by-play, with former Grizzly QB and Glacier High School head football coach Grady Bennett serving as the analyst. Shaun Rainey will be the sideline reporter.

LISTEN: “Voice of the Griz” Riley Corcoran and long-time analyst Greg Sundberg will bring you the action live from Missoula on KGVO Missoula, the flagship station of the Grizzly Sports Radio Network, and its fifteen affiliates around the state.

New in 2021, Griz fans have a better than ever way to stream all of Montana’s radio broadcasts on their mobile device LIVE and FREE of charge with the Varsity Network App, powered by Learfield and Sidearm Sports. Live audio web streams can also be found at

Fans can download the app for iPhone or Android use for instant access to free gameday audio streams plus the Coach Hauck Radio Show, and receive push notifications to remind them of games starting or upcoming audio broadcasts as well.

COACHES SHOW: The Bobby Hauck radio show returns this week, broadcast live across the state from the banks of the Clark Fork River at the show’s new home of FINN in the DoubleTree Hotel in Missoula, each Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Admission to watch the live broadcast at FINN is free, with a special coaches’ show menu available.


MOBILE TICKETING: After a successful rollout of Montana’s new mobile ticketing system this season, fans will again have the opportunity for 100% mobile or print-at-home ticket delivery, offering the convenience of having tickets delivered to your mobile device and added flexibility in case of lost or stolen tickets. As always, fans are encouraged to enter the stadium as early as possible to avoid lines at the gate.

For complete details on the new mobile ticketing system, including instructional videos and FAQs, visit

DIGITAL PROGRAMS: Montana fans can capture the memory of Saturday’s game easier this season with gameday programs moving to a digital platform. Fans can pick up a free roster flip-card from any retailer inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium and scan the QR code for quick and easy access to the full gameday program.


GRIZ IN THE POLLS: After a wild weekend around the college football universe, the Grizzlies improved to No. 5 in the Stats Perform FCS media poll and held steady in the AFCA Coaches’ Poll. With four top-10 and two top-5 teams losing last week, this week’s polls had quite the shakeup.

Montana improved from No. 6 to 5 in the media poll, picking up 996 points in the voting from a national panel. In the coaches’ poll the No. 6 Griz picked up 562 points in the voting, just four points behind No. 5 Villanova, which upset No. 2 James Madison Saturday.

Southern Illinois improved to 3-0 in the Missouri Valley with an overtime win at then-No. 2 South Dakota State. Eastern Washington remained undefeated and moved up to the second spot in both polls.

The Griz are now the second-highest ranked of five Big Sky teams in the media poll, with Montana State in at No. 9, UC Davis at No. 13, and Weber State at No. 19.

RATE ‘EM HIGH: Montana remained among the nation’s top-100 teams and is the second-highest rated Big Sky Conference team in this week’s Sagarin Ratings.

The Griz enter the week at No. 99, just one spot behind No. 98 Eastern Washington, but one spot ahead of Duke, and three spots ahead of the spring FCS champion Sam Houston Bearkats. The Griz are also rated higher than notable programs like the Pac-12’s Colorado Buffaloes and Arizona Wildcats.

Compiled by statistician Jeff Sagarin for USA Today, the Sagarin Ratings formula compares and ranks all 258 Division-I college football teams. They are used as part of the tie-breaking protocol within the Big Sky to determine conference champions.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK NODS: In his first start as a Grizzly, quarterback Kris Brown picked up the win and was named Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week by online sports publication College Sports Madness on Sunday, settling into his new role in the second half to lead the Griz to 440 yards of total offense.

Brown, from Bozeman, passed for one touchdown and ran for two more to take responsibility for three of Montana’s four touchdowns against Dixie State. The freshman passed for 241 yards and completed 20 of 30 passes with just one interception, with a long play of 30 to lead Montana to the non-conference win. Brown was Montana’s nomination for Big Sky Offensive player of the Week as well.

Cornerback Justin Ford earned UM’s nomination for the league’s defensive player of the week after picking off his third pass in as many games against Dixie State. The junior also came up with another game-changing play to keep the Trailblazers out of the end zone until the 1:32 mark in the fourth quarter.

With DSU knocking on the door late in the game, Ford sacked quarterback Kenyon Obald and forced a fumble, then stayed on his feet to scoop up the loose ball for the recovery. The junior finished the day with a full stat line with three total tackles, one sack, one TFL, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and an interception.

The special teams player of the week nomination went to punter Brian Buschini for a third time this season. The freshman continued his strong start to the year, flipping the field on DSU with three punts for 138 yards, a long of 51 yards, and averaging 46.0 across all three. He also dropped one inside the 20.

CARRY THE ROCK: Running back Xavier Harris was a workhorse for the Griz against Dixie State, rushing for 119 net yards. That’s the second-highest rushing total of his young career and the second-straight week he’s rushed for 100+ yards.

Harris earned each of those yards with a career-high 29 carries, an impressive amount of work for the Freshman, and a rare total for the Grizzly offense.

The last UM player to carry the ball 29 times in a game was Jordan Canada, who had 29 rushes at Southern Utah in 2014. But to find the last player to rush MORE than 29 times in a game you have to go all the way back to Hauck’s first tenure when Chase Reynolds had 33 carries in a 2009 win over Weber State.

EXPERIENCE UP FRONT: Senior tackle Conlan Beaver picked up his 30th career start for the Griz against Dixie State, having been a staple on the UM O-line since 2017. Fellow tackle Dylan Cook continued his impressive streak as a starter after the former QB made the transition to the O-line, now with 18 starts in his career. Senior guard Moses Mallory also started last week for the first time this season, improving his career total to 15 total starts since 2019.

Junior Robby Hauck leads the team with 32, having started every game of his career.

FRESH STARTS: Montana had three players make their first career starts against Dixie State, with freshman quarterback Kris Brown slotting in for Cam Humphrey, and defensive ends RJ Nelson (a junior) and Henry Nuce (a freshman) each getting the starting nod on the defensive front.

RECORD WATCH: Hauck passed former UM linebacker (and current Oregon State assistant coach) Kendrick Van Ackeren on the career tackles list last week with six stops to give him 282 in his career, putting him in the top-20 at UM with still a year and a half to play.

Samuel Akem passed his former teammate Samori Toure’s career pass reception total with four on Saturday, putting him at 157 grabs in his career.

The senior receiver had a long play of 30 yards against the Blazers, but had his three-game scoring streak snapped, not finding the end zone for the first time since the second quarter of the Western Illinois game.

However, with 57 yards against Dixie, Akem improved his career yards total to 2,264, passing Montana legends Jimmy Farris and Bill Cockhill.

With 20 to his name, junior Patrick O’Connell entered UM’s top-30 in career tackles for loss this week, now chasing Zack Wagenmann’s school record of 53 in his illustrious career from 2011-2014.

O’Connell is also chasing Grizzly senior Jace Lewis on UM’s all-time TFL list, with Lewis currently sitting at No. 15 on the list with 28 in his career.

A former walk-on from Kalispell, O’Connell has also entered UM’s top-20 career sack leaders with 13 to date in his career. Wagenmann also holds that UM record with 38.5.

PHENOMENAL FLOWERS: Though he was held without a return opportunity against Dixie State, Malik Flowers is poised to continue his march into the UM record books with five career kick return touchdowns to date.

The junior broke Montana’s school record against Cal Poly with his fourth kick return TD, passing Jefferson Heidelberger (2001-04) and Greg Anderson’s (1974-76) career totals of three.

With another return for TD against Eastern Washington, Flowers is now one shy of tying Weber State senior Rashid Shaheed’s current Big Sky record of six, which is also the current FCS mark.

Flowers’ current average of 29.41 yards per-return are the most in UM history as well, ahead of Marc Mariani’s career average of 27.57 yards per-return. He also only needs 146 more kick return yards to become UM’s leader in that category, breaking Rob Schulte’s career total of 2086.

He’s the only player this season in the FCS to return a pair of kickoffs to the house.

PICKS FOR DAYS: Justin Ford now has three straight games with an interception. With three each on the season, he and Marcus Welnel lead the Big Sky in total picks so far this season, but are tied with one other player in the league for first.

Griz fans will want to keep an eye on Sacramento State nickel back Marte Mapu who also has three picks on the year. Ford, Welnel, and Mapu are all tied at No. 8 for most interceptions in the country.

RARE RETURNS: Montana kept Dixie State out of the end zone and off the scoreboard for three and a half quarters last week. The Trailblazers broke that shutout with 7:37 left to play when Devin Chandler scooped up a fumble and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown.

You have to go all the way back to 2013 to find the last time a UM opponent returned a fumble for a score. Montana traveled to Northern Arizona in late September that year and the Lumberjacks returned a pair of fumbles for scores, one for 98 yards and one for 22 yards, in a 34-16 UM loss.

• You better get back in your seats early after halftime…. Montana’s defense has not allowed a single point scored against it in the third quarter all season, and has had only ten points scored against it in the second quarter. The Hornets, on the other hand, have had 47 points scored against their defense in the third quarter and 35 in the second, more than half of all points by the opposition.

• Montana’s Rush defense leads the Big Sky, with the Griz only allowing an average of 60.6 ypg. UM is the only team in the league to hold teams to an average of under 100 yards, with MSU being the next fewest at an average of 117.33.

• Freshman D-end Jacob McGourin picked up his second sack in as many weeks against Dixie State. The native of Cheney, Wash., got his first sack of the season against Eastern Washington in his hometown. He also picked up a sack against Eastern Washington as a true freshman in 2019 for two in his career against the Eagles.

• Dixie State used a 13-play drive to get to the four yard line last week before Justin Ford recorded an interception in the end zone. It marked his third straight game with an INT.

• Ford’s interception thwarted what could have been one of just two scoring drives opposing offenses have finished from inside the red zone in Washington-Grizzly Stadium this season. Only Cal Poly and late in the fourth quarter Dixie State, have scored in Montana’s red zone at home all season.

• Freshmen Junior Bergen and Cole Grossman each picked up their first career touchdowns against Dixie State. Bergen ran in from six yards out in the third quarter to put UM up 10-0, and would finish the day with 14 carries for 44 yards. Grossman had a career day against DSU with a team-high 70 yards on five catches highlighted by an eight-yard touchdown pass later in the third.

• Through the first three games of the season the Grizzly defense allowed only 14 points scored against it and only 24 points allowed in the calendar year (including two spring games) through the Cal Poly game.

• The Grizzly defense pitched a shutout for nearly three straight games to start the season, with an opposing offense not scoring a touchdown from the opening drive of the Washington game and the fourth quarter of the win over Cal Poly. That equated out to 10 shutout quarters and 165 minutes of game play. In those three games, the defense and special teams outscored UM’s first three opponents by themselves.

• The Grizzly punting unit leads the nation in net punting, with opponents only picking up 19 total return yards to date, for a UM average of 45.08 per kick.

• Montana’s all-time record against Eastern Washington slipped to 28-18-1, with games played in Cheney now tied at 11 wins each. UM is still yet to win on the red carpet at EWU, now 0-6 in Cheney since they installed it in 2010.
• Hauck continues to hold a strong winning record over the Eagles, however, now at 7-2 as a head coach against EWU. Eastern is one of just four Big Sky teams to hold two or more wins over a Hauck-led team since 2003.

SCOUTING THE HORNETS: Sac State will be without star running back Elijah Dotson this week after the All-American opted out of the rest of the season.

The Hornets still have plenty of fire power without him. Taylor’s offense is led by a 1-2 punch of junior quarterbacks that can attack in the air or on the ground.

Asher O’Hara serves as the run man, currently ranked No. 8 in the Big Sky with an average of 57.8 yards per game. Jake Dunniway is ranked seventh in the league in passing averaging 147.4 yards per game in the air.

Linebacker Marcus Hawkins has the third-most sacks in the league with three and is averaging 7.5 tackles per game to lead the Sac defense.