MISSOULA — A week after a dropping its Big Sky opener, No. 18-ranked Montana got back in the win column Saturday with a 28-20 victory over Idaho State at a drizzly Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Quarterback Clifton McDowell accounted for two touchdowns and the Griz defense forced a pair of second-half turnovers to improve to 4-1 overall and even their conference mark at 1-1 on the heels of last week's loss at Northern Arizona.
Montana and Idaho State traded touchdowns and missed field goals in the first half and played to a 7-7 stalemate before intermission. Idaho State had the ball at the start of the second half, but on the first play of the third quarter Montana’s Ronald Jackson Jr. intercepted Bengals QB Jordan Cooke at the 50.
On UM’s subsequent possession, McDowell connected with Junior Bergen on a 39-yard catch and run to the ISU 2. Two plays later McDowell flipped a play-action roll-out pass to Aaron Fontes for an easy touchdown and the Griz took a 14-7 lead at the 12:40 mark of the third.
Griz wideout Sawyer Racanelli threw a TD to tight end Evan Shafer on a trick play to give Montana a 21-20 lead in the third. But it would take a 3-yard touchdown run by Eli Gillman and a late interception by Corbin Walker to seal it for Montana.
Cooke, a freshman, thew for 289 yards and three touchdowns but was hindered by those two second-half interceptions. The Bengals fell to 1-4 overall and 1-1 in the Big Sky.
“It was a really fun game,” coach Bobby Hauck said. “Exciting, certainly, and I think we just have to accept the fact that we have a hard time getting away from people. There weren’t enough plays to get away from them, but winning by eight in that game is great, and I’m very happy to be at 4-1.”
Turning point: Facing fourth-and-1 in Idaho State territory early in the fourth quarter, Montana converted a fake punt as Travis Benham threw to Garrett Graves for 15 yards. That helped produce the 3-yard touchdown by Gillman. The point-after kick gave UM a 28-20 lead.
Needing a TD and a two-point conversion to tie, the Bengals’ gave the ball up on downs at Montana’s 30 yard line with 5:49 remaining and the Griz were able to finish it.
Stat of the game: Winning at Washington-Grizzly Stadium has always been a difficult proposition for opponents, but it’s been a house of horrors for Idaho State. With Saturday’s loss, the Bengals dropped to 0-20 all time against the Grizzlies at WGS. It was UM's 15th straight win overall over Idaho State.
Grizzly game balls: QB Clifton McDowell (Offense). McDowell got the start and was efficient if unspectacular. McDowell threw for 160 yards and a touchdown, ran for 66 yards and another score and didn’t turn the ball over.
CB Corbin Walker (Defense). Walker was solid in coverage, especially in the second half. He thought he had an interception at one point in the fourth quarter but was still credited with a pass breakup. His actual interception with 2:28 left sealed the game.
What’s next: Montana continues its Big Sky Conference schedule on the road next Saturday at UC Davis. It will be the Grizzlies’ second consecutive week facing a Hawkins on the opposite sideline: Cody Hawkins is the first-year head coach at Idaho State while his dad, Dan Hawkins, is in his eighth season as the head coach of his alma mater UC Davis.