MISSOULA — Now that Montana's 36-day, two-game spring football season has concluded, the Grizzlies now turn their attention toward the fall.
"We had a couple of goals this spring. The first one was to win certainly and the second one was to send a message that we have a good football team here in Missoula at the University of Montana," Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. "I think that message has been sent."
Montana combined for 107 points in its two spring games after a 16-month layoff heading into the game against Central Washington. In both contests, Montana racked up 529 total yards on offense against Central Washington and 511 against Portland State.
Montana's passing game showed off its explosive ability. Quarterback Cam Humphrey finished 38 for 57 for 472 yards and five touchdowns to one interception. He also carried the ball 10 times for 68 yards and one more score. Meanwhile, backup Kris Brown also showed what he is capable of doing under center. Brown only got four pass attempts against Portland State after Humphrey was knocked out of the game in the third quarter, but Brown finished 8 for 12 on pass attempts for 112 yards and one touchdown pass. He also carried the ball five total times for 41 yards and one more touchdown.
Gabe Sulser (eight catches, 145 yards, two touchdowns) broke out as Montana's starter in the slot while Samuel Akem (six catches, 88 yards, two touchdowns), who like Sulser returned in 2021 from an injury-shortened 2019, picked up where he left off as well. Bryson Deming also put together a solid spring as Montana's starting tight end with five catches for 50 yards.
Sulser also showcased his talent in the kick and punt return games, while kick returner Malik Flowers also saw an expanded role at receiver as well.
While starting running back Marcus Knight missed both spring games due to injury, the Grizzlies showed off their depth at running back with sophomore Nick Ostmo and freshman Xavier Harris. The duo combined for seven total touchdowns on the ground between the two of them, while Harris finished with 148 yards on the ground and four receptions for 34 yards. Ostmo had 130 yards rushing yards plus seven catches for 73 yards and another score.
Hauck highlighted the run game as an area of improvement after the game with Central Washington, and from game one to game two, Ostmo and Harris delivered.
"It really helped last week to kind of knock the rust off and just kind of get back into the role of things," Ostmo said. "It really makes it easy when you have a lot of guys around you that are making plays and doing what they’re supposed to do."
UM's offensive line showed its ability to be a powerful force after returning four players with starting experience. Starting center AJ Forbes, a transfer from Nebraska, went down with injury in the fourth quarter against Portland State, so his status will be one to monitor heading into the fall.
Defensively, the Grizzlies dominated throughout both games. They held both opponents to a combined 4 for 28 on third down conversions, and finished with four total turnovers forced as Jace Lewis, Gavin Robertson and David Koppang all grabbed interceptions.
The Griz held Portland State to 293 yards on offense and Central Washington to 178. Statistically Montana was credited with just one sack between the two games, but UM put plenty of pressure on both passing and running games to create turnovers, bad throws and short to no gains while preventing either offense from developing any rhythm.
"Their front seven will carry that team a long way," Portland State coach Bruce Barnum said about Montana. "I've been in this conference for many moons, and (with) that defense, the Griz are back. That football team is the Griz of old."
Corner Justin Ford, a Louisville transfer, made his presence known as a hard hitter and ball hawk while Omar Hicks Anu and Nash Fouch meshed well in the secondary with returning starters Robby Hauck and Robertson.
Lewis said he liked lining up against a team other than their offense, because it gave them a much-needed different look.
"You see a lot of different looks the last two weeks and it does help way more," Lewis said. "I’ll always say our offense, we play against them everyday, so we kind of know what to expect and there’s always things to correct with them too.
"I think these two games were huge. Taking a year off, that’s a long time to not play a game so these two games were big for us to go into the summer and the next fall."
Hauck said the Griz now have some downtime throughout May and will pick up summer training on June 1. They will open up the 2021 fall season at Washington on Sept. 4, a game Montana will be paid $675,000 to play in.
"It's go fast, it always does," Hauck said about the summer offseason. "The way I view it is we're on the clock. We better utilize every minute. We're on the clock, we gotta get ready."