MISSOULA – Washington-Grizzly Stadium sounded a lot like a rock concert early Saturday afternoon. Within a few hours, it resembled a library.
UC Davis shocked the more than 24,000 fans in attendance with a 46-0 run in the second half as the sixth-ranked Aggies ran away from the Montana Grizzlies, 49-21.
The onslaught proved even more shocking because of what preceded it. Montana controlled the first half, building a 21-3 advantage. But UC Davis proved it belongs on top of the Big Sky Conference while the Grizzlies are left with even more questions and their first three-game losing streak since 1992.
“We came out and went after it,” said Griz head coach Bobby Hauck about the start of the game. “Had a real zest for the game. I’m disappointed that we couldn’t sustain that the second half. When it started to go the wrong direction, we didn’t get it turned around, which is disappointing.”
The game still seemed in control for Montana with 3:30 left in the third quarter. UM was driving with a 21-6 lead. Then Hauck felt a key moment changed the momentum.
“I think that probably the critical play in the game, where the leakage became more of a flow than just a drip, was when it was fourth and less than a yard on the (33-yard) line,” said Hauck. “And we didn’t get it.”
Alijah Lee was stuffed for a loss on his only carry of the game. UC Davis started the next drive with a trick play. Receiver Carson Crawford took a quick screen pass behind the line of scrimmage and threw downfield to tight end Wesley Preece for a 56-yard gain. Quarterback Jake Maier finished the drive with a 3rd-and-goal pass to Preece, and the Grizzlies’ lead was down to 21-13 entering the fourth quarter.
Maier struggled along with the rest of the Aggies in the first half, but the Big Sky Conference MVP candidate started picking apart the Grizzlies’ defense down the stretch. He found his best target, Keelan Doss, in the back of the end zone with 13:31 left in the game, and a two-point conversion tied the score.
Then the game spiraled out of control from the Grizzlies’ perspective. For the Aggies, that’s when everything started going their way. After a UM punt, Tehran Thomas burst up the middle 56 yards to the house. Suddenly UC Davis had its first lead, 28-21.
Three plays later, Montana quarterback Dalton Sneed was drilled by linebacker Mason Moe, one of his 3.5 sacks on the day. Sneed lost the ball and the Aggies recovered on the Grizzlies’ 14-yard line. Three plays later, Ulonzo Gilliam ran in a short touchdown to put UC Davis up 35-21.
Montana’s next drive lasted only one play. Sneed’s pass to the sidelines was intercepted by Devon King and returned to the UM 6-yard line. Three plays later, Maier scored on a quarterback sneak to make the game 42-21.
On the second play of the ensuing drive, King once again picked off a Sneed pass. Six plays later, Maier hit Crawford for yet another touchdown. The Davis QB finished 36-of-48 passing for 292 yards and three touchdowns.
When the snowball of momentum finally stopped rolling, the Aggies had scored 43 points, only 12:09 had come off the game clock, and Montana had committed four turnovers for the third consecutive game.
Hauck felt afterward that second-half adjustments didn’t play much of a part in the turn-around.
“There wasn’t really a whole bunch of change, other than they played better and we didn’t. We played worse,” he said.
In the end, the great start felt like a distant memory. But Montana did show signs of strength in the first half. Sneed completed 15 of 21 passes for 171 yards before the break. He found Samuel Akem for two touchdowns, one on the first drive of the game and another late in the first half. Jeremy Calhoun added a 15-yard touchdown in between as the Grizzlies built a three-score lead.
The UC Davis offense slightly out-performed its usual averages of 42 points and more than 330 yards passing per game. But the Aggies sputtered to only 113 offensive yards in the first half. The first-place team lost its cool and composure with 10 penalties for 74 yards, including three unsportsmanlike flags on one drive. Doss admitted his team settled down at halftime and finally adjusted to the crowd noise. UC Davis committed several false start penalties.
UC Davis improves to 7-1 overall, remains the lone unbeaten team in Big Sky play with a 5-0 record, and looks destined to make a postseason run. Montana falls to 4-4 overall, 2-3 in league, and has seen any FCS playoff possibilities evaporate like its second-half lead.
The Grizzlies travel to Southern Utah next Saturday.