Cat-Griz Report: Griz secure huge road win at UC Davis


Last updated 10/10/2023 at 10:52am

Davis, CA — The No. 13 Montana Grizzlies earned a crucial ranked road win over the No. 18 UC Davis Aggies in California Saturday, using a balanced attack to tally over 400 yards of offense and a defense that allowed just 76 rushing yards to take a 31-23 Big Sky Conference victory.

The win, Montana’s first on the road over a nationally ranked FCS opponent since its last trip to Davis in 2019, improves the Grizzlies to 5-1 on the season and 2-1 in league play.

“Obviously, we’re excited. That’s a really big win for us. That’s a good Davis football team. They’re a balanced, good team. They’re well-coached, and for us to go take a win was awesome. What a fabulous effort on offense, defense, and in the kicking game for our team,” said head coach Bobby Hauck after the win.

Montana scored 21 first-half points with two touchdown catches in the second quarter from Aaron Fontes to take a 21-20 lead into the locker room after the Aggies missed an extra point.

The Grizzly defense clamped down in the second half, only allowing the Aggies into their red zone once in the period to hold the home team to just three points after the break.

“We made a couple of coverage adjustments at the break. We weren’t covering them very well in man the first half, and they’re guys we really felt like we could cover, so our guys got with it, and we did some good things.

“We had to do some things in coverage and throw the kitchen sink at them a little, and their QB didn’t handle some of it. Our guys were physical. They were tough, they knocked their receivers and ball carriers around, and I didn’t think they wanted much at the end of the game.”

Meanwhile, Eli Gillman ran in what would prove to be the game-winner for UM late in the third quarter, taking a pitch around the right side for 85 yards.

Quarterback Clifton McDowell showed his dual-threat capability with 243 passing yards to nine different receivers, including a game-high 99 yards and two touchdowns from Fontes, who was electric with ball in hand.

Montana added 181 yards on the ground with 86 yards and a game-winning touchdown from Eli Gillman and 49 more hard-earned yards from McDowell to help break down the Aggie defense, which had entered the game as one of the best against the rush in the conference.

Defensively, Braxton Hill again led Montana in tackles with 10, and UM recovered two Aggie fumbles, one with less than two minutes to go that iced the victory for the Griz.

Junior Bergen pitched in on special teams in a big way with 143 all-purpose yards, 126 of which came in the kickoff and punt return game.

“Those guys on special teams are tremendous. Those young guys’ attention to detail is exemplary in a play that doesn’t always come to fruition. You can work your tail off in punt and kickoff and never get a chance to return it because the punter didn’t give you one. We’ve talked long and hard about working hard even if we’re not getting the opportunities, and when it shows up, we can capitalize, and they did in a big way. Junior had a big night. He was awesome, but there’s 10 other guys out there working their ass off,” added Hauck.

The Grizzlies had two more opportunities to score go awry that by all rights should have made it a three-score win, but fumbles kept them out of the end zone. McDowell had the ball stripped going in on the one-yard line on the first drive of the game, and Xavier Harris coughed one up at the Davis 13-yard line early in the fourth quarter that halted another Grizzly drive.

“Fumbling the ball going in twice, once on three and once on the 12, that hurt us. We had a chance to get away from them and we didn’t, so then it gets down to nail-biter time, but when we were up 11 with seven minutes left, I felt damn good. So that was a fired-up Griz team,” said Hauck.  

Montana started the game with a three-and-out on defense and earned some great field position when Bergen returned the punt 36 yards into Aggie territory. Soon after, UM found itself in the red zone with Bergen again when McDowell connected with the Billings native for a gain of 15 to the Davis 20.

McDowell then looked to put the first points on the board with a 15-yard dart up the middle, but just before he hit paydirt, he was stripped of the ball by Markeese Alexander and fumbled on the 1-yard line. The Aggies recovered the drop, keeping the Grizzly offense fruitless on the drive.

Another three-and-out on the ensuing drive for the Grizzly defense gave Montana the ball back at their own 42 after the punt, and UM went back to work.

McDowell connected with Sawyer Racanelli for a gain of 10, and Ostmo barreled up the field for five, putting the Griz back in striking distance. McDowell then showed off his arm, connecting with Keelan White in the end zone from 21 yards out on a blown Davis coverage for the first touchdown of the game with five minutes left in the quarter, Griz leading 7-0.

On the next Aggie drive, Montana looked to have earned a three-and-out again, but Braxton Hill was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, and Davis marched down the field. The Aggies again benefited from hot Grizzly heads when the UM sideline was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct to put Davis just four yards out of the end zone.

CJ Hutton then rushed in along the left sideline for the first Aggie TD of the day, tying the game 7-7 with just under two minutes in the first quarter.

Montana’s next offensive possession started slow, with the Grizzlies forced to punt. The luck would bounce UM’s way, however, when Travis Benham’s 36-yarder was muffed by Hutton, and long snapper Grayson Pibal recovered for the Griz at the Davis 34.

The Grizzlies were penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct for a third time on the play, this time on Garrett Graves for a late hit that backed UM up to midfield.

Montana’s ensuing drive at the start of the second quarter would stall again and Benham was back on to punt, pinning Davis inside their own six-yard line.

UC Davis went right to work with Miles Hastings, finding Lance Babb along the left sideline for a big 65-yard chunk play all the way down to the Grizzly 25-yard line before Jaxon Lee dragged him down.

Six plays later Davis capitalized when Hastings found Chaz Davis on a jump pass from 1 yard out to put the Aggies up 13-7 after the PAT sailed wide right.

On the first play of the next drive, McDowell connected with a leaping Aaron Fontes, who highpointed a beautiful catch in traffic for 24 yards into Aggie territory. McDowell converted a third down and five when he found White across the middle for a gain of 17 into the Aggie red zone.

White made another highlight reel toe-tap grab on the next pass from McDowell to put UM at the Aggie 9, setting up first and goal. Fontes then made his second big play of the drive when McDowell escaped pressure and rolled out of the pocket to find him laid-out in the end zone where he made the bobbling catch for UM’s second touchdown of the day to take the 14-13 lead.

Davis used more big plays to march right back into Montana territory and scored again when Hastings found Samuel Gbatu for a 14-yard touchdown pass with 2:15 left in the half to take the 20-14 lead.

Bergen then took the ensuing kickoff 36 yards out of the endzone, setting the Griz up with good field position on the following drive.

McDowell found White again for another big play, streaking across the middle for a gain of 19 that put the Griz into Aggie territory once again.

Then it was the Aaron Fontes show again. The California native used his leaping ability once again to highpoint a ball in traffic and broke free for a 25-yard sprint, dragging tacklers with him into the end zone for a 41-yard touchdown. After the Glasgow PAT, the Griz went on top 21-20 where they would stay for the remainder of the half.

After going three-and-out to start the second half, Montana forced a turnover on downs with a pair of pass breakups from Corbin Walker and Trevin Gradney, giving the Griz the ball at their own 40 on the ensuing Aggie drive. After taking a sack, McDowell went back to his feet and rushed up the middle for a much-needed 20-yard gain to convert a third and long across midfield. He then converted another third down, scrambling out of the pocket and finding a wide-open Evan Shafer for a gain of 10 to the Davis 32. McDowell kept the dink-and-dive offense rolling with a screen pass to Eli Gillman for a gain of eight that would set up a field goal attempt for Grant Glasgow. The 43-yard attempt would be blocked however, keeping the Grizzly lead at one at the midway point of the third quarter. Then the Griz got what they had been looking for what seemed like the entire game. After prodding the Aggie defense with the run game all day long, the Griz finally broke a long run loose.

Gillman took a pitch from McDowell around the right side, slipped a couple of tackles and was off to the races, sprinting 85 yards for a touchdown to give the Griz a little breathing room, up 28-20 at the end of the third quarter.

Montana extended its lead midway through the fourth quarter when Glasgow boomed a 38-yard field goal to put the Griz up two scores, 31-20, with just over seven minutes to play. The field goal was set up by yet another electric put return by Junior Bergen. He hauled in a big 50-plus yard punt back 39 yards deep into Aggie territory. Davis would add a late field goal from 42 yards to make it a one-score game with 3:58 to play. Ryder Meyer then sealed the win for the Griz when he forced an Aggie fumble with less than two minutes on the clock to ice it for the Griz.

“I told our team that I don’t think we’re the most aesthetically pleasing team in terms of how we look, but we got a winner’s mentality,” said Hauck after coming away with the victory.

Montana now prepares to return to the road for a battle for the Little Brown Stein at Idaho on Oct. 14 in Moscow.

Last week saw the Montana State Bobcats have a bye. The Cats travel to Sacramento State this Saturday night for a game on ESPN2.


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