MISSOULA — Bobby Hauck made sure the world knew that the creative, explosive play that helped Dalton Sneed etch his name in Montana’s record book is original content created in the Garden City.
“That read quick pitch, the quarterback play, Rosy (offensive coordinator Timm Rosenbach) invented that right here in Missoula, Montana, this week,” Hauck, Montana’s head coach, said with a smile following his team’s 41-34 win over Sacramento State in the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams Saturday afternoon. “It was big for us today.”
Rosenbach’s innovative play is a version of the quick pitch out of the shotgun. The twist is that, instead of pitching the ball to a running back sprinting to the wide side of the field behind an offensive line blocking that direction, the quarterback instead keeps the ball and cuts back the other way.
Sneed’s ability to sell the pitch fake and press the edge before keeping the ball had Sac State’s defenders heads spinning. His top-end speed left the visitors in the dust.
With Montana trailing 14-7 with five minutes to play in a wild, entertaining first quarter, Rosenbach called the play for the first time. Sneed faked a pitch to senior Jeremy Calhoun before cutting up the Sac State sideline and sprinting 75 yards for a game-tying touchdown.
The next time the Griz ran the play, Sneed faked the pitch to Adam Eastwood, cut back up the Montana sideline and burst his way to the pylon. His dive into the end-zone in front of the UM student section gave the Griz a 31-28 lead four minutes into the second half. Montana would not trail again.
At that point in the game, Sneed already had 142 yards rushing, more than any quarterback in Griz history.
“I wish the record could say ‘Montana 2018 offensive line'” Sneed said.
“We had to practice the play a little bit but (Rosenbach) said, ‘This play is going to hit in the game.’ He’s a great coach and I trust him. He said, ‘Make a great pitch fake and hit it.’ Sure enough, first play we ran it, 75 yards.”
Sneed’s first 142 yards came on just eight carries. But the former UNLV and Fort Scott Community College transfer was not finished.
With Montana clinging to a 38-31 lead with less than two minutes to play, the Griz ran a zone read option play. Sneed kept the ball and ripped off another enormous gain, this one a 50-yard jaunt to the Sac State 2-yard line. Tim Semenza’s second field goal put Montana up 41-31 with 1:32 left.
Despite being sacked twice, Sneed finished the day with 206 rushing yards on 16 carries. He amassed at least 108 of those yards on Rosenbach’s newly created play.
“I mean, how many yards were on that play? 120?” Hauck said. “That was a really good play for us. We gave them a few wrinkles they had not seen and it was successful. If we rush for that number of yards (351), it’s going to be hard to beat us.”
Sneed’s rushing total ranks as the eighth highest in Montana history and marks the ninth time a Griz surpassed 200 yards. The singe-game school record is 265 yards by Yohance Humphrey against Weber State in 2001.
The last time a Griz rushed for 100 yards is also the last time a UM quarterback rushed for 100 yards: Makena Simis’ 101-yard performance in Montana’s 17-15 win over Northern Arizona last season.
“Chase Reynolds, Lex Hilliard, Yo Humphrey and Dalton Sneed,” Hauck said, before turning to Sneed and saying, “That’s pretty good company by the way, just so you know (laughs). I hope you were listening to your lesson during training camp, know who those guys are.”
“Yes sir,” Sneed swiftly responded.
Montana’s rising star under center finished with 440 yards of total offense — he completed 22-of-35 passes for 234 yards — but was not flawless.
Sneed avoided disaster when Sac State All-Big Sky safety Mister Harriel jumped an out route inside the red-zone but saw what would’ve been a long interception return for at touchdown bounce out of his hands. UM settled for a short Semenza field goal to take a 17-14 lead only until Elijah Dotson’s latest gash. The Sac State sophomore’s third touchdown run came from 66 yards out and capped a 179-yard first half that also included a 59-yard scoring run.
On Montana’s next possession, Sneed faked to a diving running back, faked to Jerry Louie-McGee on a jet sweep play and had sophomore Samori Toure with a step on his defender. But he overthrew him.
“Dalton didn’t make many mistakes today,” Hauck said. “But that was one of them.”
Two plays later, Sneed threw a dart to Keenan Curran that would’ve moved the sticks but the ball bounced off the senior wide receiver’s hands. Montana punted. On the very next play, Sac State quarterback Kevin Thomson found a hole in Montana’s zone coverage, fired to Jaelin Ratliff and the All-Big Sky senior did the rest, racing to a 77-yard touchdown to give the upstart Hornets a 28-17 lead with four minutes until halftime.
But Montana answered again behind Sneed’s fearless ability as a field general. He hit Jerry Louie-McGee for gains of 14 and 21 yards before facing a third down and 10 to go from the Sac 12.
Sneed sat in the pocket, began to roll, then stepped up. He looked to the Southeast corner of the south end-zone, drew the eyes of Sac State outside linebacker Malcolm Thomas, pump faked hard and got Butler to jump. Then Sneed tucked the ball and raced in for a 12-yard touchdown to help Montana close the lead to 28-24 with 24 seconds left in the first half.
With the game tied at 31 early in the fourth quarter, Curran earned redemption with a 33-yard reception to move Montana into the red-zone. Six plays and a bunch of failed chances to punch the ball in from inside the Sac 6-yard line later, Hauck elected to go for it on fourth down from a yard out. Sneed was patient, let the routes develop and found redshirt freshman Matt Rensvold for the go-ahead score.
“There were two real exemplary clock management type series for us, one at the end of the first half, one at the end of the fourth quarter,” Hauck said. “We drove it, got points and then in the fourth quarter, we drove it back and they got it back with about 1:30 left. He did a great job of bleeding it out.”
“Good job by our offense and we are getting a little bit more exact in what we are doing.”
With each gutsy performance and each unlikely victory with Sneed at quarterback, the memory of the abrupt departure of former Freshman All-American Gresch Jensen in the off-season keeps drifting into the past. But the history making Saturday was part of an afternoon at Washington-Grizzly Stadium where history was honored. The Griz gave tribute to Dave Dickenson, the Walter Payton Award-winning quarterback who led Montana to its first national championship in 1995 and will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame this fall. It’s an afternoon Sneed won’t soon forget.
“This is one of my most memorable games 100 percent,” Sneed said. “To honor a great quarterback, a legend coming back to Missoula who really set the standard here for Montana football, wearing the throwback colors is a huge thing. And the fan base, unreal. There’s no environment like it. Getting a great win today, being 1-0 in conference is somewhere right in the top three of greatest games to play in.”
Photos by Brooks Nuanez or Jason Bacaj. All Rights Reserved.