MISSOULA – This time the Montana Grizzlies started slow, but a strong second-half surge led to a 2-0 start to the season. No. 14 Montana turned a 10-3 halftime lead into a 48-16 victory over the Drake Bulldogs at Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Saturday.
“We were a little bit of a circus in that first half,” said UM head coach Bobby Hauck. “We didn’t handle things overly well. It was a good job by our guys hanging together. It was a good job the second half putting some points on the board and shutting them down.”
While Drake’s defense held Montana in check for most of the first two-and-a-half quarters, Montana’s defense dominated all day. The Grizzlies forced five turnovers and made seven sacks.
Junior linebacker Dante Olson continued to blossom into a star with 16 tackles, two sacks, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, and a forced fumble. Sophomore cornerback Dareon Nash had his hands on three of the turnovers, grabbing a fumble recovery and two interceptions. He returned his second pick 40 yards for the final touchdown of the game.
“We were all over the place in the first half,” said Nash. “Coaches kind of set us down and set it straight basically, because we were doing a lot of amateur stuff in the beginning, and we set it straight. Momentum swings all through the second half, I feel like that helped us.”
After the slow first half, Montana extended its lead to 17-3 midway through the third quarter. On a 4th-and-1, Adam Eastwood burst up the middle and ran untouched for a 37-yard touchdown, his second of the day.
But Drake answered. After stalling near mid-field, Will Warner took a handoff on a fake punt and ran 49 yards for a Bulldogs touchdown, cutting the Griz lead back down to seven.
A huge three-play sequence in the final minute of the third quarter finally gave the home team some separation. Dalton Sneed hit Jerry Louie-McGee for a 13-yard touchdown, capping off a nine-play, 64-yard drive. On Drake’s next offensive play, safety Reid Miller intercepted Grant Kraemer’s pass and returned it to the 10-yard line. On the next Montana snap, Sneed connected with Samuel Akem for another touchdown. In a matter of seconds, the lead had grown to 31-10.
Drake countered on a Kraemer to Will Purdom 3-yard touchdown pass with 12:30 remaining to make it a two-score advantage, but Montana answered immediately with another touchdown of its own, a 13-yard scamper by Sneed.
The junior quarterback continued to impress in his second start at Montana. Sneed completed 31 of 47 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns. He gained the most rushing yards of any player for a second straight game, with 65 and a touchdown on the ground. The former UNLV and Ft. Scott Community College QB still hasn’t turned the ball over this season. He also made a new fan. Drake head coach Rick Fox was extremely complimentary of Sneed’s ability to evade the rush and make big plays for the Griz offense.
Junior slot receiver Louie-McGee received the majority of Sneed’s looks. He made 14 catches for 133 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore wideout Akem added eight catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.
Montana improves to 2-0 and now heads out on the road for the first time this season. The Grizzlies trek to Western Illinois, which lost at Montana State 26-23 in its season opener.
Drake falls to 0-1. The Bulldogs’ scheduled opener last Saturday versus William Jewell was canceled due to severe weather. The Bulldogs will return home to face Missouri S&T next Saturday.