MISSOULA — No matter how ugly or bizarre Saturday’s game against Southern Utah was, the Montana Grizzly football team still ended up with their sixth victory of the season when they defeated the Thunderbirds 20-19 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
But the self-inflicted mistakes were too many to count for Montana, something the Grizzlies will want to correct going forward with just three games remaining on their regular season schedule.
"I’d sum it up as a gut check for our team to keep their composure and find a way to win it," Griz head coach Bobby Hauck said after the game.
The Grizzlies turned the ball over four times on Saturday, starting with their second drive of the game when the snap hit a receiver in motion and Southern Utah recovered it.
"That play probably was us today in a nutshell. That was wild," Hauck said. "It wasn’t very good by us in some regards and that play epitomizes that."
After Kevin Macias gave Montana a 20-19 lead in the fourth quarter with 11:38 left, the Grizzlies turned it over again twice trying to put the game away, giving Southern Utah a shot to put a game-winning drive together.
As they've done all year, the Griz defense again was called in to hold the lead intact. The Grizzlies held the Thunderbirds to just 299 yards of total offense, the fifth time this season they've held an opponent under 300 yards.
"I would sit here and say that we didn’t play as great as we wanted to but at the end of the day when it mattered we stood up and we made the plays we had to to win the game so proud of the team," said cornerback Justin Ford, who scored on a pick-6 in the second quarter.
"You just have to do that. You have to bend don’t break," added linebacker Marcus Welnel, who blocked a potential game-winning field goal by Southern Utah with 3:06 remaining. "When things don’t go your way you just have to bow up as a defense and make some stops and that’s what we tried doing."
But flags were the other key storyline as Montana was officially whistled for 12 penalties for 125 yards which included three key offside penalties in the first half that led to Southern Utah scores.
"Their first scoring drive, we were offsides twice on fourth down, kept their drive going and they scored," Hauck said. "And then in the second quarter we jumped offsides and he chucked it up and they scored on a 60-yard pass. That can’t be the way we proceed."
But through it all, the Grizzlies (6-2, 3-2 Big Sky Conference) still escaped with a win to keep their playoff hopes intact as they move forward. Two of Montana's next three games are on the road beginning at Northern Colorado next weekend, followed by a road game against Northern Arizona before UM hosts Montana State.
"I’ve never been around a game like that and certainly never been around a game where you had that many things going against you and actually won the game so congratulations to our team too," Hauck said. "It was a heck of an effort by our guys to find a way to win that game."