MISSOULA — It wasn't pretty, but the Montana Grizzlies got the job done in Pocatello, Idaho, on Saturday with a 28-20 win over Idaho State.
A lot of self-inflicted mistakes caused the game to be closer than the Grizzlies would've liked.
In UM's first four games, the Griz had three total turnovers, but on Saturday against Idaho State, the Grizzlies turned it over three times in the game alone, which factored into Idaho State keeping it close through most of the first half and then mounting a comeback late in the game.
The Griz found success in a number of places — notably in the running game with 246 rushing yards — but head coach Bobby Hauck said there was plenty of areas to clean up.
"We executed, when you look at the numbers, it wasn't an execution thing," Hauck said. "Again, it goes back to us giving the ball away. Them chucking the ball up on fourth down a few times and they made the play, we didn't, good by them."
Lucas Johnson threw his second interception of the season on UM's first drive, and in the second quarter, Kale Edwards fumbled the ball on a short kickoff return. Along with those, an early targeting call on safety TraJon Cotton ejected him from the game, plus the Bengals were able to extend their second scoring drive with a pair of fourth-down conversions, one of which came after a Garrett Graves pass interference call and the other on an ISU QB sneak where UM's defense didn't appear ready for the ball to be snapped. UM eventually held ISU to a field goal after an Alex Gubner sack, as the Bengals cut it to a 7-6 deficit in the second quarter.
Tyler Flink's interception late in the second quarter proved to be the turning point, as it gave Montana momentum with a well-timed stop after the Bengals found that early success on offense.
"Nothing really deters this defense in my opinion," said Gubner, who finished with 1.5 sacks and six total tackles. "When things happen in the game, like last week (against Portland State) they scored on that sweep and we came back and did our jobs. I think one thing we do is bounce back. We don't let the past predict the future."
Quickly the Griz offense took advantage of that turnover with a pair of touchdowns, including a two-yard score by Marcus Knight and a 24-yard connection between Johnson and Keelan White that capped off UM's two-minute offense just before half, and the Grizzlies went into the break up 21-6.
"It just goes down to making plays," Hauck said about the momentum swing. "You have to make plays, helps when you win on first down and you got more manageable down and distances which we were in a lot because we were running it so well. That makes third down easier. I thought the plan was good, thought we executed it pretty well, but the miscues are the thing that derail you."
The Grizzlies led 28-6 in the third quarter after a trick play connection between Mitch Roberts and Cole Grossman, but in the fourth quarter and on Idaho State's two-yard line, Johnson attempted to keep it himself on a scramble, but fumbled before the goal line and the ball went into the end zone and out of bounds for a touchback, which prevented Montana from putting the game away.
While it was too little, too late, Idaho State scored twice down the stretch to make the game close, as it provided an example of how important it is to finish games, especially on the road.
But at the end of the day, the Grizzlies finished out with the win to improve to 5-0 on the year and 2-0 to start league play, and they'll now shift their focus to improving on Saturday's performance going forward as they head into the bye week before their next game, a home contest against Idaho on Oct. 15.
"Just keep working, definitely don't get complacent because that game was not our best and that's not as good as we are," said Knight, who finished with 109 yards on the ground. "We're highly ranked so we have to act like it. We have to play like it and we're going to prepare hard, we always do, so it's just get back on our grind and execute better next week."