Grizzlies maul Wildcats in first game since 2019
Last updated 4/12/2021 at 7:52am
MISSOULA — The Montana Grizzlies waited 485 days to get back on the field and wasted no time finding the end zone, scoring less than three minutes into Saturday's spring opener vs. Central Washington, a 59-3 Montana victory.
Despite an extended layoff, the Grizzlies were clicking in all phases of the game. Montana put up 59 points and 529 yards, and at one point scored touchdowns on seven consecutive possessions.
"It was great to be out there. Just awesome to be able to line up with your brothers and your teammates and go to battle with somebody besides ourselves," head coach Bobby Hauck said.
"And I enjoyed watching our guys go. Fun to be out there, fun to win, football's a great game and I'm glad we're playing it."
On defense, Montana limited the Wildcats to just three points, 10 first downs and 178 yards, while forcing eight punts and three takeaways. Montana's special teams units put up 182 return yards and had multiple returns of more than 30 yards, setting up solid field position for the offense.
Starting quarterback Cameron Humphrey finished the game 19-of-31 for 231 yards and three passing touchdowns, in addition to a rushing score. Redshirt freshman Kris Brown entered the game midway through the third quarter and led Montana on multiple scoring drives, as well, finishing 6-of-8 passing for 88 yards, one passing touchdown and one rushing score.
Seven different Grizzlies found the end zone on the day, including sophomore running back Nick Ostmo, who scored twice. He finished the game with 47 yards rushing and 43 yards receiving.
Ostmo put the Griz on the scoreboard on the eighth play of the drive, rushing for 1 yard after Samuel Akem extended the drive with a 3rd-and-long catch. Montana would score on its next possession, as well, on a 45-yard field goal from Ole Miss transfer Jack Cooper, which was set up after the Griz defense stopped the Wildcats on 3rd-and-1 and forced a punt.
Montana's defense was juiced up to play early on, forcing two three-and-outs, plus a Gavin Robertson interception. Central Washington didn't record a first down until the second quarter, and Montana's Jacob McGourin recovered a fumble one play after the Wildcats finally picked up first-down yardage. That allowed Central Washington to get within a score, 10-3, after the Wildcats kicked a 37-yard field goal with 9 minutes to play in the second quarter.
Montana responded in a major way, scoring 49 unanswered points to close the game. The Grizzlies scored touchdowns on seven consecutive drives, while the defense came up with eight straight stops — six punts, one turnover on downs and an interception. The first response came almost exclusively from Sulser. The specialist took the kickoff 54 yards to put Montana in Central Washington territory, before the junior made an acrobatic 13-yard catch as he leapt over his defender and fell backward into the end zone.
Sulser finished the day with 162 all-purpose yards, all coming in the first half.
"We really controlled the game and the field position in such a huge way in the first half. We weren't up by as much as maybe we could have been, and that's how it goes sometimes," said Hauck. "But when you come out the gate in the second half — and that's something we talked about in the locker room at halftime was coming out and making plays — not letting them get points on the board and getting them ourselves, and that's kind of what happened."
After a strong ending to the first half — including a quarterback keep from Humphrey with 30 seconds to play — Montana kept it going early in the third quarter. Montana got a fourth-down stop near midfield and capitalized several plays later with a 23-yard strike from Humphrey to Akem.
On its next possession, Ostmo found the end zone for the second time, even if the play wasn't drawn up for the running back. Humphrey targeted Flowers, but his pass was deflected near the goal line as a trio of Wildcats closed in on the receiver. The ball then flew 7 yards backward through the air, where it was bobbled a handful of times by a Central Washington defender, before Ostmo snatched it in midair and ran it into the end zone for the score and a 38-3 lead.
It didn't take the Grizzlies long to add to their lead, with Brown, a redshirt freshman from Bozeman, leading a scoring drive, which culminated with a 16-yard keep from Brown himself. After a David Koppang interception, Montana found the end zone again, with Brown hitting redshirt freshman Keelan White. After another 3-and-out, Montana needed just two plays to score again, with Flowers going 49 yards on an end-around run, before freshman Xavier Harris scored for the first time of his career.
Overall, Montana out-gained Central Washington 529 to 178 while running 24 more plays. A large part of that was the Griz defense, which limited the Wildcats to just 10 first downs while forcing seven three-and-outs. Just one Central Washington drive lasted more than six plays or went for more than 21 yards as Montana had 19 defenders with multiple tackles.
"We got a chance to play a bunch of younger guys in the latter part of the third and fourth quarter … and my initial impressions were good," Hauck said.
"I just thought it was a hell of a good time out there today. I enjoyed every minute of it."
The Grizzlies will play its second and final game of the spring season next Saturday at 11 a.m. vs. Big Sky foe Portland State.