MISSOULA, Montana — For about 45 minutes on Saturday afternoon, it looked like the former pupils might thrash their former mentor.
As Montana quarterback Dalton Sneed stood on the sideline throwing the ball gingerly and appearing to favor his throwing (right) arm, things looked bleak for a Griz team celebrating its 100th homecoming game against Idaho State.
The Bengal offense, coordinated by former Montana All-Big Sky wide receiver Mike Ferriter, had its way offensively for the first 20 minutes of game action in front of 25,203 on this damp Missoula afternoon. Idaho State quarterback Matt Struck found whatever he wanted out of the slot, hitting senior speedster Mikey Dean repeatedly as ISU ended the first quarter ahead 10-0.
On the second play of the second quarter, ISU senior Ty Flanagan juked, spun and sprinted his way to a 71-yard touchdown that put Idaho State in full control. As the television camera flashed to the sideline to show the reaction of ISU head coach Rob Phenicie, the former UM offensive coordinator oozed exuberance as the scoreboard read 17-0.
But Phenicie, who served as current UM head coach Bobby Hauck’s offensive coordinator at Montana and UNLV from 2003 until 2014, and Ferriter, who coached at his alma mater for three seasons before taking over at ISU as the OC before last season, could not muster much magic after Flanagan’s scoring jaunt.
Sophomore safety Robby Hauck destroyed Struck on a safety blitz that through the Idaho State quarterback into a tailspin. Sneed shook off whatever ailed his rifle of a right arm and settled in on the way to a historic offensive outburst. And No. 8 Montana raced to a 59-20 homecoming victory to enter next week’s bye 5-1 overall and 2-0 in Big Sky Conference play.
“That’s a great win for us,” UM head coach Bobby Hauck said. “Idaho State has a good football team. They are well-coached and they are ready to play. They came in and punched us and had us down big early on.
“A lot of credit to them and a lot of credit to our guys too because we don’t have a bunch of give-in. They should be proud of their guys from coming in and going toe to toe. But our guys, I’m proud of because of our resilience and our ability to fix things when things aren’t going well and go out and get the win. I’m proud of our team and I’m proud on this great homecoming weekend that we got the W.”
Over the final 41 minutes of game action, Montana went on a 59-3 run that included an intimidating defensive effort spearheaded by Robby Hauck and senior linebacker Dante Olson and an utterly dominant offensive performance spurred on by Sneed. The senior captain threw for 397 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for a team-high 67 yards and two more scores to position himself well for a third consecutive Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week award.
“That’s not just with us being able to execute,” Sneed said. “That comes from in January when we wanted to emphasize finishing and never backing down. We get backed into a wall, 17-0 and we are going to come out swinging. That’s what Coach Hauck has emphasized since January. It’s good to see it pay off with a win.”
Sneed’s 464 yards of total offense marked a career high and gave him the highest total by a Griz since All-American quarterback Brian Ah Yat pled up more than 500 yards in 1996.
“I’ll say this about Dalton: his stat line is pretty fantastic and his practice this week was pretty fantastic as well but he’s such a competitive guy that I think he was awfully juiced up and wanted to be perfect during the game,” Bobby Hauck said. “We missed some things in the first quarter and after, he was money. It was just a great game by him.”
Hauck’s bone-crushing hit on Struck early in the second quarter visibly rattled the junior quarterback. Struck threw five straight incompletions over the final nine minutes of the first half and did not complete a pass until two minutes into the third quarter. Struck was 8-of-9 for 135 yards before Hauck’s sack. He went 8-of-24 for 54 yards after the impactful hit.
“In general, when you are able to get to the quarterback, it’s a positive for the defense,” Robby Hauck said after notching eight tackles. “I actually got to him early in the first quarter and then I got to him again. I think when you get hit by somebody you aren’t used to seeing come, he started eye-balling me a little bit. Rattling the quarterback is big.”
With the Griz in a 17-point hole, Sneed went to work isolating junior Sammy Akem. The hulking 6-foot-4, 210-pound junior All-American candidate caught eight passes for 104 yards in the second quarter, almost single-handedly leading the Griz on their first scoring drive four minutes into the frame. Marcus Knight capped that nine-play, 68-yard march with a four-yard touchdown, his first of three TDs in the frame.
Akem caught three passes on Montana’s first touchdown drive and two more for 38 yards on a eight-play, 76-yard march capped by a two-yard Knight touchdown that cut the lead to 17-14. Sneed’s 13-yard scramble was the key play on a short drive that resulted in Brandon Purdy’s 35-yard field goal to tie the game with three minutes left in the first half.
Akem caught three more passes (in the span of four plays) as Sneed continued to feed the physically formidable pass catcher. Akem’s 13-yard gain moved Montana into the red-zone and two plays later, Knight plunged into the end-zone from two yards out to give the hosts a 24-17 lead heading into the break.
“I told the guys: nothing new,” Sneed said. “We know what we can do on offense and we were hurting ourselves. We weren’t executing on third down and putting our defense back on the field. WE just had to do our thing and take what they were giving us. They were doing a good job of keeping everything in front, skating coverage so we had to take what they gave us, chip away and that’s what we were able to do.”
The onslaught continued after halftime as Toure, a smooth 6-foot-3, 195-pound junior. ISU cut the lead to 24-20 midway through the third quarter. Then the Griz kicked their explosive offense into high gear. Sneed hit Toure for 17 yards then lofted a perfectly thrown 25-yard touchdown to Akem, who finished with 10 catches and 135 yards.
That score gave the Griz a 31-20 lead. Olson notched three of his 18 tackles on the ensuing ISU possession, forcing a fifth straight Bengal punt. Operating at an accelerated tempo, the Griz went 81 yards in seven plays and 2:47, sparked by Toure’s 40-yard catch-and-run and capped by Toure’s eight-yard touchdown grab. The Portland native finished with eight catches for a career-high 188 yards. Toure gained 180 yards in the second half alone
“We just have a really great offense in general and when everybody does their jobs, I don’t think there’s anybody who can really stop us but ourselves,” said Toure, who gained 180 yards in the second half alone. “We just had to trust in the system, keep on going, keep on doing our job.”
Toure’s touchdown gave Montana a 38-20 lead entering the fourth quarter. And the Grizzlies kept coming. Sneed ripped a 26-yard dart to Toure to spark an impressive 99-yard drive. Four plays later, Sneed dropped a perfectly lofted deep throw to Toure for a 44-yard gain to the ISU 2-yard line. Sneed scored his first of two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
On the next possession, Sneed found Toure for a 37-yard gain that set up his one-yard touchdown run capped by a front flip into the end-zone to put the Griz up 52-20.
“I think we just started flowing on offense,” Sneed said. “Once we hit our rhythm on offense and we were able to start going fast, that’s when things clicked for us. I was able to start taking the easy throws and get the ball to our play-makers and they were able to do the rest.
Even when Hauck tried to call off the dogs with backup players in, reserve running back Adam Eastwood ripped off a 51-yard touchdown to cape a run of 35 unanswered points.
Montana enters its bye week with a No. 8 national ranking that could improve after the team’s fifth straight FCS win. UM’s lone loss came at FBS Oregon. The Griz are averaging 49 points per game against like opponents and Sneed has established himself as a real Walter Payton Award candidate at the midpoint of the season.
UM takes next week off before heading to California’s capital city to take on Sacramento State.
“You assess our performance by the record,” Hauck said. “They put them in front of you and you either beat them or you don’t. We are happy to be where we are right now. There’s always room to improve. The perfect game has not been played yet. We are still trying to get it done. We are going to try here in two weeks.”
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.