Griz Defense Shines in Annual Spring Game - KFBB.com News, Sports and Weather

Griz Defense Shines in Annual Spring Game

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MISSOULA, MONTANA – The University of Montana's annual spring game and football scrimmage was highlighted by the dominant play of the defense on an unseasonably cold (the wind chill factor was in the low teens) and windy evening on Saturday in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

The game's scoring was formatted to give both the offense and defense opportunities to score points in several different ways, and the send result was a 24-6 "victory" by the "D."

"I think it was really, really cold and the wind was blowing like heck," was the opening comment by a laughing UM head coach Mick Delaney when asked about his thoughts on the scrimmage. "I think we accomplished some things, which is always a little difficult when you run into weather like this in the spring.

"The continuity on offense was not great, with guys in and out and guys hurt (running backs and offensive linemen), etc., etc. – but nothing serious," Delaney said. "Hopefully the (injured) guys will be back next week. What I liked was the enthusiasm. I think that the defense tackled very well, and that was one of our goals for this spring."

The defense registered seven tackles for loss, had five pass break-ups, two forced fumbles, and two sacks, and also made two tackles in the end zone for safeties. However, both of the safeties occurred when the offense started from their own 1-yard line.

The leading tacklers were redshirt freshman nose tackle Nate Bradley, junior safety Trent McKinney, junior linebacker Kendrick Van Ackern, and senior end Zack Wagenmann, all with four stops each. Wagenmann also had one of the tackles in the end zone for a safety, and sophomore nose tackle Zach Peevey had the other one.

"I tell you what, when you put Tyrone (junior defensive end Holmes) and ‘Wags' (Wagenmann) on the edges, there's not a lot of people in our conference who are going to block them," said Delaney when asked to about the prolific pass rushing effort by the defense tonight. "They are two tremendous defensive ends who play with so much energy, and so much quickness. They're really good football players.

"We found some guys on offense who haven't played a lot who made some plays today," Delaney continued. "Overall, I liked their energy, and I like their enthusiasm, and that's what's important right now. They're still having fun playing football."

The offense also had its moments too, led by speedy sophomore running back John Nguyen who was a workhorse, rushing 16 times for 107 yards and scoring one touchdown. Junior fullback Gavin Hagfors had some turns at the injury-plagued tailback position, and he had nine carries for 29 yards. The Griz "D" limited talented senior halfback Jordan Canada to six yards on seven totes.

The Griz were without three of their top running backs, as Travon Van (a senior), Joey Counts (a junior), and Treshawn Favors (a redshirt freshman) were held out of the action due to injuries.

The offense got in the end zone three times. The first touchdown was a 9-yard pass from senior quarterback Jordan Johnson to sophomore tight end Jordan Harper. Johnson and Harper hooked up for four touchdown passes last season.

The second scoring play was the "Billings Connection," as quarterback Brady Gustafson (Billings West High School) threw a 21-yard TD pass to fellow sophomore Ryan Burke (Billings' Central Catholic HS).

Both Harper's and Burke's scoring plays came when the offense started on the 25-yard line of the defense.

Nguyen scored the final touchdown of the day, breaking free for a 39-yard scoring run.

Quarterbacks Gustafson, Johnson, redshirt freshman Makena Simis, and senior Shay Smithwick-Hann went a combined 10-of-21-1 passing for just 81 yards, but were hampered by a wind that was gusting around 25 to 30 miles an hour.

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