MISSOULA – A crowd of over 25,000 expected another Montana homecoming triumph. But the underdog Portland State Vikings instead left everyone silent. Freshman kicker Cody Williams drilled a 42-yard field goal with four seconds remaining, and the Vikings left Washington-Grizzly Stadium with a surprising 22-20 victory.
“They came in and won that game. We didn’t,” said Griz head coach Bobby Hauck. “That falls squarely on one guy. That’s me. I didn’t have a good enough game plan together, offense, defense or kicking. We didn’t go out and execute the plan we had very well. And consequently we’re sitting here at 2-1 in the conference.”
The win ends a nearly two-year long stretch without a Big Sky Conference win for the Vikings, who improve to 1-2 in the league and 2-4 overall. #14 Montana falls to 4-2 overall, and now holds a 29-4 record all-time in homecoming games in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Portland State’s last drive covered 42 yards, and took four minutes off the clock. The Vikings clearly wanted Williams to kick a game-winner, while giving the Grizzlies no time to respond. But in the process, they had to convert a fourth down and two to reach field goal range. Davis Alexander connected with wide-out Emmanuel Daigbe for a three-yard gain. A stop would have won the game for the Grizzlies. Instead, Williams got the chance to play hero.
Montana struggled offensively for most of the day, but had a chance to make up for it late. With UM leading 20-19, senior wide receiver Keenan Curran stretched to try to pick up a third and three in Vikings territory. But his fumble gave PSU the ball on their own 23, with a chance to make the winning drive.
Montana fumbled the fall four times in the game. Portland State recovered all four. And the Vikings turned the extra opportunities into a touchdown and three field goals. PSU also fumbled five times in a sloppy game, with UM recovering three.
“The effort and fight is not our team’s problem anymore,” said Hauck. “That’s not an issue, I don’t believe. Execution is.”
A disastrous start to the game immediately put the Grizzlies out of rhythm. Montana’s first lost fumble came on their first offensive snap. Six plays later, Alexander ran in a touchdown to put Portland State up quickly, 7-0.
Montana’s second possession lost six yards in three plays. Houston Barnes rushed nearly un-touched to block the ensuing Eric Williams punt. Portland State took over on the Griz 14-yard line, and Williams made his first field goal shortly after. Williams made another field goal in the second quarter, after yet another Vikings fumble recovery.
The Griz offense totaled negative five yards in the first quarter, and only gained 55 yards in the entire first half. But UM only trailed 13-0 at the break because the defense forced four punts and recovered one PSU fumble.
“As badly as we played the first half, we’re lucky we weren’t down 28-0,” stated Hauck. “The defense did a good job keeping us in it the first half.”
Montana showed signs of life immediately to start the second half. Portland State returned the favor with a fumble on their first offensive play. Six plays later, Adam Eastwood rushed in from 13 yards out to put the Griz on the board.
Later in the third quarter, quarterback Dalton Sneed shook off a rough day, unleashing a 41-yard touchdown bomb to Samori Toure. Suddenly Montana held a 14-13 lead, and the home crowd expected the momentum to carry over into a run-away.
But a Portland State squad that had only one win over the past two seasons showed impressive resolve. Sirgeo Hoffman plunged in from the one-yard line to put PSU back in front 19-14. The drive started at midfield after yet another Griz fumble.
The Grizzlies answered with an 11-play 75-yard drive. Eastwood took a pitch around the left side for his second rushing touchdown. A trick two-point conversion run by UM kicker Tim Semenza was stopped, keeping the Griz lead at 20-19, and giving PSU a chance to win with the final field goal two drives later.
Sneed has been a bright spot for the Griz in his first year as a starter, but the junior transfer would like to forget the first half. He completed only one of 12 passes for negative two yards, and finished the day 10 for 28 for 122 yards. Eastwood led the team with 88 rushing yards and the pair of touchdowns.
Montana once again had standout defensive performances from their star linebackers. Dante Olson, the leading tackle machine in all of the FCS, collected 19 more, raising his astronomical total to 98 through six games. The junior also made two tackles for a loss and forced two fumbles. Senior linebacker Josh Buss made 11 tackles and forced a fumble. And Bobby’s son, Robby Hauck a freshman safety, added 11 tackles.
But you won’t find the coach looking at the positives.
“You’re going to have a hard time convincing me there’s any silver lining in this one for us,” said Hauck. “I’m going to have a hard time looking myself in the mirror. That’ll flow downhill a little bit, too.”
The Grizzlies hit the road to North Dakota next week. The Fighting Hawks had a bye on Saturday, and own a 3-2 record.