Game Recap

Montana races past Idaho, maintains possession of Little Brown Stein

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MOSCOW, Idaho — The inside of the Kibbie Dome can seem like a parallel dimension.

The white arched roof, the goalposts hanging from the ceiling, the sheer airplane-hangar size of the thing — if you’re in the right frame of mind, the University of Idaho’s famously weird football stadium becomes a place completely removed from the rest of the world, where the normal rules don’t exactly apply.

The last time this reporter visited the Kibbie Dome, he watched the Vandals score three defensive touchdowns in a blowout of Idaho State, a shocking three hours that ruined a hotshot quarterback, a promising season and maybe a rising program. The Bengals were 3-3 in 2019 going into that game and have gone 3-15 since.

For the first five minutes of Montana’s game against Idaho on Saturday in Moscow, the 2021 edition of the battle for the Little Brown Stein looked like it was headed for that same kind of loopy, off-kilter surreality.

The Vandals took the opening kickoff. They marched down the field. They scored on fourth down when 250-pound running back Aundre Carter followed 310-pound Rahsaan Crawford, nominally Idaho’s starting defensive tackle, through the hole for a 2-yard touchdown.

Ten plays. Seventy-five yards. All runs.

Idaho 7, Montana 0.

This time, though, order — in the form of the Montana Grizzlies defense — restored itself.

Idaho gained just 35 yards in the rest of the first half, Montana went on to score 34 straight points before a late touchdown by the Vandals, and the Grizzlies walked out of the shadow realm of the Kibbie Dome with a 34-14 win.

Montana linebacker Jace Lewis tackles Idaho quarterback Zach Borisch during a game at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow on Saturday/Blake Hempstead

The win was Montana’s seventh straight in the rivalry and third since Idaho rejoined the Big Sky Conference in 2018, meaning the Grizzlies have retained the Little Brown Stein going back to 2000.

“The history of this rivalry has been way lopsided in Idaho’s favor, particularly in this venue,” Montana head coach Bobby Hauck said. “It’s good to see our guys with the Little Brown Stein, they carry it around like it’s a Super Bowl trophy. It’s awesome.”

The win was a huge one for a Montana team that had dropped two consecutive Big Sky Conference games.

Montana is now 2-2 in league play and 5-2 overall. Idaho is now 1-3 in league, 2-5 overall. Idaho is 13-23 since rejoining the Big Sky before the 2018 season, including just 9-17 in conference games.

After the first drive, Montana’s defense dominated the hapless Idaho offense. The Vandals, playing with a converted wide receiver (Zach Borisch) and a freshman (Gevani McCoy) at quarterback, completed one pass in the first half: Borisch’s 22-yard play-action heave to Terez Traynor. Between their first drive and a 33-yard drive in the final seconds of the first half, they managed a total of nine yards on six possessions.

Despite playing with a deficit for most of the game, Idaho ran the ball 47 times against 19 pass attempts.

“When Zach was in there, they went to Cover 0 and put everybody on the line,” Idaho ninth-year head coach Paul Petrino said. “When that’s the case, you’ve got to break tackles. … (Montana) plays super hard. I think that’s the biggest thing, their kids play hard down after down. They run, they tackle well. They do a lot of good things.”

By that point, Montana was up 20-7 going into halftime as the Griz offense showed an explosiveness that had been absent for most of the prior two games with redshirt freshman Kris Brown starting at quarterback.

Montana’s Sammy Akem stretches to make a catch during a game against Idaho on Saturday/Blake Hempstead

Brown hit inch-perfect deep throws of 39 yards to senior Sammy Akem and 31 yards to Mitch Roberts in the first half. Both were longer than any offensive play the Grizzlies have had in their last two games, a win over Dixie State and a loss to Sacramento State.

“It felt great to get the ball moving again on the outside and get the receivers making some plays deep down the field,” said Roberts, a Missoula Sentinel product who finished with seven catches for a career-high 145 yards. “I think Kris just got a lot more confident early on in the game, throwing some quick passes and completing them, and from there the deep ball opened up for us and we were able to make some good plays.”

Brown split time with Robbie Patterson on one first-half drive after Montana went three-and-out on its first two possessions. That drive ended with a 10-yard touchdown run by Junior Bergen to tie the game at 7-7. It was all Brown after that.

In his third start, the redshirt freshman from Bozeman finished 19 of 34 for 256 yards, throwing a 6-yard touchdown to freshman tight end Cole Grossman and adding a 3-yard score on the ground.

Roberts, who had a 70-yard catch and run on a busted coverage by Idaho in the second half, finished surprisingly with the first 100-yard game of a consistently good career.

Bergen, a true freshman from Billings Senior making his first start, ran for 77 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. The do-everything athlete committed and signed with Montana State before exercising a release after former MSU head coach Jeff Choate left the program before Bergen had joined it.

Montana linebacker Jace Lewis led the defense with 13 tackles, adding two tackles for loss. Junior rush linebacker Patrick O’Connell had two sacks, taking his conference-leading total to 9.5 on the season.

Kevin Macias was 2 for 2 on field goals, including a season-long of 48 yards.

A loss to consecutive out of state rivals — UM lost 34-28 at Eastern Washington to open October — would have been a domino into brewing chaos. Instead, mission accomplished, even if the Grizzlies couldn’t get out of the Kibbie Dome without one last bit of weirdness.

Montana linebacker Patrick O’Connell celebrates during a game against Idaho on Saturday/Blake Hempstead

After Idaho scored with just over a minute left, the Vandals went for and recovered an onside kick. Montana’s defense quickly forced a three-and-out, but the Grizzlies’ offense didn’t kneel down and Patterson completed two passes to get the Griz to the Idaho 2-yard line before time ran out.

“We go for the onside because you’ve got to try to score again and get a young quarterback more reps,” Petrino said. “What they do at the end, that’s up to them. … They got the ball, they try to score. We don’t have the ball, we try to stop them. I don’t have any problem with that.”

Montana hosts Southern Utah next week. Idaho hosts Northern Arizona, a team that lost 44-0 to Sacramento State on Saturday.

Photos by Blake Hempstead. All Rights Reserved.

About Andrew Houghton

Andrew Houghton grew up in Washington, DC. He graduated from the University of Montana journalism school in December 2015 and spent time working on the sports desk at the Daily Tribune News in Cartersville, Georgia, before moving back to Missoula and becoming a part of Skyline Sports in early 2018.

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