The last time Montana and Idaho played for the Little Brown Stein, Bobby Hauck was a first-year head coach with a big problem.
It was 2003, and Hauck had returned to his alma mater after four years as an assistant at the University of Washington, taking over from Joe Glenn.
The Griz started 2-1 after starting quarterback Craig Ochs suffered an injury in preseason, beating Maine, losing to North Dakota State and beating Sam Houston State.
It was a good start, but the pressure was still on Hauck as he prepared to take on the Vandals, then a member of the Sun Belt Conference.
Making matters worse, quarterback Jeff Disney, who had played well in relief of Ochs, got hurt in the Sam Houston win.
And unlike Disney, a redshirt junior from California, the next man up wasn’t a proven backup, leaving Hauck and the Griz heading into a rivalry game with no quarterback and a lot of pressure.
Here’s the story of one of Hauck’s biggest gambles and best wins from his first tenure at Montana.
BEFORE THE GAME
Bobby Hauck: Both our top two quarterbacks, Craig Ochs and Jeff Disney, were out, couldn’t play.
Rob Phenicie, former Montana offensive coordinator under Hauck, current Idaho State head coach: So, during the preseason camp, we had two quarterbacks, Craig Ochs and Jeff Disney. And Craig Ochs hurt his ankle during camp and was on the shelf, so we had Jeff Disney as our quarterback. Jeff Disney got injured … the week before. So we were down to a redshirt freshman named Justin Hartman, and no one else.
Hauck: We didn’t feel like we had a quarterback that could throw the ball, so we knew it was going to have to be a heavy dose of run game, like, no throws, for the most part.
Phenicie: My background was run and shoot, four wides, stuff like Hawaii and all of those guys do, and Bobby hired me for that. … Justin Hartman couldn’t run the run and shoot stuff like we wanted.
Hauck: We brought Kyle Samson, who’s the head coach at Flathead High, out of redshirt, and played him at quarterback.
Kyle Samson, former Montana and MSU-Northern quarterback: I was a quarterback in high school, and then they recruited me as a wide receiver. I was a redshirt wide receiver, and then he told me they were going to move me back to quarterback. … I really was never expecting to play quarterback, and I remember when coach called me into his office and just said, hey, we’re moving you to quarterback, and we’re going to start running some option.
Phenicie: Give Bobby credit for forcing me to come up with an offensive scheme to fit our quarterbacks. … We needed some form of offense, we needed to get things going, so we spent a little bit of time with Kyle Samson at quarterback. We put Kyle Samson in there and installed a couple of veer plays. Not a whole bunch, but just a couple of plays. So here you’ve got a true freshman going into the game against Idaho. The saving grace was the fact that we had a week off before the game, so we had two weeks to kind of get this offense installed.
Hauck: The most interesting thing was the coaching staff. We had a box full of Washington cut-ups from our days with [former Huskies and Oakland Raiders quarterback Marques] Tuiasosopo running it. We brought those in on Sunday and said, “Here’s what we’re doing, start studying up.” And the team knew what our injury status was, and they were geared up to go do it. We’re about winning, doesn’t matter how, around here.
J.R. Waller, former Montana running back: Going into that game, I remember we didn’t have a game plan per se, so Bobby threw out the option game plan. … I think that it was one of those things where there wasn’t a lot of second-guessing, but guys didn’t really know what to think because we hadn’t done it. That’s not the kind of offense that we run, that’s not the kind of program that we are. But we knew that we had to do something because we didn’t have a quarterback. We had Hartman, and he had never taken a snap before. I wouldn’t say there was pushback, guys just didn’t know what to expect.
Samson was the right player to call on to run an option offense. His grandfather, Bob Petrino Sr., won 15 conference championships with it at Carroll. It had then been passed down to to his uncle (and, ironically, current Idaho coach) Paul Petrino, and Kyle’s father Mark Samson, who ran it at Capital High.
Samson: It started with my grandpa, coach Petrino at Carroll. To me, he’s one of the best option coaches in all of America, really. … My uncle Paul, who’s now the head coach at Idaho, is probably the best option quarterback I’ve ever seen. He was a four-time All-American at Carroll, and I remember growing up, I’d always watch tapes, watch Paul’s cut-ups of his option tapes. As a young kid, I just remember being in the backyard when I was 4 or 5 years old and my dad and my grandpa and my mom would be back there and they would teach me the option. It was something I learned at a young age. The thing that makes it effective is just if you rep it, it’s very tough for a defense to prepare for it, and I think that’s one thing that helped us that year, is that Idaho had no idea we were going to run it.
Hauck: We actually had to close practice down.
Waller: I think the biggest guys who had to prepare for it were probably the receivers, because it’s a completely different offense and you’re doing a whole lot more blocking. For the running backs, you know, you run a dive, and you get the ball or you don’t get the ball, and then you just try to keep even spacing with the quarterback. For running backs and offensive linemen, it wasn’t bad, and thankfully we had a quarterback that didn’t have to learn the system. He had come in from high school, and that’s the system that he ran in high school.
Samson: I think a lot of people thought, what the heck is this kid doing at quarterback — a true freshman that was a wide receiver. [Hauck] had a lot of belief in me, and I sure appreciated that. [I] had to earn their respect. We had a lot of great players, and our offensive line was tremendous, and we had some really good running backs that year. I think the biggest thing as a quarterback, as a new quarterback, you had to earn their respect with how hard you worked and your command of the huddle.
Waller: I remember early on in the week, the first couple plays in practice on Monday or Tuesday, he was fumbling the ball and it was taking some getting used to. He was so much smaller than the other quarterbacks that we had. But once he took control of the offense, the offense guys started to buy in and understand.
Hauck: He walked out there, he didn’t look like much, but he was in charge. I remember right down here, the first day in the huddle, he’s a 5-foot-6-inch true freshman, he weighed about 145 pounds, and we had a bunch of senior O-linemen. He was in charge in the huddle, it was pretty apparent.
Phenicie: So we just put some elements in of the veer, we didn’t put a whole heck of a lot in, because you can only put so much in.
Waller: I think the biggest thing is it brought guys together, because we had to change our system around in one week. And that took a lot of guys being on the same page, it took a lot of extra reps in practice, it took a lot of guys staying after to understand the option. It brought the team together. It was forced to, because we were either going to come together and learn this option system, or we were going to get blown out at home, and no one wanted that to happen.
Hauck: It was one of those deals where, that’s a gamble. I actually told my wife the morning [of the game], we were having coffee, I said, “They’re going to think I’m pretty smart here in about eight hours, or they’re going to think I’m the dumbest guy in Montana.”
Phenicie: So we get into the game, and the very first play of the game we run a fly sweep to Jefferson Heidelberger, out of our normal offense. And we run fly sweep to Jefferson, he goes 80 yards for a touchdown. And that had a bigger impact on the game than the option. So, what happened was, almost every other play after that fly sweep to Heidelberger, we would fake the fly sweep. So our whole offense, we just started using that motion and just running stuff of off it. And I think that hurt Idaho more than anything, was the fact that now they had to honor that fly sweep.
Waller: I remember Hartman was the quarterback [to start], and threw, I think, one of the worst passes I’ve ever seen. It was like a 10-yard out to Jon Talmadge. … I think we were going towards the south end zone, and it was just a wobbled ball that kind of flew in the air 10 yards over the guy’s head, We were like, okay, this makes sense. This is our only option at this point. I think we knew pretty early in the game, guys understood that we don’t have another option because we can’t throw the ball.
Samson debuted soon after.
Samson: I remember trotting out there, and I remember I was wearing number 85, because I was a redshirt receiver, so I was wearing 85 playing quarterback. I remember asking if I could change my number before that, but you’re already on the roster and they already have everything in, so you can’t really change your number in the middle of the season.
Hauck: I have a lot of friends that go to the games, and we had a lot of laughs after the game. No. 85 ran into the game and they were like, “Holy cow, he’s in at quarterback, who is this?” They were looking at their program to figure out who it was.
Samson: I just remember taking my first snap, and I think we got 15 yards or something on the triple option play. It was exciting, and I think a lot of people in the stands were like, what the heck’s going on here? Who is this kid?
Phenicie: We put Kyle Samson in there at quarterback and start running veer, and we got moving the ball. Boom, boom, boom, got a couple first downs, and then just as you would expect with a true freshman in his first game, he got hit and fumbled.
Samson’s running — he had four carries for 22 yards — didn’t actually play a big role in the game. Neither did his passing — 0-for-2 with an interception. But the dedication to the option opened up just enough holes for the running backs. Nine Grizzlies had at least one carry, including wide receivers Heidelberger, Dane Oliver and Levander Segars, and tight end Brad Weston. Current Griz running backs coach Justin Green, then in his first year on the team after transferring from junior college, had 21 carries for 122 yards, and freshman Lex Hilliard had 14 for 74. Segars had a 52-yard punt return to set up a short Waller touchdown, and the defense recovered three fumbles.
Samson: I don’t think I knew what to expect, but I knew with the O-line we had and the running backs we had, that we could get after them early. Our defense played really well too and forced some turnovers, if I remember right. It was just a fun day, fun atmosphere.
The Griz went up 31-9 before Idaho closed to 31-21 early in the fourth quarter. On the ensuing drive, Hartman came up big.
Phenicie: Justin Hartman really hit one pass in the game that he needed. He really shouldn’t have thrown it, but he hit Jon Talmage late, which was a critical play.
The 48-yard completion on third-and-12 helped the Griz grind nearly seven minutes off the clock and put the game out of reach for Idaho. Montana ended up winning 41-28.
Hauck: The guys did well. It was one of the more fun days ever for me coaching. … That was a fun day for us, and just rewarding, when you’re willing to risk a lot and you get the reward, it’s fun.
Samson: Honestly, the thing that stands out to me probably the most, coach [Hauck] always preached about singing the fight song after the win. For me, my first college game, to get a win and sing the fight song in front of the fans and then having my family there, that was a proud moment.
AFTER THE GAME
Waller: About that season, it was a whole lot of change, because it was Bobby’s first year, and we were coming off John Edwards being a two or three-year starter for us, so we were replacing a quarterback. … Bobby has the hard-nosed mindset, and everyone’s going to be tough, everyone’s going to work as hard as they can. Really, our first impression of him was winter conditioning. Coach Glenn’s winter conditioning program, it just wasn’t very hard. And so when Bobby comes in, the first conditioning, everyone’s throwing up and guys are running to the trash cans. I just remember thinking what the hell, this guy. And then you start to realize that there’s a method to all his madness and what he was doing was that he was building toughness and he was trying to change the mindset. And so, by fall camp, I think that everyone was in tune with what he was trying to do, and I think he had really won a lot of the guys over. And by the end of the season, everyone had bought in to what Bobby had preached, and everyone knew that we had a good coach on our hands.
Samson: He expected the most out of you, and he instilled a lot of discipline in our program. He held you accountable. Now, as a coach myself, those are the things that I try to do. His preparation is something that I think separated him as far as being a great coach, he just spent a lot of time preparing. He would always make sure that we were prepared as far as film study. He was a great person as far as making sure that kids were prepared to play.
Phenicie: Ed Lamb was the defensive coordinator [for Idaho]. He was the head coach at Southern Utah and he’s at BYU now. I think his quote was, we kind of surprised him, and if he ever catches up with us down the road, he’ll have something for us. Turns out, he was the head coach at Southern Utah when we were at UNLV, and we threw three pick-sixes and they beat us like 52-17 or something, so he got his.
Samson: Coming off the bye week … it gave us some confidence and we were able to string some wins together. We ended up losing in the first round that year in double overtime, but I think it gave kids confidence. At that time, Idaho was obviously Division I and we were I-AA, to knock them off in convincing fashion was a big confidence boost for us.
Phenicie: It was more of a, hey, we survived this one and now we can get back to what we’re doing. It bought us two extra weeks of rehab for Craig Ochs, allowing him to get back and get healthy. That was kind of the takeaway from that. I just remember, I’m glad we got to keep the little stein. I knew the Montana-Idaho game was big, I didn’t realize how big it was when I was up there.
Hauck: That was part of our offense for the rest of the year, where we could spring it on people. And then I had other coaches after games grab me and say, “I can’t believe you’re doing that stuff.” We expanded on it a little bit, and Kyle did a really good job with it, and then when we got Ochs and Dis back, we could spin it, and then they had to prepare for all kinds of stuff, which made us even more hard to defend.
Samson: Once we got our starters healthy and everything, I wasn’t a full-time starting quarterback by any means, but yeah, we kind of had a package in every game and were able to keep running it. It was a good changeup, and I was able to come in and play for the next 10 games. We definitely had a package in every week, and I think the coaches did a good job of giving us a chance to be successful.
Hauck: I think the other thing is, we set a tone within the program that it didn’t matter how we won, we’re going to do whatever we could to win a game, and it didn’t really matter how, we just wanted to win.