Game Recap

Small town Montana makes big time plays


MISSOULA — Perhaps it was fitting that Jace Lewis put the stamp on Montana’s rivalry win.

After all, guys like him make up the bedrock of Grizzlies football.

The fifth-year senior, who grew up in small-town Montana and played high school football in one of the state’s smallest classifications, was one of the biggest players on the field Saturday with his game-changing plays and unbridled emotion.

It was epitomized by his forced fumble that teammate Justin Ford returned for a touchdown late in the third quarter of the Grizzlies’ dominant 29-10 win against Montana State.

“He just bleeds maroon and silver,” Montana head coach Bobby Hauck said of Lewis, who wears Montana’s hallowed No. 37 jersey and had never beaten the Bobcats. “He wants the Griz to win badly every time he steps out there.”

But the Townsend native and Broadwater County High School alumnus wasn’t the only small-town Treasure State product to make a big impact in the 120th Brawl of the Wild.

Montana State running back Isaiah Ifanse (22) blasted by Montana linebackers Jace Lewis (34) and Patrick O’Connell (58)/by Brooks Nuanez

The Griz’s Garrett Graves (Eureka) and Braxton Hill (Anaconda) came through in key moments. So did Troy Andersen (Dillon) and Brody Grebe (Melstone) for Montana State. They helped make sure the state’s biggest sporting event of the year was illuminated in the vast state’s tiniest pockets.

It’s one of the most memorable parts of the rivalry’s renewal each year.

“The small-town Montana kids are what are the foundation of this program,” said Hauck, who prepped at Class B Sweet Grass County High in Big Timber back in the 1980s. “It’s always exciting for me to see them get a chance to make some plays.”

Lewis racked up nine tackles (one for loss) and two quarterback hurries, but his forced fumble drew one of the loudest roars of the day from the record crowd of 26,856 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

Trailing 19-3 late in the third, Montana State set up for a field goal, but MSU freshman kicker Blake Glessner swung his leg over the ball and holder Bryce Leighton pulled the snap back as if the Bobcats were running a fake. Lewis dove at the ball and swatted it away before the play ever developed, Ford scooped it up and ran 56 yards to the end zone.

Lewis also notched quarterback hurries that forced incomplete passes on a pair of third downs in the opening quarter, and stuffed MSU quarterback Matthew McKay when he scrambled on third-and-10 in the fourth. The 2019 first-team All-Big Sky Conference selection appears well on his way to repeating that distinction.

Graves had a tackle for loss on third-and-3 to force an MSU punt and also contributed on a sack with about half a dozen other Griz defenders. Hill, one of the state’s great basketball players for the Copperheads, did not record a tackle, but made his presence felt with a third-quarter quarterback hurry — he drilled McKay to bring on the MSU field goal team on a possession provided by Andersen’s leaping interception.

On the play right after Hill’s big hit, Lewis forced his crowd-roiling fumble.

Montana State linebacker Troy Andersen (15) tackles Montana quarterback Robbie Patterson (10)/by Brooks Nuanez

“I always call them guys, the fire,” Ford said of his Montanan teammates. “They get us started.”

Andersen, who’s in the waning weeks of a prolific and unparalleled college career, led Montana State’s defense with 10 tackles and one interception. He had another pick nullified by a penalty and sacked Montana quarterback Cam Humphrey on a second-quarter fourth down. His interception came just a few plays after R.J. Fitzgerald, Andersen’s former high school teammate, stuck Griz punt returner Junior Bergen.

Grebe, whose hometown of Melstone barely eclipses 100 people, had a sack and assisted Andersen on two tackles. The former 6-man star and one of the greatest scorers in Montana hoops history, has been in on sacks five weeks in a row.

Other small-town Montanans had bone-crushing crushing blocks or moments that didn’t make it into the stat book. In the state’s Super Bowl, every play matters.

“We’ve had a lot of guys from small-town Montana become big-time players at this university,” Hauck said. “I always have an affinity for walk-ons and those guys from small-town Montana.”

Photos by Brooks Nuanez, Jason Bacaj, Blake Hempstead. All Rights Reserved.

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