Griz Roll Over Vandals to Retain Stein

Montana retained the “Little Brown Stein” with a statement win, rebounding with a 34-14 rout of rival Idaho. The Griz won the rivalry for the seventh consecutive time, remaining unbeaten against the Vandals since the turn of the century.

The Griz – who improved to 5-2 overall, 2-2 in Big Sky play – dominated on both sides of the ball, getting a fantastic performance from a freshman backfield to go along with yet another defensive gem. Montana outgained Idaho by 145 yards, leading by as many as 27 points before a late Vandal touchdown.

“It was a great win for our team and I told them in the locker room just now every guy had a great week,” head coach Bobby Hauck said. “We didn’t have a particularly strong performance last week and we came back with a vengeance and played a really nice game tonight.”

Kris Brown stepped up to lead Montana, passing for a career high 256 yards and a touchdown and adding another score on the ground. The freshman unloaded some deep balls to perfection, completing three passes for more than 30 yards to open up the field for Montana. Perhaps most importantly, Brown and the Grizzly offense didn’t turn the ball over a single time.

Photo courtesy of Grizzly Athletics.

The top receivers for the Grizzlies had big games to help out their freshman quarterback, with Samuel Akem and Mitch Roberts combining for 14 catches and over 200 total yards. Roberts led the way with 145 yards while Akem totaled 72.

“I think that Tim Rosenbach and Brent Pease do a great job during the week getting them ready to go, and (Rosenbach) put a good game plan together that was stuff that (Brown) liked and it really showed,” Hauck said. “He was comfortable with it, we ran a lot of things and then as the game got going he got more comfortable and we were able to do more. Kris played his best as a Grizzly so far.”

A banged up Grizzly running back corps led to the first career start for freshman Junior Bergen, who came through with a big performance. Bergen scored two touchdowns as the primary back, carrying for 77 yards and averaging over four yards per carry.

The defense gave up 75 yards and touchdown on the opening drive, but completely shut down the second best rushing attack in the Big Sky for the remainder of the game. The only other score came on the final drive of the game once the contest was well past decided. Montana didn’t allow Idaho to gain a single yard on seven drives, pushing them backwards on four of those.

“They do (like to run the ball) and they had a bunch of it on the first drive, and we gave up seven,” Hauck said. “And then it was lights out from there, so credit our defense. Those guys did a great job, they played their tails off. They are a physical bunch, they’re hard to move the ball on and I’m proud of their effort.”

Patrick O’Connell played a huge part in that and continued an incredible start to the season, recording two of Montana’s five sacks. He now has 9.5 for the season, and also finished with nine total tackles.

Montana also made big play after big play, intercepting a pair of passes when Idaho went to the air after falling behind. Justin Ford extended his Big Sky lead with an interception in his fifth consecutive game, becoming the first Grizzly to have a pick in five straight. His fellow cornerback Omar Hicks-Onu got his first pick at Montana in the second half.

Jace Lewis had 13 tackles and a sack, Marcus Welnel had six tackles and a sack and  Braxton Hill added his first career sack as the linebacking group for Montana continued their stellar play. Robby Hauck also made some history, moving over 300 career tackles with an 8-tackle day.

It wasn’t an ideal start, as the Vandals took the opening drive 75 yards, scoring to take the early 7-0 lead.

Photo courtesy of Grizzly Athletics

Montana’s offense took a couple drives to get going, but once they did get some rhythm they moved right down the field. On the third drive, quick passes from Brown led them down the field and Bergen was able to cap off the drive with a 10-yard rush. The touchdown brought the game level at the end of the first quarter.

After the big Idaho drive to open the game, Montana’s defense adjusted to the run-heavy offense. On the next four drives, Montana held the Vandals to just 13 yards and forced them into negative yardage on two.

Brown connected with Akem for a huge connection on Montana’s next drive, dialing up a 39-yard strike to put Montana in the red zone. They went to the air again for the score, as Grossman found a hole in the zone defense to give the Griz the 14-7 lead.

Then it was that man again. Justin Ford intercepted a pass inside Idaho territory, his Big Sky leading fifth pick in as many games. The pick led to a 48-yard field goal from Kevin Macias, a new career long for the Griz kicker.

Montana forced a three-and-out, setting them up with one more drive before the half. The Grizzlies again moved the ball well, getting close to the goal line before knocking home the second field goal of the game to extend the lead to 20-7 going into the half.

The air attack continued to soar in the second half. This time, a 70-yard connection from Brown to Roberts set the Griz up deep in Vandal territory. Brown closed off the drive on the ground, waltzing into the end zone for his fifth rushing score of the season.

The Griz got another big defensive play, this time from the opposite side corner. Omar Hicks-Onu picked off a deep pass, and if not for a penalty on the return would have scored a defensive touchdown.

But Montana wouldn’t be denied. The offense scored quickly, with Bergen getting his second of the day from 19 yards out for his second of the day. The score made it 34-7, with all of Montana’s points coming consecutively.

Idaho added a late score, but the Grizzlies would hold on for the 20-point victory. A contingent of Grizzly fans that traveled to watch the game celebrated inside the Kibbie Dome.

“It was so cool having all the Grizzly fans. It was just an awesome show of support for Griz Nation, we love having them here and sometimes the only thing better than winning in Washington-Grizzly Stadium is winning on the road and this was a great one. The Kibbie Dome has been a little bit of a shop of horrors for the Grizzlies over the years, and I think we’ve slayed that dragon to a degree.”

Montana will now return home next week for a showdown with Southern Utah.