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Griz use balanced attack to defeat Monmouth

By Spencer Martin

Editor’s note: This is a release from Montana University Sports Information.

Montana put together another big second half at home Saturday against Monmouth, running away from its Big South opponent thanks to a big day from the tight ends and running backs.

The Grizzly tight ends combined for four touchdown receptions, Marcus Knight had a career-high rushing, and Malik Flowers registered the longest play in modern Grizzly history in a 47-27 win to finish the non-conference portion of Montana’s schedule with a 3-1 record.

Monmouth entered the game at 2-1 and had the fourth-best rushing offense in the country, but Montana limited star running back Pete Guerriero to just 47 yards. Dante Olson led the defense with another big day, making 13 tackles with two and a half for loss and one big sack.

“It was a good win for our team,” Head Coach Bobby Hauck said following the game. “Monmouth is a team that, I think they feel they are a playoff-caliber football team and they might be right. They are awfully good, they are well-coached, and they just do a really nice job.”

Senior tight end Colin Bingham had four catches for 72 yards and two scores and his position partner Bryson Deming also had four catches and two touchdowns. It was a big day for a unit that often doesn’t get much shine, but took advantage of the opportunities Monmouth gave them.

The Griz also got a breakout performance through the air from Mitch Roberts, who had five catches for 80 yards off the bench. The trio helped Dalton Sneed to another big day passing, as the quarterback connected on 30 of his 40 passes – a season-high for completion percentage - for 334 yards and four touchdowns.

“The tight ends and Mitch Roberts had a big day,” Hauck said. “Those three caught the ball well and got good hard yards after the catch and after contact. Dalton was seeing it well, and he found the right guys, so it was fun.”

Knight also had an impressive day on the ground for the Grizzlies, running for 148 yards with a touchdown. He averaged seven yards per carry and helped lead a 92-yard drive late that sealed the game. It was the first time a Montana running back ran for more than 140 yards since Jordan Canada against Southern Utah in November of 2014.

Freshman Nick Ostmo also had a nice day with 47 yards and Sneed had 27 on the ground as well to bring Montana’s team total to 221 rushing yards.

“I think it’s what good teams do. We didn’t run the ball very effectively a week ago, and our guys kind of took that to heart,” Hauck said. “Today our goal was 200 yards, and we got after it. Our backs are running hard. Marcus had a great day.”

The Grizzly defense maintained their excellent play on third down this season. The Hawks were able to convert just 4-of-16 (25 percent) of their third downs in the game. On the season, Montana has allowed just 15 conversions on 52 third-down attempts (29 percent).

The game started off as a defensive battle, with neither team scoring in the first quarter. Monmouth pinned Montana on its own four-yard line late in the first quarter, but two quick strikes from Sneed to Samuel Akem gave the Griz some breathing room. Sneed then threw a screen pass to Samori Toure, who weaved his way to an 18-yard gain. Montana caught an unlucky break later in the drive as a pass intended for Toure bounced off the receiver and was intercepted at the Monmouth 20-yard line.

The Griz got the ball back to start the second quarter and quickly piled up 35 yards in three plays. A perfect play-action fake resulted in the first score of the game, as Sneed and Bryson Deming played an easy game of catch for a wide-open 23-yard touchdown.

Monmouth gambled on the ensuing drive, going for it on fourth down in Montana territory. They converted with a deep pass to the one-yard line and punched it in for their first score on the next play to tie the game at 7-all with 8:21 left in the half.

The tie wouldn’t last long.

On the very next play, Malik Flowers fielded the kick on his own goal line, cut left and raced past the coverage, scoring a 100-yard touchdown to put Montana back on top. It was the second career kick return touchdown for Flowers and a new career-long as he also scored last season against Western Illinois. The return set the modern record for the longest play in Montana history and is the longest kick return since 1993 when Damon Boddie scored a 99 yarder at Idaho. It was the longest return since Milt Popovich had a 102-yard return in 1936.

“It is hard to do, but we kind of expect our guys to do it here and there within a season,” Hauck said of the return touchdown. “That’s the expectation of the guys on that team. I wasn’t sure they were going to kick it deep to us at all, and these guys made them pay.”

It was the last time the Hawks kicked it deep, as they resorted to shorter kicks that gave Montana excellent field position for the remainder of the game.

After having one of the best fall camps of any Grizzly wide receiver, Mitch Roberts finally got an opportunity and took advantage. He caught three passes on Montana’s next drive for 52 total yards, picking up three first downs. The Grizzlies then used some trickery to score again. Sneed found Toure with a backward pass in the flat. Toure then threw a pass of his own to a wide-open Colin Bingham to make it 21-7 Montana with under two minutes remaining in the half.

Monmouth had an impressive and important answer, as the Grizzlies were set to take a 14-point lead into the locker rooms and receive coming out in the second half. The Hawks instead drove 75 yards in 1:18 to cut the lead to 21-14.

Montana made it interesting, racking up 48 yards to get to the Monmouth 12-yard line but they ran out of time and entered the break with the one-score lead.

It took Montana just one play coming out of the halftime break to get into Monmouth territory. They continued with a no-huddle offense, moving the ball all the way down and finishing the opening drive with a nine-yard touchdown from Sneed to Bingham for the Missoula native’s second touchdown of the day.

Montana forced a three-and-out – highlighted by an Alex Gubner sack – on the next Monmouth drive. The Griz were quickly into Hawks territory again as Mitch Roberts had yet another first down grab. Sneed nearly turned the ball over as he was hit while attempting a pass, but a review gave the ball back to Montana for a third and long play. Sneed found Gabe Sulser on the sideline for a 15-yard gain and a first down. Toure then had a pair of first-down catches to bring the Griz to the five-yard line, where Knight walked around the end of the line untouched to make it 33-14.

Monmouth had an efficient drive as quarterback Kenji Bahar completed all five of his passes to bring the Hawks to Montana’s three-yard line. The Grizzlies stuffed the run twice in a row to set up fourth and goal from the one. After initially appearing to stop Monmouth on fourth down, video review overturned the call and gave the Hawks a touchdown.

The Hawks stopped Montana’s offense and got the ball back, once again rolling the dice on a fourth and short. This time, Dante Olson and the Grizzly defense were ready. Olson flew in for a crushing tackle, stopping the Hawks short and giving the Griz the ball back on their own 42-yard line to start the fourth quarter.

Montana drove into Monmouth territory, but a fumble by Sneed gave the Hawks the ball back. In two plays, they were suddenly on the Montana 25-yard line. The Hawks remained aggressive, once again going for it on fourth down. They converted with a pass from Bahar to Lonnie Moore that found the end zone, cutting the lead to 33-27 with 11:32 remaining.

The Grizzlies needed a response and got it with a dominant drive, going 62 yards in just six plays for a quick score. Louie-McGee finished it off with a six-yard reception from Sneed, the third passing touchdown of the day for the senior. The Griz went for two, converting with a fade route to Akem that made it 41-27 with under 10 minutes remaining.

The visitors didn’t flinch, once again driving down the field all the way to the Montana seven-yard line. A false start moved them back on third down, and then Dareon Nash made a huge play for the Grizzlies. He jumped a quick route outside and picked off Bahar’s pass, giving the ball back to Montana.

The Griz kept a high-tempo but went to the ground on the next drive, as Knight broke off some stellar runs, including a 31-yard carry that saw him break three or four tackles and reach the Monmouth four-yard line. From there, the Grizzlies ran a play-action pass to Bryson Deming for his second touchdown of the game. The nine-play, 92-yard drive helped ice the game for the Grizzlies, as Nash Fouch would have an interception on the next Monmouth drive and the Grizzlies would then run out the clock for the 20-point victory.

Montana now begins conference play with a road trip to No. 4 UC Davis. The Aggies fell to top-ranked North Dakota State 16-27 on Saturday in their non-conference finale. The Grizzlies begin the Big Sky slate at 3-1, but Hauck knows they will need to improve with a tough test on the horizon.

“From our standpoint, it is great to win, and we did a lot of good things as well, but there is certainly a lot to clean up, or we are not going to survive next week,” Hauck said.

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