MISSOULA, Montana — As Bobby Hauck and his team prepared for Hauck’s second season of his second stint as the head coach at Montana, Hauck stood on the field before a midweek practtice and talked about when he first learned the importance of effort, intensity and running to the football defensively from his father, Robert Hauck Sr.
Bobby Hauck III stood on the grass at the River Bowl on the University of Montana campus on that day in late September. Even the practice venue was a drastic change from what the Griz players had been accustomed to the previous few years. Although his team had lost three straight games to finish the 2018 season— his first back at Montana since 2009 after an initial seven-year stint that began in 2003 —Hauck has professed confidence in his team since the current season began. And as he team prepared to head to the preseason Big Sky Conference favorites to open the league season, Hauck praised the effort of his team during a 3-1 non-conference performance.
That confidence only grew with a 45-20 beat down of No. 4 UC Davis, the defending league champions. And the intensity has continued to show through, helping Montana incrementally add momentum to a now fully surging season.
The effort, relentlessness and collective confidence Hauck preaches came to a head on Saturday afternoon at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. In the first regular-season matchup pitting Top 5 teams at Washington-Grizzly Stadium since 1994, No. 5 Montana decimated No. 3 Weber State on the way to a statement victory in front of 22,682 fans.
The Griz blocked a punt on the fourth play of the game and turned it into a touchdown, sparking a 21-3 run in the first 16 minutes of the game. Two more third-quarter touchdowns turned it into a rout as UM led 35-3 with nearly 23 minutes left in the game. After intercepting WSU starting quarterback three times before chasing him from the game, the Griz gave up two fourth-quarter touchdowns to backup Kaden Jenks and the Weber State offense.
But not before putting the rest of the FCS on high alert with a 35-16 victory over the two-time defending Big Sky Conference champions.
“That was pretty outstanding by these guys,” Hauck said. “That was a really good win for our football team. We played well in all three phases. I thought our preparation all week was outstanding and I thought the entire team took to heart that we had a big game this weekend.
“The preparation was such that we were going to be hard to beat and then we came out and played well and took care of business in a big, big way. Weber has a good football team and it was fun to get after them like that and have a pretty comfortable win.”
The victory, UM’s third straight, moves the Griz to 6-1 in Big Sky play and 9-2 overall. The win also hands Weber State its first conference loss this season and snaps a 13-game winning streak against the rest of the league.
The No. 5 Griz are sure to move up at least two spots after beating a team two spots ahead of them in the polls and with No. 8 South Dakota State’s 38-7 win over No. 4 Northern Iowa. No. 6 Sacramento State (31-7 over Idaho) and No. 7 Illinois State (17-7 over Missouri State) won but No. 9 Furman lost 24-7 to No. 21 Wofford, meaning Montana State will move up at least one or maybe two spots after a 27-17 win at UC Davis on Saturday night.
That sets up a Top 10 matchup for the 119th edition of the fiercest rivalry in the West between the Bobcats and the Grizzlies.
But Montana played Saturday afternoon with sole focus on a Weber State team that entered the game having won 28 of its last 32 Big Sky contests.
“We got our butts kicked today,” Weber State sixth-year head coach Jay Hill said. “I think that was obvious to everyone. We did everything you do to lose a game like we did today.
“You have to give Montana a ton of credit. They were ready to play. They were physical. I thought that was the best I’ve seen them play. They took it to us and we got our butts kicked.”
The loss was the first of the season to an FCS opponent for Weber State. The Wildcats are 6-1 in league play like Montana and Sac and hold the head-to-head over the Hornets. WSU is 8-3 overall and still will earn a playoff seed and a first-round bye in the FCS playoffs the Wildcats can beat a reeling Idaho State team next week.
“If we come back from a victory next week, we are still in the driver’s seat,” Hill said. ‘We still control our own destiny. We have a big game against Idaho State. It’s a rivalry game for us. We can still wrap up a conference championship just like we wanted to do today. That will get us in the playoffs for sure. We are still playing for a lot.
“Hopefully, we can get our butts back up to this stadium and Montana plays great throughout and we play great throughout and we get another matchup here in a couple of weeks.”
Garrett Graves, a do-everything redshirt freshman from Eureka, Montana who has been a star on special teams and who caught his first career pass on Saturday, came up big right away, blocking Doug Lloyd’s first of eight punt attempts for Weber State.
The Griz took over on the WSU 30 and scored three plays later as junior Samori Toure ran an underneath drag route to waltz into the end-zone from 10 yards out for his first of three touchdown catches on Saturday.
Weber’s third possession featured a pair of catches by Ty MacPherson, the beginning of an afternoon where Constantine went right at the emerging wideout every time he was guarded by UM senior corner Justin Calhoun. But Joe Babros and Jesse Sims sacked Constantine to impede that march. Weber settled for a 32-yard Trey Tuttle field goal late in the first quarter.
Two players later, Montana began its exploitation of Weber State’s defense between the hash marks. Dalton Sneed hit Toure for a 79-yard catch and run, part of a day that saw the junior wide receiver catch eight passes for a career-high 193 yards and three visits to the end-zone.
“It’s just a matter of going in there and doing your 1/11th every time you step on the field because honestly, every play, we don’t know where the ball is going so everybody has to do their job the best just in case the ball ends up in their hands,” Toure said after going over 1,000 yards receiving this season.
Most of Toure’s yardage came on routes toward the middle of the field.
“Nothing that we didn’t know was coming,” Hill said. “We had the free safety cheated right to it. You have to give Toure credit. That guy, we know he’s a good receiver and we basically had the corner and the free safety right there on both of those touchdowns and he basically split us. Those are mistakes you hope don’t come up today but they did.”
That rip sparked a Griz blitzkrieg. On Weber’s ensuing possession, Lloyd bobbled the punt snap, Drew Turner recovered and Montana had the ball 21 yards from pay dirt. Two plays later, Marcus Knight scored his 18th touchdown of the season from 15 yards out to give Montana a commanding 21-3 lead less than two minutes into the second quarter.
“I don’t know what those were but that was very uncharacteristic of our team,” Hill said. “I’ve never seen us do those characteristic deals. We roll a snap back right before the half and miss a chance to kick a field goal too…everything that could’ve gotten us back in it, we screwed up.”
Before Saturday, Weber State had never trailed by more than seven in a single game. The Wildcats opened their season with a 6-0 loss at San Diego State that might’ve been a 7-6 win had All-American returner Rashid Shaheed’s kick return for a touchdown not gotten called back.
Weber never trailed by more than six in a 19-13 loss to FBS Nevada. WSU never trailed in a 29-17 win over No. 9 UNI. WSU never trailed in any of its six Big Sky wins save for a 21-14 deficit in an eventual 51-28 win over Northern Arizona. So Saturday’s 21-3 hole felt like foreign territory.
“It’s a team effort and the field position battle was ours, the big-play battle was ours and the rush offense, rush defense battle were ours,” Hauck said. “When we do that, we are going to win.”
The Grizzlies had two more chances to blow the game even more wide open before halftime. UM senior safety Josh Sandry secured a fluttering Constantine attempt that had been tipped twice for the first of three interceptions by the Griz defense. Montana went three-and-out on its next possession.
After a long 11-play, 47-yard drive that ate up more than five minutes of game clock, Tuttle, a former All-American, missed for just the fourth time in 23 attempts this season from 50 yards. Montana’s next possession again ended in a punt.
Out of halftime, Toure went back to work. After catching three passes for 99 yards in the first quarter and not touching the ball in the second frame, the all-league candidate burned up the middle of the field again. He hauled in a slant that turned into a 59-yard touchdown on the third play of the second half to put Montana up 28-3.
Weber stemmed the tide as true freshman cornerback Ja’Kobe Harris intercepted Sneed to end Montana’s next turn. But the Wildcats, who rushed for just 69 yards and averaged just 1.9 yards per carry, punted four plays later.
Knight rushed for 29 yards on the subsequent 63-yard march and Mitch Roberts’ diving 22-yard catch to the WSU 3 set up Knight’s second touchdown of the day and 19th of the season. That sing-season total ties Joe Douglass’s 1996 mark for third-most in school history.
Sneed went on to throw another pick but Constantine threw two more before getting knocked out of the game. Montana’s final interception came on another tipped pass that settled into the hands of redshirt freshman defensive lineman Alex Gubner. The 6-foot-3, 290-pounder now is tied for the league lead with four interceptions, an unheard of total for an interior defensive lineman.
With its backup offense in, Montana did not get points out of the turnover. The next Weber State possession eventually ended with a 21-yard touchdown from Kaden Jenks to Jon Christiansen to cap a 13-play, 93-yard drive. But not until Constantine took a vicious hit that left him almost motionless except for a few twitches as he lay face down on the Washington-Griz turf.
“Constantine got dinged up and I think he’ll get back,” said Hill, who’s team also lost starters running back Josh Davis, wide receiver Rashid Shaheed and tight end Justin Malone during the game. “We lost five starters today but that’s part of it and you have to give Montana credit for that.”
Christiansen’s first career catch cut the Montana lead to 35-9 — Tuttle missed his third extra point of the year, adding to Weber’s array of errors. With backups in on both sides, Montana gave up one more score.
But it did little to take away from the whooping the Griz put on the Wildcats on Saturday.
“This is where we anticipate being,” Hauck said when asked about being tied for first place in the standings heading into the rivalry game against the Bobcats. “That means we put in a lot of hard work and have won some tough football games. We have to finish the football season out.”
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.