The Montana Grizzlies knocked the lid off the 2017 season with the team’s first scrimmage of fall camp on Monday, running through 95 plays in a little over an hour of action in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Even with only one day of practice in full pads under their belts, the Grizzlies produced moments of brilliance on both sides of the ball with UM’s young stars getting plenty of reps.
Montana’s defense got the show going early in the scrimmage with a 96-yard pick-six from redshirt-freshman Lewis Cowans on the third series, but the offense responded with a steady 428 yards of total offense and three touchdowns to make it a 23-7 final.
Montana head coach Bob Stitt came into the scrimmage wanting to see maximum effort from the players as his staff begins the task of settling on a depth chart.
“The competition was good, a lot of energy, and we had some nice plays on both sides,” said Stitt. “Defensively we’re a good football team, and that makes it tough on the offense.”
“We had some young guys in at receiver and running back that we needed to see. Guys like Jerry (Louie-McGee) and Keenan (Curran), we know what they can do, so we wanted to give more reps to our younger guys and try to get the depth chart set.”
Curran, Montana’s third-leading returning receiver from last year, ran through only two series’ for a total of 12 yards in the scrimmage, and echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“It was a good scrimmage on both sides. The defense made some plays, the offense made some plays, but now we just have to progress going forward, and make more plays on offense, more plays on defense, keep getting better and keep competing,” Curran said.
With three quarterbacks vying for a spot on the depth chart, senior Reese Phillips received roughly half of the reps under center, putting together a solid stat line of 17 completions on 25 attempts for 188 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Phillips also threw the only interception of the day, a tip-pass intended for running back Alijah Lee, which Cowans scooped up with nothing but green grass in front of him to put the defense on the board first.
Junior Caleb Hill and freshman Gresh Jensen split time on roughly every other series. Hill went 8-for-13 for 74 yards passing and a touchdown, while Jensen connected on 8-of-15 for 56 yards.
Following the scrimmage, Stitt gave a tip of the hat to his offensive line, one of the most experienced groups on the team, for giving his quarterbacks ample time to maneuver.
“Early in fall camp and the first scrimmage you usually have some protection problems and some sacks, and we just didn’t feel like we had those issues,” said Stitt. “We can clean up the other stuff, but the O-line seemed pretty darn solid.”
Looking to solidify a depth chart, the Grizzlies spread the love amongst the wideouts with 17 different receivers catching at least one pass, as the three QB’s combined for 318 yards in the air.
Senior Makena Simis got the offense on the board early, taking a 37-yard post-route pass from Phillips to the house on the sixth drive of the scrimmage.
Montana’s coaches also took a close look at the running game with 11 different ball carriers getting a touch for a combined 110 yards on 42 carries for the offensive unit.
True-freshman Terron Moses showed his quickness, picking up 23 yards on three carries late in the game to lead all rushers. Washington State transfer Alijah Lee added 22 yards on four carries and redshirt freshman Rey Green picked up another 20 yards on seven carries.
“We wanted to try to run it as much as possible,” Stitt added. “Sometimes, defensively they can load it up on you a little bit, and you have to soften them up with some run-pass-option and some play action, but we want to be able to hand the ball off to our guys, and we have a lot of confidence in our O-line.”
Montana’s youth was on display defensively as well as sophomore linebacker Vika Fa’atuiese lead the way with eight tackles. Sophomore safety Josh Sandry had another big day as well with five tackles (one for a loss) and a pass breakup as well.
Another Montana youngster to shine at the scrimmage was redshirt freshman Samuel Akem, last season’s scout team player of the year. Akem caught a leaping touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone from Phillips late in the scrimmage to put the offense up to 17 points.
For Akem, the biggest benefit of the scrimmage will be the chance to learn and improve for the next one.
“It felt good, but there’s always stuff to work on, always things we can get better at,” said Akem. “I’m just excited to see the film, get back in there and go to work because we have a lot to do before September second.”
Montana resumes practice Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. after spending the morning watching film. The Griz will take the field at Washington-Grizzly Stadium for the second scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday, Aug. 11, for a scheduled 8:30 a.m. start.
Like Akem, Stitt expects his squad to tighten the screws when the second scrimmage rolls around.
“Just clean it up – we have to catch the ball and throw it where it needs to go – and just keep competing,” said Stitt. “Every day our offense has to go against our defense they get better and vice-versa. I was really proud how the kids came out and how they stayed positive the entire game.”