Griz Look to Keep Momentum Rolling on the Road

Fresh off the program’s fifth-straight win and third over a ranked opponent, the Montana Grizzlies return to the road this week for the penultimate game of the regular season, traveling to Oregon to face the potent attack of Portland State in a key conference showdown.

Montana enters the game in the conference driver’s seat at 8-1 on the year and 5-1 in league play. If the path to a Big Sky championship is to go through Missoula, Saturday’s game is a must-win for the Griz.

But this time of year, they’re all must-wins.

The Grizzlies sit perched at the top of the Big Sky table this week with two games left to prove they belong there.

Standing in the way of a shot at the program’s first title since 2009 are the Vikings (4-5, 3-3 BSC) who have had a roller coaster of a season but still possess the league’s second-best scoring and rushing offense.

Portland State is averaging over 37 points per game this season and an impressive 230 yards per game rushing thanks to the one-two attack of Jobi Malary and quarterback Dante Chachere, who have scored a combined 19 rushing touchdowns on the year.

But Montana is well prepared to defend the run, owning the league’s best rush defense and giving up an average of just 84 yards per game, a top-four mark nationally.

It sets the stage for a big-time conference battle and a put-up or shut-up opportunity for the Griz.

“We have to make a choice of continuing to take care of the business at hand or not, and I hope that we’ll do that,” said head coach Bobby Hauck on Monday.

“Our group has shown a lot of resilience and willingness to improve over the season, and I hope this week we can take another step forward.”

Kickoff from Hillsboro Stadium is set for 7 p.m. Mountain Time.

WATCH: The Grizzlies return to Montana Television Network stations around the state this week, with the game at Portland State available on basic cable and satellite options, as well as free-to-air channels.

This week’s game will be shown on KPAX in Missoula, KAJ in Kalispell, KTVQ in Billings, KRTV in Great Falls, KXLH in Helena, KBZK in Bozeman, and KXLF in Butte. A nationwide stream of the game is also available without blackout on ESPN+.

Grizzly Sports Hall of Famer and former NFL head coach Marty Mornhinweg serves as the analyst on the broadcast, while longtime Montana newsman Jay Kohn will provide the play-by-play. Kyle Hansen will report from the sidelines.

The remainder of Montana’s 2023 regular-season schedule, including the Brawl of the Wild, will be shown on the above stations.

LISTEN: “Voice of the Griz” Riley Corcoran is in his eighth season behind the mic at Montana and is once again set to bring you all the Grizzly action over the airwaves on the Grizzly Sports Radio Network and its fifteen affiliate stations around the state.

“Grizzly Gameday” starts two hours before kickoff each Saturday with the official pregame radio show with Ace Sauerwein and Denny Bedard before Corcoran and longtime color commentator Greg Sundberg take over 30 minutes to kickoff.

Griz fans outside the radio footprint can stream all of Montana’s broadcasts on their mobile device LIVE and FREE of charge with the Varsity Network App, powered by Learfield and Sidearm Sports.

IMPLICATIONS: Just win baby. After beating Sac State to earn its eighth win of the season and its third over a ranked opponent, Montana has all but booked its ticket to the postseason. But exactly if and where the Griz land in the bracket is still way up in the air.

A win at PSU is likely to give UM a first-round bye in the playoffs at 9-1 heading into the final regular season contest. A loss at unranked PSU is likely to relegate the Griz to playing Thanksgiving weekend. Win at PSU but lose the last game, a first-round bye is still on the table. Win the last two and the Griz are likely to be crowned conference champions and be a top-three seed. Win zero and UM is almost certain to play Thanksgiving weekend.

It’s all in front of the Griz, and everything is left to play for.

THE SERIES: Montana leads the all-time series against the Vikings comfortably, sitting at 33-13 dating back to 1965. But since PSU joined the Big Sky in 1996 they’ve only managed four wins against UM as a conference opponent, with two of those four coming in the last decade. Two of those wins have also come against teams coached by Bobby Hauck, who sits at 9-2 over the Vikes in his historic career.

The bulk of PSU’s 13 wins have also come in Portland with the Griz sitting at 14-9 in the Rose City. It’s been a minute since Montana has traveled to Oregon as well. Due to an unbalanced league schedule and the pandemic pause, the Griz have only played in Portland twice in the last decade and not since 2019 when they came away with a 38-23 win.

LAST MEETING: Montana dominated the Vikings on Homecoming in 2022, scoring 36 of the final 38 points to run away with a 53-16 victory in Missoula.

Robby Hauck (now a coach on the PSU staff, more on that later) made history for Montana in the win, eclipsing 400 career tackles to set the all-time program record previously held by Dante Olson. His day became even more special on the final play of the first half, returning a missed field goal for a 99-yard touchdown.

The Grizzly defense held PSU to just 199 total yards for the game. After a couple of scores early from the Vikings, UM locked in, allowing just 34 second-half yards after Dante Chachere was knocked out of the game.

Offensively, quarterback Lucas Johnson completed 77 percent of his passes for 221 yards and a pair of scores including one on the ground. Johnson and the Grizzly offense went into halftime with a perfect completion percentage, finding his mark on all 14 of his passes for 175 total yards.

His favorite target was Mitch Roberts, who hauled in six catches for 83 yards and a score. Aaron Fontes also had a big day catching the ball, bringing in four completions for 42 yards and a touchdown. He missed a second touchdown by just inches on another completion late in the game.

LAST TIME IN PORTLAND: Trailing 17-14 at the break, Montana rallied in the second half to beat PSU 38-23 to improve to 7-2 in the 2019 season. Cam Humphrey made his second career start at quarterback and completed 21 of 28 passes for 335 yards. He had four passing touchdowns, including three to wide receiver Samori Toure, who had a career day in his hometown.

Toure, now with the Green Bay Packers, finished with seven catches for 140 yards, including his three scores, which matched his season total entering the day. Sammy Akem also tallied 104 yards receiving. To this day it marks the last game the Grizzlies have had two 100-yard receivers.

Three defenders had at least eight tackles, led by Robby Hauck’s 10 (seven solo). Jace Lewis had nine tackles with three sacks, while Dante Olson had eight tackles, a half-sack, and a pass breakup. Dareon Nash and Alex Gubner each picked off a pass too.

ALL IN THE FAMILY: It’s Hauck vs Hauck and Barnum vs Barnum this weekend in Portland, with several family connections on the sidelines for both teams.

For the first time in his career, Grizzly Head Coach Bobby Hauck will stand across the sidelines from his son Robby, who began his coaching career this year after a record-breaking tenure at Montana. Robby was hired in August by PSU head coach Bruce Barnum to coach the Vikings nickelbacks and serve as an assistant special teams coach.

Speaking of Barnum… The ninth-year head man at PSU will also have to deal with his son on the opposite sideline, with Cooper Barnum set to suit up for the Griz as a backup linebacker this week. Cooper made his first career appearance for the Griz against his dad’s team in 2022.

A perhaps lesser-known family connection to the program also lies on the PSU coaching staff. Viking offensive coordinator AC Patterson is the son of New York Giants D-line coach and former Grizzly player and graduate assistant Andre Patterson, who still spends part of his offseason in the Missoula area.

GRIZ IN THE POLLS: If Griz football is a stock, you’ll want to buy. Montana leapfrogged Idaho in the Stats Perform FCS media poll this week to sit firmly at No. 3 in the nation in both the media and coaches top 25. The Griz were just 19 voting points shy of moving to No. 2 in the media poll and nine points shy of the No. 2 spot in the AFCA coaches’ poll behind Furman.

UM moved up from No. 4 to No. 3 in the media poll with 1,279 points and remained at No. 3 in the coaches’ poll with 603 points.

For the first time this season the Griz are the highest ranked of four Big Sky Conference teams in both polls, having dispatched two of the other three (Idaho and Sac State) already this season.

According to NCAA metrics, the Griz enter this week’s action with the fourth toughest schedule in the Big Sky Conference and the 25th toughest in the FCS through week 10 behind Northern Arizona, Montana State and Northern Colorado. Portland State’s schedule is tied for the 26th most difficult, while Idaho is the 45th ranked team.


🐐 G.O.A.T. STATUS UNLOCKED:  At 124-35 overall in his 12 years at Montana, head coach Bobby Hauck is now the winningest coach of all time in the Big Sky Conference. He broke the league win record set by former Northern Arizona head coach (and long-time UM assistant) Jerome Souers (123) in the win over Sacramento State.

At 72-19 in conference play, Hauck is now No. 3 on the Big Sky’s all-time win list in league games, recently passing College Football Hall of Famer Chris Ault of Nevada. He’s now chasing Tim Walsh (Portland State/Cal Poly) who posted 74 wins in his career, and Souers, who totaled 85 Big Sky Conference game wins.

Ironically, Hauck moved into second place on the conference all-time wins list with the 2022 win over Portland State, the 112th of his career. Fast forward to last week’s game against Sac State and he moved into first on the list with 124 wins to break Souers’ record.

• Hauck’s next win will also give him 140 in his career as a head coach, including his time at UNLV.

• Saturday’s win over Sac State snapped a three-game losing streak to the Hornets. Hauck is now 9-3 in his career against Sac State.

SATURDAY’S STARS: Quarterback Clifton McDowell had a career day under center against Sacramento State, racking-up the most offense of anyone in the league on week 10 with 325 total yards, and he utilized his arm, legs and even his hands to do it.

For his efforts, the first-year Grizzly was named the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week on Monday, the first weekly honor of his short career at UM. He also earned a national tip of the hat with an honorable mention for the Stats Perform FCS Offensive Player of the Week.

McDowell remained undefeated as a starter and helped the Griz to get to 8-1 on the season passing for 218 yards and two touchdowns, rushing for a career-high 83 yards with an average of 5.5 yards per carry, and even catching a pass for 24 additional yards to total 325 in Saturday’s win.

Taking every snap at QB, the Texan helped lead the Grizzly offense to a season-high 547 yards of total offense, balanced with 305 on the ground and 242 in the air. He’s also avoided turning the ball over in the passing game, throwing 119 passes this season with only one interception.

He’s currently No. 8 in the Big Sky in total offense this season with 1,404 combined passing and rushing yards to his name averaging 156 per game, despite only starting six of Montana’s eight contests.

McDowell’s selection gives the Griz four-straight weeks with a Player of the Week recipient and five players honored in that time frame: Aaron FontesRyder MeyerGrant GlasgowRiley Wilson, and McDowell.

• Running back Eli Gillman also received an honorable mention for a Stats Perform FCS award, this one for Freshman of the Week.

Gillman posted his second-straight 100-yard rushing game and his third of the season with 113 yards on the ground and a touchdown to lead the Griz against No. 7 Sacramento State. He also caught a pass for 20 yards to give him a career-high 133 yards of total offense.

His season total of 727 rushing yards is the second-most among all players in the Big Sky this week and the second-most of any freshman in the FCS, but the most among players from ranked teams. He’s also ran up three 100-yard rushing games, which is the third-most in the conference to date.

With a resume like that, Gillman should be considered a front-runner for the Stats Perform Jerry Rice Award, given annually to the nation’s top freshman player.

• The stat sheet may not show it, but Alex Gubner once again proved to be one of the most destructive defenders in the Big Sky Conference against Sac State with two tackles and a timely sack for a loss of nine yards that halted a Hornet drive in the fourth quarter.

Gubner has been the straw that has stirred the defensive drink for the Griz this season, with Montana holding the best rushing defense in the Big Sky again this week, allowing teams to average just under 84 yards on the ground per game. The Grizzly defense held Sac State’s potent rushing attack to just 149 yards and kept the Hornets out of the endzone after the first drive of the game.

• Junior Bergen made the most of some rare opportunities in the return game against Sac State, returning three punts for 37 yards, including one that was a shoe-string tackle away from being taken back all the way, and a kickoff return for 14 yards for 51 total return yards.

Bergen leads the Big Sky and is now fifth nationally in punt returns, averaging 16.1 yards per attempt. With two punt return touchdowns in his career, he is poised to tie the Montana career record of three with his next score.

RECORD PLAY: McDowell also helped deliver the backbreaker to Sac State early in the fourth quarter, dropping a dime from deep in Montana territory to Keelan White in stride for a 97-yard touchdown pass that helped seal the win for the Griz.

It was the longest play from scrimmage in school history, with McDowell now etched in the Grizzly record book after topping Brian Ah Yat’s 26-year-old record 93-yard pass to Jimmy Farris in 1997. It was also the longest play from scrimmage in the Big Sky and is the third-longest play in the FCS this season, with two other passes going for 98 yards.

DOMINANT D: Montana’s defense continued its dominance against Sac State, holding a Hornet offense that averaged 32 points per game to just seven points and just 25 percent on third down.

After pitching a shut-out of Northern Colorado, the Griz essentially did it again against Sac State. In fact, if you take away the fourth quarter against Idaho, Montana has outscored its last three opponents 117-14.

The Grizzly defense held Sacramento State without a point on its final 10 drives. The Hornets have averaged over six yards per play and 433 yards per game this year but held to just 268 total yards on Saturday with only 3.9 yards per play.

Montana enters the contest in Oregon with the best scoring defense in the conference and the third best in the FCS, allowing opponents to score an average of just 15.8 points per game.

The Griz are keeping them out of the endzone as well with the best red zone D in the league, allowing opponents to convert points just 67 percent of the time.

FINDING BALANCE: Montana outgained Sacramento State 547-268 last week with a balanced offense, running the ball for 305 yards and throwing for another 242 to average 7.6 yards per play. It’s the most rushing yards in a game since UM had 337 in a 63-7 blowout win over Eastern Washington last November.

The Griz have been surprisingly balanced overall this season, rushing for 1,697 yards and passing for 1,715 – a difference in total production of just 18 yards.

FIRST HALF FIGHT: Montana has outscored opponents by more than double (157-78) in the first half so far this season after putting 21 on the board before the break against SAC. The Griz are also outpacing the competition in the third quarter 61-28, adding up to a 218-106 advantage through three periods.

POSESSION, POSESSION, POSESSION: Montana lost the turnover battle for the first time this season last week at -1 after McDowell threw his first pick of the year. The Griz still retain the best overall turnover margin in the conference this week at +8, however, at top 10 mark in the FCS. UM also has the most turnovers gained in the Big Sky with 18 on the season, despite not picking one up against the Hornets.

The Grizzly D didn’t allow a score from Sac State for 10-straight drives, meaning the visitors didn’t score any points off the one turnover. Montana is winning in the points off turnovers game 53-30 on the year.

WA-GRIZ IS (STILL) THE PLACE TO BE (AGAIN): Another home game, another sellout at Washington-Grizzly Stadium with 25,888 fans packing in to see the Griz defeat the Hornets in a ranked showdown.

It was the fifth-straight sellout at UM this season, and with the Griz/Cat game always packed, Montana is looking at the possibility of breaking the Big Sky Conference record for single-season home attendance average, set by UM in 2009 (25,652).

Montana set a new single game attendance record on Sept. 13 against Ferris State at 26,978 and set a record for season tickets sold at 18,761 before game one.

The Griz lead the FCS in both average and accumulated attendance this week, with 130,437 total fans crossing the turnstiles for an average of 26,087 per game.

You know it’s coming… That average ticket number of 26,087 makes Washington-Grizzly Stadium the eighth-largest city in Montana on a Saturday afternoon, closely behind Kalispell’s population of 28,450.

It’s also more average fans this week than Tulane, UConn, Vanderbilt, Air Force, Marshall, San Diego State, James Madison, and Wyoming, to name a few. In fact, UM would be No. 79 out of 133 FBS teams in average attendance, among the top two-thirds of all programs in the nation.

THE NIGHTTIME IS THE RIGHT TIME: The Grizzlies improved to 13-2 all-time in night games played at Washington-Grizzly Stadium after beating Sac State last week. Montana has played more night games this year than any year previous (home and away), now sitting at 5-0 in late kickoffs this season. UM could improve to 6-0 after a late kickoff (7 p.m. MT) at Portland State.

With possible playoff home games looming and the NCAA partnering with ESPN to broadcast those games, the Griz could potentially play three home night games for the first time in program history this season.

EXPERIENCE MATTERS:Keelan White, who caught a record-setting 97-yard touchdown catch last week, is scheduled to make his 25th career start for the Griz at PSU this week. Linebacker Braxton Hill of Anaconda is also slated to make his 20th start, while the 10th game of the season coming up means first-year starters Hayden Harris and Ryder Meyer will make their 10th career start. Last week, Nash Fouch hit a milestone with his 30th career start and Corbin Walker made his 25th.

COTTON IS KING: Senior safety and Sacramento Native TraJon Cotton earned a game ball from the Grizzly coaching staff after Montana’s win over his hometown Hornets. Sac State targeted Cotton with All-America tight end Marshel Martin six times in the contest. Cotton passed those tests with flying colors, with Martin going 0-6 against him.