By ERIC TABER
UM SPORTS INFORMATION
The game has been on the radar since the schedule was released. The Montana Grizzlies rolled through their FCS non-conference slate, but they knew what awaited them to begin Big Sky Conference play.
UC Davis, the No. 4 team in the FCS, awaited the Griz to open up the league slate. When the two teams met in 2018, Montana lost an 18-point halftime lead at home and watched the Aggies score 46 points in the final 16 minutes of the game to run way with a 49-21 win. That loss was the second of three straight home defeats suffered by the Griz as UM missed the FCS playoffs for the third straight year.
Just like the 2018 version of this match-up, Montana put together an impressive first half to take the lead into the break on Saturday at Aggie Stadium. Montana erased some bad memories and made a statement to the rest of the league, as well as the entire FCS, with its third quarter performance.
The Griz scored three times in the first six minutes second half, taking a huge lead on the way to a 45-20 road win over the reigning Big Sky Conference co-champions.
The Grizzlies used a balanced offense, led by dual-threat quarterback Dalton Sneed, and a big-play defense to outgain UC Davis 529 yards to 351 and completely control the game against one of the best teams in the country.
“We have tremendous confidence in our ability. I don’t think we’re there yet, but this is a good win for us obviously against the fourth-ranked team in the country, and it wasn’t close,” UM head coach Bobby Hauck said following the game. “I’m pretty happy. That’s a nice win for our team.”
Sneed threw for 268 yards and five touchdowns in the dominant victory, connecting with nine different receivers. He also found four different players on scoring plays and is now up to 35 career touchdown passes, the 10th-most in Montana history. Sneed passed current assistant head coach Brent Pease on the all-time list with Saturday’s performance.
Sneed made big play after big play on the ground as well, rushing for 81 yards on just 10 carries. In a battle between two of the best quarterbacks in the FCS, Sneed certainly had the edge on Saturday over reigning Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year Jake Maier.
“They are proud of their quarterback, Jake Maier. He’s a fine player, he’s the Big Sky Preseason Player of the Year, and he’s on some watch lists, but we have the best quarterback in the league in Dalton Sneed,” Hauck said.
Marcus Knight added a productive rushing day for the Montana, totaling 91 yards with a touchdown. The Grizzlies had big plays from Nick Ostmo (four carries for 28 yards) and Drew Turner (four carries for 53 yards). All told, Montana’s offense ran for 260 yards.
The defense put together a gem of a performance in its own right, limiting Maier and the Aggie offense to 351 yards and three scores. Montana’s defense also forced three turnovers, and the offense turned two of those into touchdowns in four plays or less to completely swing the momentum of the game and silence the home crowd.
UM senior linebacker Dante Olson and the defense had another great performance, recording eight tackles while picking off his first pass of the season. Junior Jace Lewis proved to be a difference-maker as well, recording 13 tackles – nine of which were solo – and hurrying Maier multiple times. Sophomore Robby Hauck also entered double-digit tackles with 10. The defensive front didn’t allow UC Davis to be comfortable all game long, holding the Aggies to just 60 rushing yards.
“We didn’t blitz them a ton. We covered them probably a higher percentage of the time than we normally do in any given game,” Hauck said of the gameplan. “We’ve got some good speed on the defensive line, they are just all freshmen. We played a whole bunch of freshmen on that line today, but they can go. For the first time this year, they were probably better in terms of being assignment conscious. (Defensive line coach) Barry Sacks had them ready to go, and they got after them.”
This is the third time since 2015 that the Grizzlies have defeated a top-four team in the country and the first since a road win against No. 3 Northern Iowa in 2016.
The win will likely vault Montana up in the national polls, where the Griz entered the game at No. 18. Montana hosts Idaho State for homecoming next week. The Bengals scored 41 points in the first half of a 51-24 victory over Portland State Saturday.
“It was a good team effort,” Hauck said of the win. “We did a good job controlling the field position, we didn’t get greedy. We had the one turnover which was negative and flipped the field on us and they got their first touchdown, but we were comfortable. We felt like we were controlling the game because we were controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, we controlled field position without kicking game and it was a great, dominating team effort. Initial impression is those guys played their tails off.”
“We’re excited to be 1-0 this week, 1-0 in the conference and have the No. 4 ranked team in the country in our rearview mirror with a loss for them.”