For just the fourth time in the history of Washington-Grizzly Stadium, Montana was on the losing end of a homecoming game, falling to Portland State, 22-20, on Saturday afternoon. The Vikings nailed a 52-yard field goal with 4 seconds remaining to upset the 14th-ranked Grizzlies.
“Congrats to Portland State, they came in and won that game,” head coach Bobby Hauck said. “We didn’t. That falls squarely on one guy, and that’s me. I didn’t have a good enough game plan together, we didn’t go out and execute the plan we had very well, and consequently, we’re sitting here at 2-1 in conference.”
Montana overcame a disastrous first half by scoring 14 unanswered points to open the second half and take a 14-13 lead. The Grizzlies were resilient again, scoring a late touchdown to hold a 20-19 lead with 7:39 to play. Montana couldn’t put the Vikings away at that point, however, even after the defense came up big with a fumble. The fumble – forced by Dante Olson and recovered by Reid Miller – gave Montana the ball inside PSU territory with less than 6 minutes on the clock.
The Grizzlies would return the favor, though, fumbling for the fourth time on the afternoon and giving Portland State one last chance. The Vikings used 13 plays to march into Grizzly territory, capping the drive with Cody Williams’ 52-yard, game-winning field goal. The kick was a career-best by six yards.
“We took the lead twice,” Hauck said. “We answered, we just didn’t finish. They did. We had our chances, and we didn’t take enough of them and capitalize on them.”
Montana trailed at halftime, 13-0, but less than 11 minutes into the second half, the Grizzlies earned the lead. Montana forced a fumble on the first play of the third quarter, and used that momentum to find the end zone five plays later, a 13-yard run by Adam Eastwood in which he found a hole along the right side and bounced off of a pair of tacklers.
On its next series, Montana went 95 yards in just 1:42, capped by a 41-yard score from Dalton Sneed to Samori Toure. Sneed aired the ball out from the Grizzly logo at midfield and found his receiver, who had his defender beat by three full strides.
Eastwood – who finished with 88 rushing yards – again found the end zone in the fourth quarter, giving Montana a 20-19 lead on a 3-yard run to the left side. It capped a drive in which Montana’s final five plays for positive yardage were all on the ground.
Olson, the nation’s leading tackler, was again superb, racking up 19 tackles, two forced fumbles and two tackles for loss. He also intercepted a pass on PSU’s two-point conversion attempt. Josh Buss forced a fumble and 11 tackles, while Miller recovered a pair of loose balls.
While Montana forced five Vikings fumbles (recovering three), the Grizzlies coughed up the ball four times and held the ball for half the amount of time as Portland State (20:57 to 39:03).
The first half couldn’t have gone much worse offensively. On nine offensive drives, the Grizzlies punted seven times and fumbled twice. Portland State capitalized on both fumbles, in addition to a blocked punt, which accounted for all 13 first-half points.
Overall in the first half, the Grizzlies were limited to just 55 total yards and three first downs. Sneed was 1-for-12 for -2 yards, and at one point was replaced by backup Cam Humphrey.
All things considered, Montana’s defense played well. The Grizzlies limited the Vikings to 181 first-half yards and forced two fumbles, recovering one. The average starting position of Portland State’s three first-half scoring drives was inside the 21-yard line.
“We fumbled the first play of the game and then let a guy go right into the front side of our protection (on the blocked punt),” Hauck said. “As bad as we played, we’re lucky we weren’t down 28-0 at the half. The defense did a good job keeping us in it.”
The Vikings scored a touchdown after Montana fumbled on its first offensive play of the game. Moments later, they were leading 10-0 after a blocked punt led to a field goal. It could have been worse, though. Portland State had 1st-and-goal from the 2-yard line and had two attempts from inside the 1, but Montana’s defense snuffed the Vikings each time and forced them to kick a field goal after a false-start penalty on fourth down backed them up to the 6-yard line.
With Portland State driving into the red zone midway through the second quarter, Buss came up huge with a forced fumble, recovered by Miller. It looked like that may give the Grizzlies some life, but two plays later, Sneed was hit, and the ball was knocked loose. PSU connected on a field goal four plays later.
The Grizzlies will now travel to Grand Forks, N.D. to play against former conference foe North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks are coming off of a bye.
“We’re going to be absolutely ill when we watch this thing tomorrow, but we’re going to do it,” Hauck said. “I don’t believe in throwing out the tape and moving on; we have to watch it and correct our mistakes, and that includes me. We’re not built to do anything but grind and find ways to win, and we didn’t do that today. We have to get better and do that moving forward.”