Montana rode the wave of momentum and the element of surprise in a resounding yet down to the wire 26-23 victory over the No. 13 Panthers of Northern Iowa on Saturday in Missoula. The return of Bobby Hauck sparked the Griz to 26 unanswered first-half points as the hosts played off of emotion, showed sharp preparation and executed nearly flawlessly over the first 30 minutes.
UM held on after Northern Iowa adjusted, negated the mystery of the unknown and inserted backup quarterback Colton Howell for senior starter Eli Dunne, a veteran who struggled mightily with Montana’s zone blitzing defensive scheme. In the end, Montana held on for a signature win in front of a sellout crowd.
Now the Grizzlies will have to perform without the mystery that accompanied the opener. Drake, a perennial power out of the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League, comes to Washington-Grizzly Stadium for UM’s second straight home game to open Hauck’s second stint at Montana.
Drake’s first game against William Jewell was cancelled midway through the first quarter because of a lightning storm in Iowa that also caused the cancellation of South Dakota State’s game at Iowa State and Nebraska’s home opener against Akron. Hauck said the fact there is no tape on this Drake team is “an advantage” for the visitors during his press conference on Monday.
“Unfortunately they had their game canceled after a series on Saturday. So we don’t have any film on them to prepare for,” Hauck said. “They’ve got that advantage, which is significant. We’ll be doing a little guessing again this week as to what we’re going to see.
“We also know that they’ve got a very veteran team with eight starters that are seniors on either side of the ball. Most of them fifth-year seniors. We’re going to be playing an experienced football team that’ll know what the heck they’re doing.”
Location: Des Moines, Iowa
Founded: 1881. The school is named after Civil War general Francis Marion Drake, its co-founder.
Notable alumni: Zach Johnson, golfer; Billy Cundiff, placekicker; Terry Branstad, U.S. ambassador to China
Stadium: Drake Stadium seats 14,557, the highest capacity in the Pioneer League. It’s best-known as the home of the Drake Relays, one of the premier track meets in the country, and also hosted the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships in 2018.
Rick Fox, fifth season at Drake: Fox, a long-time assistant coach at Drake under Chris Creighton, took over from Creighton following the 2013 season. Since then, the Bulldogs have been consistently decent, but never managed to find a breakthrough. Drake has finished 7-4 in three of Fox’s four years at the head of the program. The outlier was a 5-6 campaign in 2015, his second year. Last year was the best of those 7-4 years, as the Bulldogs went 6-2 in conference to finish second in the Pioneer Football League.
Fox played football at Wheaton College in Illinois and started his coaching career there as a graduate assistant in 1986. He moved from there to become the offensive line coach at Aurora College (IL) before moving back to Wheaton in the same job in 1992. He made his name as the offensive coordinator at Centre College in Kentucky, where he coached from 1999 to 2007. Creighton brought him on to the staff at Drake in 2008.
THE OFFENSE-PLAYERS TO WATCH
Grant Kraemer, QB, 6’3”, 228, Senior: Kraemer was honorable mention all-conference last year after throwing for 2,616 yards and 20 touchdowns in 11 games. He tied a program record with six touchdowns against Southwestern, and went 17-of-20 for 369 yards and three touchdowns against Campbell. Last year was Kraemer’s second as the starter, after he threw for 2,403 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2016. He takes care of the ball, completing 60.2 percent of his passes last year with just 10 interceptions, but isn’t much of a threat to run, with just five net yards on the ground last year.
Steven Doran, WR, 6’3”, 216. Senior: Kraemer’s top target last year, Doran finished with 39 catches for 790 yards and eight touchdowns. He had back-to-back-to-back 100-yard receiving games against San Diego, Campbell and Jacksonville. It was a breakout year for the senior after he had just six catches for 80 yards despite playing in all 11 games in 2016. A big target at 6-foot-3, he should provide a good test for the Montana cornerbacks after Justin Calhoun, Dareon Nash and Lewis Cowans were very good against Northern Iowa
THE DEFENSE-PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sean Lynch, S, 5’9”, 180, Senior: Lynch was first team all-Pioneer League last season after leading the Bulldogs with 72 total tackles. Now, he’ll be back as a fifth-year senior after being an integral part of Drake’s defense for each of the past three years. After breaking into the lineup as a part-timer in 2015, he recorded 52 total tackles in 2016 before breaking out last year. Expect him to be a rock at the back for the Bulldogs.
Kieran Severa, LB, 6’0”, 215, Senior: Another fifth-year senior, Severa was the second-leading tackler on the Bulldogs last year with 66 total tackles. He also got 6.5 tackles for a loss, the best total among returning players. We saw Montana win last week despite not being able to run the ball, but it’s a good bet the Griz will try to establish the ground game again this week. Severa and the defensive line will have to continue to torment the Grizzlies’ run game.
Andrew Houghton is a freelance sportswriter in Missoula providing Griz football coverage for Skyline Sports for the 2018 season. Photos courtesy of Drake athletics. All Rights Reserved.