Portland State stunned Montana on Homecoming Saturday at Washington-Grizzly with a last-second, 52-yard field goal by freshman kicker Cody Williams that gave the Vikings a 22-20 win.
After getting the ball back on a fumble by Keenan Curran — one of four fumbles for the Griz, all of which Portland State recovered — the Vikings ran 12 plays, converting a fourth-and-2 along the way, to get the ball in position for Williams with nine seconds left, down 20-19.
His kick from the left hash was perfect, splitting the uprights and thudding into the ad boards at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, which sent the Portland State bench flooding onto the field in celebration as flags flew everywhere.
It was the first win against a Division-I team for Portland State since Nov. 5, 2016, when the Vikings beat Portland State. The victory also marked Portland State’s fourth ever against Montana and PSU’s first win at Washington-Grizzly Stadium since 1987.
“That’s a great win,” Vikings head coach Bruce Barnum said. “Anybody who can beat Montana at home, you have to be proud of the group. … We’re a young football team, and there’s been some tough losses here. We’ve had some tough ones, but the kids keep coming back and keep fighting. We just tell them to keep believing, and we came together today.”
For all the jubilation on one side of the field, there was Homecoming heartbreak for the Griz on the other sideline.
It was by far Montana’s worst game of the season. Favored to blow out the Vikings, who were 1-4 coming into the game, the Griz instead couldn’t get any offense going.
Head coach Bobby Hauck took the blame for the loss in the post-game press conference.
“That falls squarely on one guy, and that’s me,” Hauck said. “I didn’t have a good enough game plan together, offense, defense or kicking. We didn’t go out and execute the plan we had very well, and consequently we’re sitting here at 2-1 in the conference. I’m not overly happy with myself or our football team right now, because I don’t think we played very well.”
Aside from not moving the ball, the Grizzlies also couldn’t hold on to it.
Dalton Sneed fumbled while trying to hand off to Gabe Sulser on a sweep on the first play of the game. Noah Yunker fell on the ball for PSU at the Montana 26.
Six plays later, the Vikings were in the end zone, with quarterback Davis Alexander plowing over from the 1-yard line.
The Griz didn’t fumble on their next drive, but after a three-and-out, three different Vikings broke through the line to smother Eric Williams’ punt and recover at the Montana 14.
“We fumbled the first play of the game, gave it to them,” Hauck said. “Then let a guy go right into the front side of our protection, didn’t even look at him. Good job by the defense there, holding them to three.”
Portland State could only get three points out of the gift, kicking a field goal to go up 10-0 halfway through the first quarter.
The rest of the first half was a depressing slog, as neither offense could do anything.
Montana finished the first quarter with -5 yards of total offense.
“The trick is trying to stay ahead of the play-caller on the other side, because if we’re in man coverage and my flex is covering your fastest guy, that’s not a great deal,” Barnum said about his defensive coordinator Payam Saadat’s flex defense. “We try to show them what we’re going to do and switch it up, but the kids have taken a bite out of this system and kept running it.”
Portland State added another field goal after Sneed gifted them a short field with another fumble early in the second quarter.
After yet another three-and-out — Montana punted seven times and fumbled twice on nine first-half possessions — Hauck even replaced Sneed with backup quarterback Cam Humphrey for a series late in the half.
Humphrey got a first down, one of just three the Griz had in the first half, but the drive stalled after that.
The Griz gained just 55 yards on 28 plays in the first half, with Sneed finishing the first 30 minutes 1-for-12 passing for -2 yards.
“As badly as we played in the first half, we were lucky we weren’t down 28-nothing,” Hauck said. “The defense did a good job keeping us in it in the first half.”
The defense made the play that sparked Montana’s second-half comeback, as well.
In a mirror image of the first play of the game, Dante Olson forced a fumble on the first play of the second half for Montana and David Shaw recovered at the PSU 26.
Six plays later, the Griz were in the end zone for the first time, with Adam Eastwood scoring on a tough run from 13 yards out.
That was the first rumble and, three possessions later, the Montana offense finally came fully alive.
A good punt pinned the Griz at their own 5, but two runs and a pass moved the ball out to the 21.
With some breathing room, Sneed went to work, hitting Samori Toure for 26, Curran for 12, and then a wide-open Toure for a beautiful 41-yard touchdown and a 14-13 lead.
That kicked off a wild, back-and-forth finish that bore little to no resemblance to the stolid first half.
Alijah Lee fumbled to kill a decent Griz drive, and Portland State took advantage with a nine-play, 46-yard touchdown drive that bridged the third and fourth quarters.
Sirgeo Hoffman, who led the Vikings with 20 carries for 80 yards, capped it with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Up 19-14 before the extra point, Barnum elected to go for two, but Olson leapt to intercept Alexander’s pass at the goal line.
Sneed, in the midst of a torrid second-half run, struck right back.
He hit Curran for 13, Sammy Akem for 12, and then ran for 24 yards with a scintillating, spinning scramble on the next play.
On third-and-goal from the 15, his pass was incomplete to Curran, but a pass interference penalty gave the Griz new life, and Eastwood ran in a pitch untouched from seven yards out for his second touchdown of the day.
Up 20-19 before the conversion, the Griz also had to go for two, and ended up running a swinging-gate sweep to the kicker, Tim Semenza, who was predictably squashed behind the line of scrimmage.
“It’s a two-point situation, for sure,” Hauck said. “That’s a go-for-two situation. That was something that we had seen on film, and it didn’t work. Obviously.”
That play loomed large through the rest of the game.
Olson popped Darian Green four plays into the next PSU drive, forcing a fumble and getting the ball back to Montana with a chance to run out the clock or add more points. But on third-and-3, with Montana already in field-goal range at the Vikings’ 23, Curran lost the ball fighting for extra yards on a screen pass.
Sam Bodine recovered for Portland State to keep hope alive for the Vikes, who moved the ball to the Montana 38 before bogging down and facing a fourth-and-2 with 21 seconds left.
Alexander hit Emmanuel Daigbe on a short curl just past the marker for the first down, but a 2-yard rush and then a 2-yard loss means that Portland State only picked up three aggregate yards by going for it instead of kicking a 55-yarder.
The Vikings took their last timeout with nine seconds left, setting Williams up for the most pressure-packed kick of his young college career from 52 yards out.
“Throughout the whole fourth quarter, everybody was coming up to me saying, ‘Hey, it might come down to you, just get ready. We know you have it,’” Williams said. “The whole team was supporting me. I’ve been dreaming of that moment for so many years, and I’m glad it finally came down to it.”
The freshman from Murrieta, California, was dead-on and had plenty of distance, sending the Griz to their first conference loss of the season.
“This kind of win puts a stamp on where you’re going, so we’ll take that and keep running with it,” Barnum said. “We’ve got to bring it into next week.”
Olson had another monster game for Montana with 19 total tackles, two forced fumbles, and the interception on the attempted two-point conversion.
Eastwood ran for 88 yards on just 14 attempts, with two touchdowns.
A.J. Ruffin, filling in for injured All-Big Sky tight end Charlie Taumoepeau, had five catches for 70 yards for Portland State.
Montana will travel to North Dakota next week.
Portland State will try to build on their momentum with their Homecoming game against Northern Colorado.
Photos by Jason Bacaj – Skyline Sports. All Rights Reserved.