MISSOULA — For the first time in three weeks, the Montana Grizzlies played in front of a home crowd at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
And all eyes were on backup quarterback Cam Humphrey on Saturday, who was making his first start as a Grizzly after Dalton Sneed was injured last week against Sac State. However, Montana’s running game, led by back Marcus Knight, proved to be the difference maker in this one.
Knight finished the game with 26 carries for 131 yards and three touchdowns as Montana piled up 254 total yards on the ground. After Eastern jumped to a 14-3 lead in the first half, Knight tied the game, 17-17, in the third quarter on a 45-yard burst that swung momentum in Montana’s favor. He added touchdowns in the second and fourth quarters as well.
True freshman Nick Ostmo added 18 carries for 79 yards.
“Yeah, (the running game) was a big emphasis all week,” Knight said. “As a running back, you’re always excited when you get told that you’re going to be able to run the ball. The whole o-line was very excited. So we just went into the game ready to run the ball.
“And as our coaches say, those 2-, 3-, 4-yard runs early in the game, later in the game they get worn down and they become 10, 15. Maybe break one. So it’s just trusting the play call and trusting the holes and eventually they’re gonna pop.”
Humphrey finished the game 20 for 29 for 176 yards and a touchdown -- a six-yard score to Samuel Akem. Akem caught seven passes on the day for 49 yards and the touchdown.
“Going into last week, I was kind of aware of the situation. I knew the team was going to rally around me,” Humphrey said. “The defense was going to step up and they did. The o-linemen played a hell of a game and we have a pretty good running back behind us, too, so they made it easy on me.”
Offensively Montana racked up 430 yards total. Defensively, the Griz held Eastern Washington to 365 yards and just 134 in the second half. UM also held Eastern to just 15 first downs. The Griz got sacks from Robby Hauck, Jesse Sims and Jacob McGourin. Linebacker Dante Olson tallied 14 tackles while Hauck added 10.
Corvallis native Jayce Gilder caught one pass for 16 yards for EWU. Eastern led 14-3 with 6:29 to play in the first half before Knight’s first touchdown sent the game into halftime 14-10.
Montana improved to 6-2 overall and 3-1 in conference with the win. Eastern Washington, the reigning FCS runners-up, fall to 2-2 in conference and 3-5 overall.
According to Montana sports information director Eric Taber, the win was Montana’s 600th as a program.
“Certainly to beat a team that played in the national championship game last year is a great win for us,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. “I’m proud of our guys for their effort and how they approached the game coming off a loss and how they finished it, frankly.
“They came after us in the first half and that was tough. We were down and we had to fight our way back and I really like our football team’s ability to do that. I think we’re a second-half team. I think we’re a fourth-quarter team which is where we want to be playing our best on any given Saturday and today that’s what it was.”