Game Day

Montana stuns No. 20 Washington, 13-7 in Seattle

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Washington fans came streaming into Husky Stadium in the thousands, clad in purple and gold and unshakable confidence.

The text on the sidelines proclaimed their stadium as “The Greatest Setting” in the country, and there it was, open to Lake Washington, dressed in purple-and-gold accents.

The polls proclaimed their team as one of the top 20 in the nation, and there they were, four-star recruit after four-star recruit, warming up in their resplendent purple-and-gold uniforms. The beautiful Seattle afternoon, 70 and sunny, proclaimed that nothing could go wrong, because how could it, on a day that perfect?

Plus, the Dawgs were playing Montana, had paid the Grizzlies $675,000 to come to Seattle and lose, and so they streamed into Husky Stadium in their purple and gold, buoyant as the boats bobbing at anchor in Union Bay just past the east end zone, secure in the guarantee of a purple-and-gold afternoon.

But at the end of the night, all that was emblazoned on the field of competition was the maroon and silver of the Montana Grizzlies.

“How about that?” Griz head coach Bobby Hauck murmured to himself as he perused the final stats before his press conference in the bowels of Husky Stadium, echoing the same thing he had said to his son Robby as they embraced at midfield minutes earlier, the only possible reaction to Montana’s stunning 13-7 win over No. 20 Washington in Seattle on Saturday night.

It was just the fifth win by an FCS team over a ranked FBS team since the turn of the century, and Montana’s first win over an FBS team since 2003.

The landmark Griz win capped a weekend in which two other Big Sky Conference teams got nice wins over FBS teams, UC Davis against Tulsa and Eastern Washington against UNLV.

This wasn’t that.

“This isn’t Bemidji State. This is the Washington Huskies,” Hauck said after the game, punctuating each syllable. “OK? Uncommon. This is App State over Michigan. Make no mistake on that.”

Griz quarterback Cam Humphrey, from nearby Issaquah, led two scoring drives in the fourth quarter. He kept the ball on the option, took a hit and Superman-dove into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown and a 10-7 lead with 10:35 left in the game.

After starting 4 for 13 passing, he finished the game by completing nine of his final 11 attempts.

“I still can’t believe it,” Humphrey said. “It’s awesome. I mean, I can believe it, because we’re damn good, but it’s like out of a movie or something. It’s pretty cool.”

Freshman Xavier Harris, who entered fall camp as the backup running back, ran for 70 yards on 15 carries with Nick Ostmo out. Redshirt freshman Isiah Childs, the nominal third-stringer, had 39 yards on nine totes, including a crucial 12-yard run on third-and-12 on one of Montana’s late drives. That possession eventually ended with a 22-yard field goal by Kevin Macias, pushing UM’s lead to 13-7 with 2:54 left.

Harris left the game with a right leg injury in the fourth quarter.

But the throughline, the alpha and omega, of Montana’s win was the defense.

Led by the three linebackers — Jace Lewis, Patrick O’Connell and Marcus Welnel, all Montana-bred and blessed with all the fearlessness, the talent and the sheer irreverence of the great Montana linebackers of the past — the Griz defense held Washington to 291 yards, including just 112 in the second half.

Griz linebacker Patrick O’Connell/ by Robert Casey

Welnel had 12 tackles and a sack. O’Connell had nine tackles and three for loss, including two sacks. Lewis had six tackles, two for loss. Junior safety Robby Hauck had nine tackles, and his safety partner senior Gavin Robertson had two interceptions, both on deflected balls from UW quarterback Dylan Morris, who finished 27 of 46 for 226 yards.

Montana had eight tackles for loss altogether, and Washington — with an offensive line that has four all-Pac-12 selections — ran for just 65 yards on 27 carries.

“We just did our thing, and our thing is, be physical, play fast, tackle,” Bobby Hauck said. “That’s what we did, all night.” 

Montana’s defense provided the first seismic stirrings of a world-shaking upset, holding Washington scoreless through the rest of the first half after the Huskies scored, gallingly casually, on their first drive — nine plays, 78 yards, no problem.

After that drive, and a 50-yard drive on the next possession that ended with a turnover on downs, Washington didn’t have a drive longer than 33 yards the rest of the game.

The Griz defense raised the stress level in Husky Stadium — why aren’t we pulling away? — holding, again and again, when Montana’s early struggles on offense gave the Huskies short fields. All told, Washington started four possessions on Montana’s side of the field. The Huskies didn’t score on any.

And it was the defense, after Humphrey’s heroics gave Montana the lead, that closed out the game, taking the upset from inconceivable fantasy to jubilantly real.

Montana senior safety Gavin Robertson (2) and junior safety Robby Hauck (17) celebrate at Washington/ contributed

On Washington’s next possession after Robertson’s second interception, O’Connell dragged Morris down for a sack and then planted the running back after a short pass over the middle to force Washington to punt midway through the fourth quarter. The UM secondary forced incompletions on back-to-back plays on third- and fourth-and-short on the possession after that.

And when the Huskies got one final chance after Macias missed a potentially game-clinching 50-yard field goal short, Welnel stepped in front of Morris’ final pass at the Montana 30-yard line for the game-clinching, program-changing, empire-toppling interception.

“It’s a fine, fine, fine win,” Hauck said. “I’ve been coaching a long time, I think this is the biggest one of my coaching career.”

The stadium had gone crypt-quiet after Humphrey’s go-ahead touchdown, the only sound the small contingent of Montana fans in the northeast and southeast corners bellowing MONTANA! … GRIZZLIES! back at each other.

In the seconds after Welnel’s pick, the silence matched that, as though waiting for all the implications of the moment to rush in. Then the vacuum filled with maroon-and-silver — Welnel skipping off the field, the ball clutched in his hands, teammates slapping his helmet. The Montana players gathering at midfield, then in the corner behind their bench to salute the traveling Grizzly fans.

Bobby and Robby Hauck, the former Washington assistant coach and his kid who used to run around the field at Husky Stadium, met at midfield with nothing to say to each other.

How about that?

The stands were empty. Washington staffers debated in hushed voices whether fans would call for the firing of Jimmy Lake, five games into his head-coaching career, the reactionary whiplash of a team, a program, a school that’s seen its sense of self brutally shaken.

From the southeast exit of the stadium, where Montana players and coaches were still filtering back to the busses, a solitary, wavering “WHOOOOO” floated up to the press box, carrying the nearly spent adrenaline and the slowly settling shock of the night.

Hours after the final whistle, the stadium floodlights stayed on, illuminating the purple-and-gold accents of the stadium, still trying to figure out, like the rest of us, what they had just seen.


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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