MOSCOW, Idaho — The Little Brown Stein is returning to Missoula — despite a frenetic comeback attempt by Gevani McCoy and Idaho.
No. 16 Montana dominated the first half and then held on for dear life for a 23-21 victory over the No. 3-ranked Vandals late Saturday at the Kibbie Dome. The win gave the Grizzlies possession of the Stein – the rivalry trophy the schools have battle for since 1938 — after last year’s home loss to the Vandals.
Montana, now 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the Big Sky, didn’t waste time gaining the upper hand.
After an opening-drive field goal, McDowell threw perfectly placed pass to Junior Bergen down the left sideline goes for a 76-yard touchdown, extending Montana’s lead to 10-0 with 3:36 left in the first quarter. Montana began that possession its own 5-yard line.
The Griz were backed up on their own 7 on their next offensive outing, but Eli Gillman broke off a 53-yard run to push into Vandal territory. That drive was eventually capped by an 8-yard touchdown run by McDowell and Montana was up 17-0 less than six minutes into the second quarter. The lead eventually got to 20-0.
The Vandals finally got in the end zone at the end of the first half on an 11-yard run by Anthony Woods, cutting their deficit to 20-7 at the break.
McCoy, under constant pressure, was sacked by the Griz defense six times and intercepted him twice. But he rallied Idaho late, throwing two fourth-quarter TD passes to Hayden Hatten, with a two-point try included, make it a one-possession game in the final minutes.
After the second touchdown, Hatten appeared to recover an onside kick but was flagged for being offside. The next onside try was recovered by the Grizzlies.
Montana was stopped on fourth down in an attempt to end it with 52 seconds left, but Kale Edwards had a strip-sack on McCoy on Idaho's next play and the ball was recovered by Levi Janacaro, which allowed the Griz to run out the clock.
Turning point: McDowell’s first-quarter bomb to Bergen for the 76-yard touchdown gave Montana a two-score lead, but the Grizzlies’ defense held up their end of the bargain on Idaho’s next series.
Riley Wilson’s sack of Gevani McCoy put Idaho in a third-and-16 situation, and McCoy fired incomplete on the next play. A punt pinned the Griz on their own 7, but they marched 93 yards thanks to Gillman’s big run and McDowell’s TD scamper to go ahead by 17 points. Idaho rallied late, but couldn't come all the way back.
Stat of the game: Montana’s six sacks of McCoy proved invaluable. Linebackers Riley Wilson and Tyler Flink each had 1½ sacks to lead the way. Beyond that, the Grizzlies’ pressure defense had McCoy running for his life for much of the night and forced him into difficult throws out of the pocket.
Grizzly game balls: WR Junior Bergen (Offense). Montana’s ground game churned out 158 yards, but it was Bergen who supplied the big plays. His 76-yard TD reception was part of a 118-yard day, and he averaged 23.6 yards per catch.
S Ryder Meyer (Defense). The Grizzlies’ defense was all over the field, but Meyer led the team with eight total tackles and had one of the game’s most consequential plays, an interception of McCoy in the end zone on a fourth-down play to nullify a crucial Idaho scoring opportunity in the third quarter.
PK Grant Glasgow (Special teams). Glasgow was solid all night, and went 3 for 3 on field goal attempts — all of which mattered. His 44-yarder with 11:43 left in the game ended up giving the Griz just enough to hold on.
What's next: Montana has a bye next week but will return to the field to host Northern Colorado on Oct. 28 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.
The Grizzlies have now won three consecutive games and at 3-1 in the Big Sky are entrenched in second place in the league standings.