The Montana Grizzlies exorcised the demons of a three-game losing streak with extreme prejudice, taking their frustrations out on Southern Utah in a 57-14 away win on Saturday.
Junior quarterback Dalton Sneed threw for 323 yards and a career-high five touchdowns with no interceptions for Montana, which moved back above .500 at 5-4 by blowing out the Thunderbirds. The Griz are 3-3 in Big Sky Conference play entering a season-ending stretch that includes two straight rivalry games. The Griz battle Idaho in Moscow in the “Battle of the Little Brown Stein”. Montana wraps up its first regular season under Bobby Hauck since 2009 in Missoula against rival Montana State.
“It was fun to see us play four quarters instead of two or three. That’s been a point of emphasis not just this week but the last 10 months. We went after them pretty good,” Hauck, whose team led UC Davis 21-3 at the half last weekend before giving up 46 second-half points in a 49-21 loss, said in a UM press release.
“It was fun to have a dominating and total and complete victory. We saw signs of it the first half last week, when it was like it was supposed to be. Our guys, they’re getting it. We’re a young team getting better.”
The Griz scored touchdowns on their first three drives to take a 20-0 lead, led 30-14 at halftime, and avoided the second-half stumbles that have plagued them this season, finishing off Southern Utah to drop the defending Big Sky champions to 1-8, including 1-6 in league play.
“We’ve got 14 days left to try and improve, we’ve got two games left that mean a lot to us and we want to play as hard as we can,” SUU head coach Demario Warren said in an SUU press release.
After three straight losses, the Grizzlies needed a win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, and sent a message early against the spiraling T-Birds in Cedar City.
Sneed led an eight-play, 75-yard drive to start the game, capping it with a 14-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Jerry Louie-McGee.
True freshman Tyler Skidmore, SUU’s fourth starting quarterback of the season, wasn’t able to match Montana’s offense.
After a punt, senior running back Jeremy Calhoun ran for his second touchdown of the season, a 9-yard score, although Tim Semenza missed the extra point. Calhoun, who has usurped the No. 1 running back job from redshirt freshman Adam Eastwood in recent weeks, finished with 16 carries for 99 yards, the second-most by any Montana running back in a game this year.
Skidmore’s next pass was tipped by senior defensive end Reggie Tilleman and intercepted by senior linebacker Josh Buss, and Montana took advantage with a 21-yard scoring pass from Sneed to senior Keenan Curran for a 20-0 lead. Curran entered his final season with 18 touchdown catches over the last two seasons but the catch Saturday marked his first of his senior season.
“Our seniors are tremendous guys for a lot of reasons, but the reason I love this group the most is they bought in totally and completely the first day we got to Montana in December,” Hauck said. “They give us everything they’ve got every day, and I love them for it.
“You like to see your seniors who are in their stretch run, like Keenan, rise up and produce and play well, which he did.”
The Thunderbirds never threatened from there.
Montana had a touchdown called back and missed a field goal on the same drive at the end of the first half, opening the door just a crack with the score at 30-14, but Josh Sandry intercepted Skidmore on the first play of the second half, Sneed found Sammy Akem for a 16-yard touchdown three plays later, and the rout was on.
Curran (six catches, 91 yards) and Akem (five catches, 89 yards) each had two touchdowns. The 57 points was the most scored by Montana since Nov. 5, 2016, when the Bob Stitt-led Grizzlies hung 62 on Idaho State in a 62-44 win.
The Griz out-gained Southern Utah 635 to 241. Skidmore, in his first career start, completed just 22-of-41 passes for 138 yards — less than 3.5 yards per attempt — one touchdown and two interceptions. Last week in his first college action, the former walk-on who had not played football since 2014 threw for 330 yards in a loss to Northern Colorado.
Robby Hauck led the Montana defense with seven total tackles. Southern Utah didn’t record a first down in the third quarter and had less than 100 yards of offense in the second half.
“(Our defense) played hard. They’re fierce. We’re good tacklers. They played the way it’s supposed to be played,” said Hauck, whose team didn’t have a single turnover on Saturday after giving it away a dozen times in its losses to Portland State, North Dakota and UC Davis.
“Kind of magic how that happens. It was terrific by our guys. Our team is evolving in the right direction. We’re certainly not there yet, but we can feel pretty good about ourselves after that effort today.”
The win keeps the Griz barely alive for a potential playoff bid in the FCS. Montana will travel to Idaho next week to resume their traditional rivalry with the Vandals, before hosting Montana State in the season finale.
The win was the 85th for Hauck at Montana, tying him with Don Read for the most in program history. It was also Hauck’s 100th as a head coach and his 50th Big Sky Conference victory.
For as much as Hauck dislikes talking about his own milestones, it gave him an opportunity to redirect the spotlight and attention on Read, who did the heavy lifting of building the program, leading Montana to its first national championship in his final season in 1995.
“It’s a good opportunity to pay tribute to the great Don Read and the magnificent job he did to lay the groundwork for all of this,” Hauck said. “It’s pretty special because he’s a guy I consider a mentor. A lot of the things we do in our program are based on how he did things.”