Montana was blown away by an unholy second-half offensive onslaught from UC Davis Saturday, as the No. 6 Aggies scored 46 unanswered points over the last 18 minutes, 24 seconds to flip a 21-3 halftime deficit into a 49-21 win.
“We showed how well we can play in the first half,” Montana head coach Bobby Hauck said. “Certainly the second half was a little bit the other side of the coin from that. Not to discredit UC Davis, but we need to come out and equal that performance, and we didn’t. … They played better and we played worse [in the second half]. There wasn’t really a whole lot of changes.”
UC Davis, which came in as the top scoring team in the Big Sky Conference, punted the ball away on its first possession of the third quarter, then went on to score on seven straight possessions, the last six touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Montana’s offense was melting down, failing to score on nine second-half possessions as quarterback Dalton Sneed threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.
The end result pushed the Griz to the outside of the FCS playoff picture. Montana’s first three-game losing streak since 1992 has UM at 2-3 in Big Sky Conference play, 4-4 overall. The margin of defeat marked the largest for the Grizzlies in the 34-year history of Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Montana led 21-6 as late as three minutes left in the third quarter, after Max O’Rourke kicked his second field goal of the game for UC Davis. The Griz answered with a good drive, but on fourth-and-1 from the Aggie 34, Griz senior tailback Alijah Lee was stoned at the line of scrimmage.
“I think probably the critical play of the game, and where the leakage became more of a flow than just a drip, was [that play],” Hauck said. “I think you’d be hard-pressed to say that’s not a go-for-it situation. I think it certainly is, and we didn’t get it. They got some penetration, we didn’t get it.”
The first touchdown of UC Davis’s skein came just 1:05 later. Tight end Wes Preece caught a 56-yard wide receiver pass, and scored three plays later, boxing out Justin Calhoun in the end zone for the easy 5-yard score.
After a Montana punt, a 4-yard pass from Jake Maier to Keelan Doss, and the subsequent 2-point conversion from Maier to Ulonzo Gilliam, tied the game at 21 early in the fourth quarter, and Davis never let up after that.
Montana punted it away again, and the Aggies were in the end zone not even three minutes later on a 56-yard touchdown run by Tehran Thomas.
Sneed followed by losing a fumble and then throwing back-to-back interceptions on the Grizzlies’ next three possessions, and UC Davis took advantage each time with touchdowns.
“It was pretty calm at halftime,” Davis head coach Dan Hawkins said. “These guys have had success, and we’ve been down before, so I think everybody had a lot of confidence that we would get back on track. It was kind of an accumulation of things. When you go and put up that many points in one half, I don’t know if it’s exactly one play [that changes things].”
The Griz had taken a 21-3 lead at halftime thanks to a stifling defense that held the Aggies to 113 yards in the period, plus two touchdowns by wide receiver Sammy Akem.
After turning the ball over on their first drive each of the last two games, Montana started off well, going 75 yards on 10 plays to open the scoring with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Sneed to Akem.
That got Washington-Grizzly rocking, and set the stage for a near-perfect first half for Montana.
Senior Jeremy Calhoun, who took the bulk of the carries from redshirt freshman Adam Eastwood, ran in a 15-yard touchdown late in the first half — the first score of the year for Montana’s leading rusher each of the last three seasons— before Sneed scrambled to find a wide-open Akem for a 14-yard score and a 21-3 lead just 50 seconds before the break.
The Griz out-gained UC Davis 292 to 113 in the first 30 minutes, holding Maier, the league’s frontrunner for Offensive Player of the Year, to just 83 passing yards on 19 attempts, and Doss to two catches for seven.
“They run a very, very interesting defense,” Maier said. “I think it’s one-of-a-kind … and they did a good job disguising blitzes in the first half. In the second half, they also did a good job disguising it, I just felt as our tempo started picking up, it becomes difficult to dial up exotic pressures throughout the game.”
Whatever it was, Davis looked like a different offense after halftime, picking up 406 yards — nearly as many as Montana’s full-game total of 413 — in the second half.
“We don’t quit,” Doss said. “Going into halftime, we knew we had to make some adjustments, and we feel like we did that. We just talked about how we weren’t playing our best and we had to get used to that crowd. As soon as we did that … we were able to come out and put together a good half of football. I couldn’t be more proud of the team.”
Maier threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns for UC Davis. Gilliam had 69 yards rushing and 42 receiving. On defense, Devon King had nine tackles and two picks, and Mason Moe had 13 tackles, five for loss, and 3.5 sacks.
Calhoun ran 16 times for 73 yards and a touchdown for Montana. Hauck said that he was “little banged up” on the crucial fourth-down play that Lee failed to convert. Dante Olson matched Moe’s game-high with 13 tackles and one of Montana’s two sacks.
Photos by Jason Bacaj. All Rights Reserved.