Led by a smothering defensive attack and 38 second-half points, the Montana Grizzlies bounced back from a slow start to defeat the visiting Drake Bulldogs 48-16 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Saturday.
The Grizzlies nabbed three interceptions and recovered a pair of fumbles to win the turnover battle while dominating the line of scrimmage with an eye-popping seven sacks, not allowing the up-for-it Bulldogs to find their rhythm or retain momentum.
With the win, Montana moves to 2-0 and now prepares for its first road game of the season, while Drake falls to 0-1 after having its week one game canceled due to severe weather.
The Bulldogs – picked to finish third in the Pioneer Football League this season with a veteran and sizeable team with four All-PFL preseason picks – made life difficult for the Griz in the opening half as UM went to the locker rooms up 10-3.
But the floodgates opened in the third quarter with a 25-yard touchdown run from Adam Eastwood, and a pair of touchdown passes to from Dalton Sneed that made it a 21-10 game, and UM added 17 more points in the fourth quarter to put an exclamation point on a gritty victory.
“Drake did a nice job. They’re well-coached, they’re veteran, they’re a big physical team,” said Hauck. “I was impressed with them.”
“We were a little bit of a circus the first half,” Hauck added. “It was a good job by our guys hanging together when it was a tight game at halftime. Coming out, making the changes and making the plays.
“It was a good job in the second half of putting points on the board and shutting them down.”
Linebacker Dante Olson, the defending ROOT Sports Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week, was a monster once again for the Grizzly defense. The junior bested his career day last week with 16 tackles against Drake (seven solo), adding 3.5 TFLs, a forced fumble, a pass breakup, and two sacks, which he recorded in a span of three plays.
Sophomore cornerback Dareon Nash also had a career day with a pass breakup, a fumble recovery and a pair of interceptions, one of which he returned 40 yards for a touchdown with 3:34 to play that put the final score of the day on the board.
“The defense is playing well,” said Hauck. “The best thing we’re doing is tackling. We’ve tackled really well the first two weeks. I’m impressed with our effort level and our tackling.”
Montana had trouble getting the ball moving in the first half but got on the board first with a 42-yard field goal from Tim Semenzafollowing a stop from the Grizzly defense where Josh Buss picked up his first sack of the season.
On the first play of the second quarter, Drake’s Danny Donley leveled the score with a 45-yard field goal of his own to make it 3-3 and give the visitors a boost of confidence.
But the Grizzlies answered right back on the ensuing possession, marching down the field for a clinical six play, 60-yard scoring drive, capped by a two-yard run by Adam Eastwood who spun into the end zone for his first touchdown as a Grizzly.
Eastwood also opened the scoring bonanza for Montana in the second half, busting through a gap on a fourth and one situation and rumbling 37 yards for a touchdown to put the Griz up 17-3 in the middle of the third quarter.
“They were playing everyone up in there,” said Hauck of Eastwood’s opportunity. “They’re either going to stop you, or you’re going to win big, and we won big.”
Drake responded to Eastwood’s score with a 49-yard score by Will Warner on a fake punt to make it a 17-10, one-touchdown game with 4:46 to play in the third.
The Grizzlies were just getting warmed up, however. Sneed capped a nine-play, 64-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Louie-McGee streaking across the middle for a score to put UM up 24-10.
Louie-McGee had one of the best games of an already historic UM career, leading all receivers with 14 catches for 133 yards.
Sneed extended UM’s lead just seconds later when safety Reid Miller intercepted a pass on Drake’s first play of the ensuing drive.
Samuel Akem then picked up his first TD catch this season on a 10-yard strike from Sneed on UM’s first play of the drive to give the Griz a 31-10 lead after scoring twice in 22 seconds.
Sneed then scored the last offensive touchdown of the day for the Griz with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, this time showing off his feet with a 13-yard scramble for a TD. He finished the day 65 yards rushing and 278-yards passing to give him over 300 yards of total offense for the second-straight game.
“Dalton’s a good player,” said Hauck, who was impressed with Sneed’s ability to adapt.
“He did a nice job improvising. He did a nice job throwing it on time. He did a good job handling some things – especially when you get into a game like that where you’re not sure what you’re going to get, there’s a lot of checking going on. A lot of it is on his shoulders to get us in the right play, whether it’s checking the run game, or checking protections, or making decisions on the RPO game. So, he had a lot on his shoulders today.”
After Semenza swatted his second field goal of the day from 36 yards out with 3:50 to play, Nash capped the scoring barrage for the Griz with his 40-yard interception return.
Montana now turns its attention to the first road challenge of the year, traveling to the American Heartland to take on Western Illinois out of the Missouri Valley Conference.
While Hauck was pleased with his team’s two-game win streak at home, he knows the Grizzlies will not be able to suffer another slow start against a talented MVFC team.
“We’re not going to have the entire training camp to get ready for a game every week like we did last week. We have to look that sharp out the gate, and we didn’t today.”