Courtesy: Montana Sports Information
Montana's offense was completely in sync on Saturday afternoon, as the Grizzlies never trailed and came away with a 45-33 road victory over Portland State. The win evened Montana's Big Sky mark at 1-1 and improved the Griz to 3-2 overall on the season.
The offense was the story for much of the day, scoring on its first four possessions and seven times overall. But senior safety Justin Strong made the biggest plays.
On the first play of the game, Strong set the tone by picking off Portland State quarterback Josh Kraght. He had a second interception in the third quarter, but his biggest contribution came with just over 3 minutes remaining in the game.
Leading by 10 but with Portland State driving in Montana territory, Connor Strahm pressured Kraght on 3rd-and-2, forcing him into an incompletion. After an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was called, Portland State faced 4th-and-18. Strong put an exclamation mark on his performance, picking of Kraght for the third time, this time taking it 64 yards for a pick six.
"It was a good win," head coach Bob Stitt said. "A hard win on the road, especially in the Big Sky. It was not a perfect game, it wasn't always pretty, but we played hard and made enough plays to stay ahead of them."
After Portland State briefly cut Montana's lead to 27-20 early in the third quarter, the Grizzlies extended it back to two possessions when Keenan Curran made a SportsCenter top-10-worthy catch for a 60-yard score. Montana quarterback Gresch Jensen floated a ball to Curran, a little underthrown, but Curran was able to jump up and grab the ball behind the defender's back, secure it, and take it to the house.
"There were times when adversity hit and our guys didn't blink," Stitt said.
The Grizzlies took a 17-point lead on a Brandon Purdy 22-yard field goal – his third of the day to remain perfect on the season (6-for-6). He also had makes of 33 and 34 yards on Saturday.
Montana's defense let up 544 yards to Portland State, but also created several big plays. In addition to Strong's trio of interceptions, Strahm scored two points for the defense after Portland State scored in the final minute of the game and attempted a two-point conversion. It would be unsuccessful, with Strahm intercepting Kraght and running it 100 yards for the score. Additionally, the defense forced five punts and two turnovers on downs, the second coming on a fake field goal in the third quarter. Strong actually made a fourth interception, also no a two-point attempt, but point-after statistics don't count in individual statistics.
"They're huge," Stitt said about Strong's forced turnovers. "Four picks with one hand. We're really looking forward to him getting that club off."
Making his second career start, Jensen completed 23-of-38 passes for 284 yards and a touchdown. He also had two interceptions. In addition to his 60-yard touchdown pass to Curran, he had a 37-yard completion to Samori Toure, which three plays later was turned into a touchdown. Toure finished with a team-most five receptions, for 68 yards, while Curran had 92 receiving yards.
"Gresch is always thinking," Stitt said. "Every time he makes a big play he's getting better and every time he makes a mistake he's getting better. He's fun to watch as a coach."
Running back Jeremy Calhoun scored two times in the first half, and had several strong runs. He finished the game with 22 carries for 124 yards (5.6 average), including a play in which he broke free from multiple Vikings defenders to rush 24 yards just short of the goal line. He scored on the next play. Calhoun rushed for eight first downs in the first half alone, including a stretch of three first downs on three consecutive plays.
Wide receiver Makena Simis also scored a touchdown, lining up under shotgun and keeping for the Grizzlies' second touchdown of the day.
Montana will again be on the road next week, traveling to Idaho State for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff in Pocatello.
"We felt like we're a really good team ready to break out," Stitt said. "Last week we played a really good team and just couldn't finish. We just need that mental side of winning the game on the road and gaining some swagger and confidence. I think we did that today."