Monday morning notebook: Under the lights, Griz home opener a thriller

The Grizzlies return to the friendly confines of Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 8, for the second of three nonconference games on this year’s schedule. After defeating one team from Iowa, the Griz prepare to host another program from the Hawkeye State, with the Drake Bulldogs of Des Moines, Iowa, coming to town for a 1 p.m. kickoff. (GoGriz.com)

The second era of Bobby Hauck football at the University of Montana started in fine fashion under the lights at Washington-Grizzly Stadium Saturday, with the Griz defeating the No. 13 ranked Northern Iowa Panthers 26-23 to start the season.

The Grizzlies extended their winning streak in home openers to 16-straight games, moving to 28-4 in season-opening matchups inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium, a run dating back to 2003.

Montana also moves to 7-2 all-time in night games played at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

UM executed to near perfection on both sides of the ball in the first half, but a change at quarterback spurred on a second-half comeback for the Panthers.

With under three minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Dalton Sneed hit Samori Toure for a 13-yard gain on a third and one play to extend UM’s final possession, and Montana walked away with the victory.

ROOT Sports Big Sky Player of the Week nominees:

Defense

Dante Olson: Making his first start as a Grizzly, junior linebacker Dante Olson was dominant for Montana, posting a game-high 13 tackles – tied for the most in the Big Sky on week one, and the most against a Division-I opponent in the league.

The Medford, Ore., native also picked off a pass from highly-touted UNI quarterback Eli Dunne and returned it 26 yards. He also tallied a sack for a loss of nine yards, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry to his haul on the day.

Offense

Keenan Curran: Curran led the Griz in receiving yards with six catches for 62 yards, and also dusted off his high school quarterback skills, taking a lateral from Sneed and connecting with Colin Bingham downfield for a 25-yard touchdown pass to execute the on the trick play.

Special Teams

Tim Semenza: Semenza went 2/2 on field goal attempts and 2-3 on PATs for the Griz, giving him a total haul of 8 points against UNI. He’s one of only three players in the Big Sky with a 100-percent field goal percentage after week one.

More Saturday Stars:

Justin Calhoun: In his first start on the Grizzly defense after swapping positions from wide receiver, Calhoun had a strong day at cornerback for Montana against UNI. A key part of the Grizzly defense that kept the Panthers scoreless in the first half, Calhoun notched three pass breakups, forced a fumble, logged a quarterback hurry, posted five tackles and a sack for a loss of eleven yards.

Dalton Sneed: In his first start as a Grizzly, junior quarterback Dalton Sneed put together a nearly flawless first half to lead Montana to a 26-0 halftime lead, going 18-25 for 196 yards passing and a touchdown before the break. He also rushed for 41 yards and a touchdown in the first half.

Sneed finished the day with game-high rushing and passing totals, throwing for 248 yards and rushing for 58 more for a combined 306 yards of total offense. Sneed operated 54 offensive plays (15 rush, 39 pass) – the second most of any player in the Big Sky Conference in week one.

Jerry Louie-McGee: For the second time in his career, Louie-McGee made Northern Iowa pay in the punt return game. He returned six punts for 74 yards, with a long of 46. He also caught four passes for 51 yards (long of 17) to give him 125 all-purpose yards on the day.

First Look: Drake

The Grizzlies return to the friendly confines of Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 8, for the second of three nonconference games on this year’s schedule.

After defeating one team from Iowa, the Griz prepare to host another program from the Hawkeye State, with the Drake Bulldogs of Des Moines, Iowa, coming to town for a 1 p.m. kickoff.

The Bulldogs, a member of the FCS Pioneer Football League, were picked to finish third in the preseason conference poll, returning 12 All-PFL performers and 23 players that got at least one start in 2017. Drake finished second in the league that year at 7-4 behind San Diego, who upset Northern Arizona in the first round of the FCS playoffs, 41-10.

Saturday’s game at Montana will be the season opener for fifth-year head coach Rick Fox and the Bulldogs after their week one game against D-II William Jewell was canceled due to severe weather in the Des Moines area.

Fifth-year senior quarterback Grant Kraemer returns for his third season as a starter and brings his top three receivers back from last season as well (Steven Doran, Mitch McFarlane, and Devin Cates). Kraemer led the PFL with 261.6 yards passing per game and threw 20 TDs on the season, only the second Bulldog since 1986 to throw 20 or more touchdowns in back-to-back seasons.

Preseason All-PFL tackle Nathan Clayberg and safety Sean Lynch lead the Bulldog defense. Clayberg tallied 44 tackles and five TFLs in 2017. Lynch led the team with 72 takedowns on a defense that led the league in pass defense, allowing just 199.7 passing yards-per-game.

Drake University is home to the Drake Relays, one of the top track and field events in the nation, held annually in April.

The Montana/Drake game will once again be shown on ABC Montana stations statewide and the WATCH SWX App on your smartphone or tablet for free. Fans outside of the state can watch the game at GoGriz.com/watch.