MISSOULA — The Montana Grizzlies offense piled up yards, points and plenty of impressive performances. They needed the outburst to finally put away a tough challenge from the Monmouth Hawks. The 19th-ranked Griz finally found separation in the fourth quarter on their way to a 47-27 victory over the challengers from the Big South Conference.
"Winning is hard. And we've got three of them," said head coach Bobby Hauck after his team improved to 3-1 to finish non-conference play. "I really love our football team. I love how they play. I like our men in the locker room. I like their approach to the game, their focus. I think that we have somewhat made a move forward in terms of who we are and how we approach the game. So I feel good about where we are."
Montana's offense exploded for 579 yards against the Hawks. Quarterback Dalton Sneed completed 30 of 40 passes for 334 yards and four touchdowns, yet the most important yards came from sophomore running back Marcus Knight. The junior college transfer continued his upward trajectory with 148 yards and a touchdown.
Monmouth (2-2) came into the game averaging 180 yards rushing per game and only giving up 60 on the ground a contest, the fourth best total in the country. Montana handled the Hawks in both categories, rushing for 221 yards and giving Monmouth only 81 rushing yards.
"We got after it. It was fun," said Hauck. "Obviously, the backs are running hard. Marcus had a great day. I can't wait to watch the one run on film. That was a pretty good effort by our defense. They're swarming, they're getting off blocks, and they're tackling well."
"It's exciting to see a team that's averaging nearly 200 yards a game and try to hold them under 50," said Griz star senior linebacker Dante Olson, who led the team with 13 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for a loss and a sack. "You know, we didn't get it done, but we'll make some new goals this week."
Monmouth senior quarterback Kenji Bahar totaled 393 yards and a couple touchdowns on 34 of 50 passing and continued to keep the Hawks in the game. But Montana sealed the victory midway through the fourth quarter on Bahar's second interception of the day. With the Griz leading 41-27 and Monmouth facing a 3rd and 11 from the Montana 12-yard line, cornerback Dareon Nash jumped a Bahar pass to the sidelines for a turnover that ended Monmouth's last serious threat.
The Hawks fought their way back from a 19-point third quarter deficit. Bahar hit Lonnie Moore IV for a 19-yard touchdown early in the fourth to cut the lead to 33-27. Montana marched down the field to answer in less than two minutes, with Sneed connecting with Jerry Louie-McGee on a 5-yard score. After Nash's interception, Montana finished again with a nine play, 92-yard drive. Sneed's final touchdown to Bryson Deming led to a 20-point lead and the final score with 3:49 remaining.
Montana's tight ends caused problems for the Hawks all day. Deming and Colin Bingham combined for eight catches, 118 yards and four touchdowns.
"It's always in the game plan every week," said Hauck about the increased role of the tight ends. "It's more about what they choose to take away or defend. The wide receivers in the three games leading up to today had played pretty well. You can do some coverage things that are a little looser on the inside and tighter on the outside. Dalton did a good job finding them. These guys did a good job catching it."
Deming caught the Grizzlies' first touchdown early in the second quarter. Bingham was wide open for a 24-yard score on a trick play in the second quarter, when receiver Samori Toure caught a backwards screen pass and then threw downfield. The senior from Missoula also grabbed Montana's first score of the second half.
Neither team scored in the first quarter. After trading second quarter touchdowns, Montana sophomore Malik Flowers found a seem up the middle for a 100-yard kick return touchdown, the longest for Montana since 1936. The Grizzlies dangerous kick and punt return units forced the Hawks to continually kick short and away from UM, leading to great field position on many occasions. Montana had an average starting field position at their own 34-yard line. Monmouth, meanwhile started at their own 24 on average.
"The field position battle and the kicking game was a whitewash," said Hauck. "They wouldn't kick it to us. Our special teams guys were awesome today."
The Grizzlies now kickoff conference play with a huge showdown at fourth-ranked UC Davis. They'll kickoff at 2:00 on Saturday, Sept. 28.