MISSOULA — The Montana Grizzlies football team trailed early but struck quickly en route to a 59-20 victory over Idaho State on a rainy Saturday afternoon at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Dalton Sneed completed 26 of 41 passes for 397 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 67 more yards on 16 attempts and two more scores in the win. Sneed’s 464 yards were a career-high for total offense.
The No. 8 Grizzlies improved to 5-1 overall and 2-0 in Big Sky Conference play. The win was Montana’s 13th straight over Idaho State.
“It’s a great win for us. Idaho State’s got a good football team and they were well-coached and ready to play,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. “They came in and punched us and had us down big early on, so a lot of credit to them and then a lot of credit to our guys, too, because we don’t have a bunch of give-in in us.”
The Bengals appeared to have Montana’s number early in the game. After quarterback Matt Struck connected with Michael Dean for a 71-yard gain on their second drive, running back Ty Flanagan punched it in from 1 yard out for the game’s opening score.
Then, early in the second quarter, Flanagan busted loose for a 71-yard touchdown to give the Bengals a 17-0 lead.
“Their (run-pass option) game hurt us early,” Hauck said. “We allowed them to run the ball way too effectively in the first quarter and in the first part of the second quarter. They were completing passes at a high rate. We did not play well on defense in that first quarter, part of that’s us and part of that’s them.”
But from there, Montana outscored Idaho State 59-3 as the Grizzlies dominated the rest of the second quarter and beyond.
Montana got on the board thanks to a pair of touchdown runs from Marcus Knight, who brought UM within 17-14. Brandon Purdy would tie the game 17-17 on a 35-yard field goal before Knight scored his third touchdown of the game with 13 seconds left in the second quarter to send Montana into the half up 24-17.
Knight finished the game with 53 yards on 18 carries.
After Knight’s first touchdown, safety Robby Hauck sacked Struck with a big hit that would force the Bengals into second and long and they would ultimately be forced to punt.
The momentum appeared to shift to the Grizzlies in that moment and Struck, who looked sharp to start the game, looked uncomfortable and struggled the rest of the way.
“Just in general if you’re able to get to the quarterback it’s definitely a positive for the defense,” Robby Hauck said. “I got to him early in the first quarter and I was able to get to him again. I think when you get hit by someone you’re not used to seeing come, he started eyeballing me a little bit so I think that helped the defense a lot. Just rattling the quarterback is big from a defensive perspective.”
The second half belonged to Sneed, who scored all four of his touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters. Sneed found Sammy Akem for a 25-yard score to keep the pressure on midway through the third quarter. Then, just before the fourth, he found Samori Toure for an 8-yard touchdown to put Montana up 38-20.
“I’d say this about Dalton, his stat-line is pretty fantastic and his practice this week was pretty fantastic, as well, but he’s such a competitive guy, I think he was awfully juiced up and wanted to be perfect during the game,” Bobby Hauck explained. “We missed some things in the first quarter that after that he was money. Just a great game by him.”
“I think we started flowing on offense,” Sneed added. “Once we hit our rhythm and start going fast that’s when things click for us, and I was able to start taking the easy throws and getting the ball to our playmakers and they were able to do the rest.”
Sneed’s first rushing touchdown was gutsy as the senior leapt over a defender into another to get into the end zone. He added a 1-yard score for insurance and running back Adam Eastwood added a 59-yard touchdown run to pad Montana’s lead even further.
“I’m not sliding at the goal line,” Sneed said of his first rushing touchdown. “When I have an opportunity to get in there, I’m going to do it at all costs. Just found a way to get in.”
Akem and Toure also had career days in the win. Akem caught a career-high 10 passes for 135 yards and the touchdown while Toure had eight receptions for a career-high 188 yards plus the TD on the day.
“We just have a really great offense in general,” Toure said. “When everybody does our job, I don’t think there’s too many people who can stop us except ourselves. We just had to trust in the system and just keep on going and staying persistent.”
Linebackers Dante Olson and Jace Lewis finished with 18 and 14 tackles, respectively, while Robby Hauck and linebacker Patrick O’Connell each tallied sacks for the UM defense.
Struck finished the game 16 for 33 for 189 yards. Flanagan had 18 carries for 130 yards while Dean brought in six catches for 109 yards. Idaho State falls to 2-3 overall and 1-1 in conference play.
Idaho State coach Rob Phenicie, who coached at Montana under Hauck from 2003-09, was asked in the press conference if he saw any similarities between the Griz teams he saw win conference titles and this year’s and how close they were to replicating that.
“Probably right there,” Phenicie said. “It’s solid on all three phases. It’s scary to punt the ball to (Jerry Louie-McGee) and it’s scary to kick it off to (Malik Flowers) and they’re dangerous on both sides of the ball.”
Montana has a bye next week while Idaho State hosts North Dakota.