No. 16 Grizzlies Beat No. 3 Vandals for Statement Victory

Montana upsets Idaho for Little Brown Stein series

By Frank Gogola for 406mtsports.com
The Griz celebrate with the Little Brown Stein during the Big Sky Conference football game between the Griz and Idaho at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. | Ben Allan Smith, Missoulian/406mtsports.com

With Montana needing one more defensive stand against Idaho, the Griz got the highlight play they needed from an Idaho native to help them seal their biggest statement win of the season.

Defensive end Kale Edwards, from nearby Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, forced Vandals quarterback Gevani McCoy to fumble the ball and linebacker Levi Janacaro recovered it. The Griz knelt the ball to run out the clock and then sprinted across the field following fist-pumping head coach Bobby Hauck as they celebrated their season-altering win Saturday

The celebration continued with the Little Brown Stein as the No. 16 Grizzlies scored a 23-21 victory over the No. 3 Idaho Vandals in front of the first sold-out Kibbie Dome crowd since 2010 while playing a nationally televised game on ESPN 2.

The Griz improved their record to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the Big Sky Conference heading into their bye week. They dropped the Vandals to 5-2, 3-1. It’s their first win over a team ranked in the top three since 2021 and their first such win on the road since 2016.

“I got offered here out of high school, so these are the ones that really matter to me, all the ones that I hold close to my chest,” Edwards said, adding: “Never seen the Kibbie Dome like this. I’ve gone to a lot of Idaho games, played here a couple times. It was a crazy environment, fun, just like our place.”

Montana built a 20-0 lead in the first half by scoring on its first four possessions and rolling up 286 yards of offense (144 passing, 142 rushing) by the time it took a 20-7 lead into the intermission. The Griz ended with 334 yards of offense and staved off Idaho’s 14-0 run to close the game.

Montana linebacker Riley Wilson (42) celebrates during the Big Sky Conference football game between the Griz and Idaho at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. | Ben Allan Smith, Missoulian/406mtsports.com

Quarterback Clifton McDowell finished 11-of-18 passing for 176 yards and one touchdown while rushing 13 times for 38 yards and one score. Wide receiver Junior Bergen hauled in a career-high 118 yards and one touchdown on five catches. Running back Eli Gillman carried the ball 12 times for 84 yards.

The Griz defense recorded three sacks in the first half after coming into the game with one sack through their first three Big Sky contests. They finished with six sacks, led by linebackers Riley Wilson and Tyler Flink each with 1 1/2.

Griz kicker Grant Glasgow went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts.

McCoy kept Idaho in the game with his arm and legs as he finished 26-of-37 passing for 336 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also lost a fumble that put the nail in the coffin. Hayden Hatten had 11 catches for 139 yards and two scores.

The Griz held Anthony Woods, the Big Sky rushing leader, to 41 yards on 12 carries. McCoy gained 62 yards on the ground but finished with a net of 8 when sack yardage was factored in.

“They couldn’t run it,” Hauck said. “They want to be balanced and they couldn’t be. Where they got all their rushing yards was (McCoy) scrambling. He was special. I thought he was outstanding tonight. He lifted that thing up like Atlas holding up the world.”

Montana started the scoring on the game’s opening drive when Glasgow drilled a 44-yard field goal to put the Griz up 3-0. They then became the first team this season to prevent Idaho from scoring on its opening possession by forcing a punt.

Despite being pinned at its 5-yard line, McDowell ran for 3 yards on a third-and-1 and two plays later he lofted a pass to Bergen, who shook a tackle attempt in man coverage and raced 76 yards down the left sideline for a TD. The Griz went up 10-0 with 3:36 left in the first quarter as they kicked the extra point after being called for illegal formation on their 2-point attempt.

“They’ve not been behind to start the game,” Hauck said of needing a fast start. “It was a point of emphasis for us this week. We talked about it a lot. We talked about how we were going to play the early game. The one thing that did surprise us was that they deferred on the opening kickoff. That was new. That surprised us. We just didn’t really count on that.”

Backed up to their 7-yard line after forcing another Idaho punt, Gillman ripped off a 53-yard run in which he broke four tackles. He used his legs to convert a third-and-1 later in the drive and McDowell then ran for an 8-yard touchdown on a third-and-3. That gave the Griz a 17-0 lead with 9:22 left in the first half.

After forcing another punt, Glasgow nailed a 46-yard field goal for a 20-0 lead with 2:12 left. That drive included McDowell hitting Fontes for 11 yards on a play in which he stiff armed a defender while rolling right and a play in which he connected with Bergen for 18 yards on third-and-11.

“Fast start was good. It ended up getting us the win,” McDowell said. “I wish we could have kicked it in a little bit more in the second half. But I was just proud of the defense, man, that was a very good team we played against. I think it was No. 3 in the country. It was just real good to get the win.”

Montana quarterback Clifton McDowell (17) throws a pass during the Big Sky Conference football game between the Griz and Idaho at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. | Ben Allan Smith, Missoulian/406mtsports.com

UM’s defense gave up its first score on Idaho’s fourth possession. The Vandals gained chunk yards through the air before Woods ran for an 11-yard TD that cut the Grizzlies’ lead to 20-7 in the final minute of the first half. Idaho gained 75 yards that drive after having 69 over its first three drives.

Idaho coach Jason Eck was up to his gambling ways to open the second half. After starting the third quarter with an onside kick last year, he had the Vandals go for it on a pair of fourth downs on their opening drive of the second half this year.

They converted the first one, but Griz safety Ryder Meyer picked off a tipped pass in the end zone when the Vandals went for it on fourth-and-6 from the Montana 12-yard line. That left Idaho with no points on the 13-play, 63-yard drive that consumed 7:56.

Eck’s gambling ways continued on the Vandals’ second drive of the third quarter. McCoy picked up a fourth-and-4 from their own 37-yard line with a 9-yard pass to Hatten. They then went for it on fourth-and-7 from Montana’s 41-yard line, and cornerback Jaxon Lee got his first career interception on a pass that Wilson tipped.

The Griz converted that turnover into a 44-yard field goal by Glasgow from the left hash to go up 23-7 with 11:43 remaining in the game.

Idaho responded with a 17-play, 75-yard drive over 5:55 to make it a one-score game when McCoy connected with Hatten for a 19-yard touchdown. The duo hooked up again for a 2-point conversion. That cut the Grizzlies’ lead to 23-15 with 5:48 remaining in the game.

The Griz then went three-and-out for the first time and punted the ball back to Idaho. The Vandals found the end zone again when McCoy escaped pressure from Garrett Hustedt as he rolled right and threw a 23-yard TD pass to Hatten. The 2-point attempt to tie the game failed as McCoy flipped the ball to Hatten, who threw an incomplete pass as he stumbled.

Montana wide receiver Aaron Fontes (14) dives for a pass against Idaho defensive back Marcus Harris (2) during the Big Sky Conference football game between the Griz and Idaho at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. | Ben Allan Smith, Missoulian/406mtsports.com

With the Griz lead cut to 23-21 and 1:45 left, Idaho recovered an onside kick but was penalized for being offside. The Vandals had to re-kick, and Montana recovered the ball at the 41-yard line. Idaho used its last two timeouts to preserve time and forced a turnover on downs with 0:52 left in the game.

“Didn’t want to punt it,” Hauck said of going for it on fourth down. “Punters aren’t perfect. If he sends it into the end zone, we gain 13 yards. We had a chance to end the game with a gain of 2 and we didn’t get it. We actually had a timeout, we called a timeout and tried to hard count them, called timeout, we changed our call a couple times in the huddle and decided we’d go with the quarterback run and they stuffed it, so good on them.”

McCoy then lost a fumble on the Vandals’ first play of the drive, forced by Edwards and recovered by Janacaro. That allowed the Griz to run out the clock.

“An Idaho kid to make the game-winning play, so surreal,” Janacaro said. “Kale works his butt off day in and day out. It’s really cool to see that success.”

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