Courtesy: Montana Sports Information
Montana's defense set a school record for rushing yards allowed and seven different Montana players, including two from the defensive side, found the end zone as Montana coasted to a 67-7 nonconference win over Mississippi Valley State at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
MSVU entered the game with just 73 rushing yards on the season. They left Washington-Grizzly Stadium with just 12, as the Montana defense moved them backward 61 yards on rushing plays, a new record for the Grizzlies.
Montana also tied the Big Sky Conference record for fewest rushing first downs allowed with zero. Ten different teams have shut their opponents out of the first down rushing column in league history. The last team to do it was Weber State vs. Idaho State in 2012.
The Delta Devils held a lead early in the game and forced a fumble on Montana's first possession, but the Grizzlies scored on their next eight drives and finished the game with 67 unanswered points.
"It was a total team effort today," said Montana head coach Bob Sitt. "We came with the same intensity that we've played with up until this point. You worry about the intensity in games like this where you're heavily favored, and we were a little rough in that first drive of offense and defense, and after that, we shook it off and played very good football."
Brady Gustafson completed 17-straight passes at one point and left the game, along with the rest of the starters, in the third quarter with 251 yards and four touchdown passes off of 21-of-26 completions to earn player of the game honors. Keenan Curran hauled in a pair of them and Jeremy Calhoun added two on the ground.
The Grizzlies outgained MSVU 433 to 146 in total yards and forced five turnovers, settling in after allowing 111 first quarter yards to the Delta Devils.
FB: vs. Miss. Valley State (10.8.16)
On the opening drive of the game, MSVU picked up a first down on an incredible one-handed, over-the-shoulder catch from Joshua Banks. Quarterback Austin Bray then found Tre Simms on back-to-back plays, moving MVSU inside the red zone.
Montana linebacker James Banks appeared to have an interception in the end zone on the next play, but a pass interference gave MVSU a first down from the two-yard line. Two plays later, Bray kept it himself, cutting inside for a three-yard touchdown to give the Delta Devils the early 7-0 lead.
Brady Gustafson then fumbled on UM's opening drive to give the ball back to MVSU on the 19-yard line.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Connor Strahm started up the scoring for Montana, intercepting a tipped pass by ripping it from the receivers hand and returning it for a 78-yard touchdown to make it 7-7 within the first five minutes.
A poor punt gave Montana the ball at the 50-yard line to start the next drive, and the Griz drove down the field with ease, going to Jeremy Calhoun twice on the ground and twice through the air for 33 yards. Colin Bingham finished the drive off, rising above his defender for an eight-yard touchdown grab to make it 14-7.
MVSU moved to the Montana 30 on the next drive The Griz defense shut down the drive there, recording back-to-back sacks for a combined loss of 19 yards to force a Delta Devil punt.
The Griz marched again on the next drive, and a big pass over the middle from Gustafson to Justin Calhoun set them up on the one at the end of the first quarter. Justin's brother Jeremy punched it in on the first play of the second quarter for his sixth score of the year.
Booker Chambers returned the next kickoff into Montana territory, and on their first set of downs, they converted a fourth-and-short. The Griz forced a punt, and the MVSU punters knee went down while fielding the snap, giving Montana possession at the MVSU 44.
On Montana's first play of it's next drive, Keenan Curran made an acrobatic leaping grab and somehow stayed on his feet, stumbling in for the touchdown to put Montana ahead 28-7.
On the next drive Caleb Lyons had a big play, hauling in a 25-yard pass to set the Griz up at the MVSU five. After a couple of short games, Gustafson threw it backward to the 20 after taking a big hit while in motion. Montana extended the lead to 31-7 when Tim Semenza ricocheted the 37-yard field goal attempt off the right post and in.
The Griz defense got the ball right back for the offense and the drive was capped when James Homan reached way back for a diving catch and the TD, but Semenza missed the extra point.
Montana wasn't done yet. Caleb Kidder then recovered a bad snap, Jeremy Calhoun busted off a big run and Curran scored his second TD of the day to finish the drive from four yards out to give Montana the 43-7 halftime lead.
Jeremy Calhoun ran free up the middle on the first drive of the second half for a 21-yard touchdown run, his second of the day, to make it 50-7.
The starters left the game midway through the third quarter, and Chad Chalich scored on a scramble with just under three minutes left in the third to give the Griz a 50-point lead.
"It's great for us to be able to continue to build depth with those younger guys getting some confidence and it's just awesome to see them having some fun with everybody getting on the field," said Stitt after the win.
Brandon Purdy hit a 38-yard field goal to extend the lead, but the Griz would fail to score in the red zone for the first time all season later on in the fourth quarter.
The defense made up for it, recording a couple sacks to back MVSU up to its own one-yard line, and then a dropped snap on the next play resulted in the second defensive touchdown of the game when Donald Bedell recovered the fumble. The score gave Montana a 60-point lead, which they would hold onto until the final buzzer.
"It's fun for our defensive players to score, and that's what they're shooting for," added Stitt. "We'll take it anyway we can get it, because, whoever is doing the scoring, it doesn't matter because the Griz are scoring. It's not an "O" or a "D" thing, everybody's doing whatever they can to help the team succeed."
Jeremy Calhoun ran for 61 yards and two scores and added another 31 yards receiving to lead Montana in all-purpose yardage. The Griz used 11 different receivers for a total of 300 yards through the air, led by Homan's 69 yards and a touchdown. Curran was next in line with 46 yards and his pair of scores.
Josh Buss led the Grizzly defense with nine tackles, three of them for a loss. He had one quarterback sack and another hurry, as the Griz "D" finished with five sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
"What we talked about was, we didn't want to walk off the field shaking our heads and saying wow that was sloppy. We want to be proud of our performance when we walk off. I think that every one of our guys that got on the field feels pretty darn good about the way they played," said Stitt.
"That's the focus we have. We're going to play ball the exact same way every single week. It doesn't matter if we're on the road, against the defending Big Sky Champion, or against a nonconference opponent. You play football the exact same way, and good things happen to you."
Montana returns to the field next week for the last game of its three-game homestand against Sacramento State. Kickoff for the Oct. 15 Big Sky Conference matchup is set for 2:30 p.m. The Griz/Hornets contest will be shown statewide on Cowles Montana Media and watchbigsky.com.