Cornerback Dareon Nash let a little smile creep across his face before rendering his verdict on Friday’s spring scrimmage for the Montana Grizzlies.
“I feel like it was a good day for us overall,” Nash said. “It’s usually back-and-forth, offense, defense, but I feel like [the defense] won today.”
Starting quarterback Dalton Sneed sat out most of the scrimmage, and the defense took advantage of the inexperience on offense, giving up two touchdowns early but getting two scores of their own later in an uneven scrimmage.
As always in the spring, it was some good, some bad for the Grizzlies.
“Some of it was okay, and some of it was probably not ready for primetime,” head coach Bobby Hauck said. “So, it’s probably good we don’t have to play this week. … I think they’re playing hard. I think it’s physical, so that’s a pretty good base to start with.”
Redshirt freshman running back Drew Turner, a Kalispell Glacier product, scored on a nice run in short-yardage situations, bouncing out to the right side on a fourth-and-1 carry and taking it to the end zone.
Sneed followed that up with a gorgeous seam to a wide-open senior Jerry Louie-McGee for a 25-yard score on his first, and last, throw of the day.
He sat out the rest of the scrimmage, hanging out with the coaches behind the play and offering advice to the other quarterbacks.
“I wanted to give the other guys some reps,” Hauck said. “That’s kind of how it works in the spring.”
Junior Cam Humphrey, Sneed’s backup a year ago, and redshirt freshman Garrett Graves, a Eureka native, split most of the reps. Sophomore Wheeler Harris, a former walk-on at Alabama, earned a few drives as well.
“In high school I only started like 20 games at quarterback, so it’s nice to get all the experience I can possibly get from it,” said Graves, who also got a few carries as a running back last year.
No matter who it was under center, the offense struggled — four field goals from senior Brandon Purdy were the only other points scored on offense.
The defense, meanwhile, was getting the touchdowns back. Graves dropped a snap that junior Patrick O’Connell scooped and scored.
On the next drive, Nash flashed off the left side to block a 50-yard field goal attempt by junior Gabe Peppenger. The ball fell right to junior Gavin Crow, who took it to the end zone.
“Once I got the call, I looked at who was on the edge, and he was kind of tight,” Nash said. “Once the ball was snapped, I just sprinted and gave it my all, stretched my hands out and touched out. I don’t know where it went, but I touched it.”
Humphrey did lead two nice drives late, leaning on junior receivers Sammy Akem and Samori Toure to set up a 27-yard kick from Purdy on the first.
In two-minute drills to close the scrimmage, Humphrey took the offense inside the 5, but they settled, again, for a kick from Purdy, this one a 21-yarder.
The defense regrouped to end the scrimmage on a high note. Graves scrambled into field-goal range in his late-game situation, but Kadeem Hemphill knocked down a pass and then put big hits on sophomore Gabe Sulser and sophomore Malik Flowers to force back-to-back incompletions.
On the last play, Graves tried to go at Hemphill again, but the corner tipped the pass, and redshirt freshman safety Nash Fouch intercepted for the defense.
The run of plays was big for Hemphill, a redshirt senior who transferred from San Jose State with his twin brother Jalen last year.
“It was a lot of cover 2, and that’s a coverage that I think I play solid in,” Hemphill said. “I just want to make plays. I’m not on scholarship yet, and I’ve been transferring all over the place, so that’s my biggest thing. I just want to get on scholarship and make some plays, help the team out.”
The Griz have one week of spring practice left, and they’ll go Monday, Wednesday and Thursday next week before the Spring Game, which will be Saturday, April 13 in Kalispell.
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.