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Montana Grizzlies defense shines in second spring scrimmage

Posted at 8:50 PM, Apr 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-06 00:41:33-04

(Editor’s note: story by Montana Sports Information)

MISSOULA – With Dalton Sneed – the 2018 Big Sky Newcomer of the Year – ready to lead the team again as a senior in 2019, head coach Bobby Hauck knows what his incumbent starting QB is capable of.

So as the Montana Grizzlies took the field for their second scrimmage of the spring season on Friday in Washington-Grizzly Stadium, it was time to spread the reps around.

With junior Cam Humphrey, freshman Garrett Graves and Sophomore Wheeler Harris sharing the snaps, the Griz ran through roughly 90 plays in the half-practice, half-scrimmage session that consisted of situational work and drives.

With Montana’s veteran corps of receivers making some spectacular grabs and the run game earning some hard yards, UM’s young guns under center were up and down during the hour-long scrimmage, as the Grizzly-D took advantage of being the more veteran unit.

And as expected in a spring scrimmage, Hauck came away with some things he liked and some things that will need to be improved on as the Griz inch closer to the fall season.

“I thought some of it was ok and some of it looked not ready for prime time,” said Hauck.

“I think they’re playing hard and it’s physical, so that’s a pretty good base to start with when you’re trying to build next year’s team. The execution part, some of the mistakes, some of those things are not where we want them to be or where we need them to be. So, we’ll just keep working and we’ll get it there by September.”

Following the scrimmage, Hauck turned to cornerbacks Dareon Nash and Kadeem Hemphill and saluted them for making “game breaker” plays as just two of the Grizzlies who came up big for the defense.

Early in the scrimmage, Nash broke through and blocked a 50-yard field goal attempt from Gabe Peppenger that was scooped up and returned for a touchdown by Gavin Crow< for one of two touchdowns by the defense. The defense's other score of the day happened not long before that when linebacker Patrick O'Connell picked up a high snap and ran that in for a touchdown. Hemphill capped the scrimmage with a string of big pass breakups, one of which featured plenty of the physicality Hauck mentioned as he leveled Gabe Sulser just as the ball hit his hands. Other highlights for the defense included a pair of sacks from young linemen Eli Alford (Soph.) and Alex Gubner (R-Fr.), and a couple of interceptions by Kobey Eaton and Nash Fouch. But as it found a rhythm later in the scrimmage, there were plenty of things for the offense to feel good about, especially with the reserve QBs running the show. Samuel Akem was on the receiving end of some nice passes from Humphrey, including a 40-yard bomb that put the offense in the red zone, and Malik Flowers made some diving grabs in traffic, one a 43 strike from Graves. Graves turned heads with his physicality. As they did in the first scrimmage of the spring, Hauck and his staff removed the black jersey from his back and let him run live, using his feet and arm to threaten the defense. "Garrett's a guy that can probably play eight positions for us on defense and five on offense. So, he's going to be part of the plan moving forward," said Hauck "He hasn't been hit like he gets hit out here in high school. He just hasn't played at that speed. None of them have. So, he needs some live action, and it's good for him to get banged around a little bit. He's physical enough to give his own back, and I thought he did a nice job for a guy who was really in his first live action." With all the ups and downs, the goal of spring ball remains the same: keep making strides until the season opens on August 31 in South Dakota. "We've just got to keep getting better. The whole thing is to improve, and I think we are improving, but we have a long way to go," Hauck said. The Griz will run through three practices in the final week of spring drills starting Monday, before capping the season with the annual Grizzly Scholarship Association Spring Game in Kalispell on April 13, presented by Bellamah Vein Center and Fun Beverage. Kickoff from Legends Stadium in Kalispell is set for 1 p.m., with a pregame tailgate party at The Korner Shop opening the day's festivities at 11 a.m. Tickets to the game cost $10, with kids 10-and-under receiving free entry with an adult. Proceeds from the Spring Game go directly to the GSA in its mission to provide scholarships to student-athletes. Tickets are available for purchase at the following locations: • All First Interstate Bank branches in the Flathead Valley • First Interstate Bank in Polson • Freedom Bank in Columbia Falls • Grizzly Scholarship Association office in Missoula