MISSOULA — With a 29-10 win Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, Montana claimed victory against Montana State for the first time since 2015.
The Bobcats were behind after just the second play of the contest.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
Bobcats’ first-half defense keeps game close
Though Montana scored 16 points in the first half, it could have been much more if not for some timely MSU defense on the fringes of the red zone.
The first half was not perfect defensively for the Bobcats, but the unit helped keep the game within two possessions at the break.
On Montana’s fourth drive, with the Grizzlies already holding a 10-3 lead, MSU caught a break when quarterback Cam Humphrey scrambled right and slid to avoid a hit at the Bobcats’ 29-yard line. Instead of continuing his run for a first down, he was marked down where he started his slide — thre yards short.
Humphrey’s third-down pass was incomplete. After a timeout, he was sacked by an unblocked Troy Andersen blitzing up the middle.
After forcing a Bobcats punt on the next series, UM drove from its own 8 back to MSU’s 31. From there, Humphrey’s pass to the left found Jeffrey Manning Jr., who recorded the interception to halt the drive at the 7-yard line.
Following two more MSU punts, UM cashed in on two more field goal attempts. The Grizzlies’ drives were stopped at the Bobcats’ 15 and 23, but they got six more points in the final final minutes of the half to create some separation at halftime.
“Field goals are not ideal either, but if you have to give up something, I guess that’s better than a touchdown,” Andersen said.
Grizzlies strong on special teams
Montana State’s offensive struggles made for a long day for Bryce Leighton.
The freshman punted a career-high nine times for 393 yards against the Griz, a performance that surpassed his eight punts against Weber State on Oct. 15.
Montana capitalized appropriately on its opportunities in the return game.
Junior Bergen, a freshman from Billings, reeled off punt returns of 22 yards in the first quarter to MSU’s 49, 21 yards in the second quarter to MSU’s 30 and 31 yards in the third quarter to MSU’s 35.
The Griz added points after the latter two returns on field goals of 40 and 50 yards by Kevin Macias.
Macias also hit from 42, 33 and 37 yards out in the game.
MSU head coach Brent Vigen credited Bergen for his elusiveness but added the Bobcats didn’t tackle as well as they should have.
“I think at times we probably didn’t get the ball up in the air as much either,” Vigen said. “Bryce had to punt a lot today. And I think it was some good and some not so good. Anytime you get a ball without much hang time, you’re giving the returner an opportunity, and I think that happened all too often.”
MSU’s fake field goal attempt in the third quarter also went haywire and turned into Griz points.
In what Vigen called an attempt to regain momentum while trailing 19-3, UM’s Justin Ford scooped up the ball and returned it to the end zone.
“They made the play and turned that around,” Vigen said. “And that was really, probably the end of it right there.”
Few penalties prove pivotal
Penalties were few for Montana State, but three in particular loomed large.
On the Bobcats’ second drive, trailing 7-0, they seemed poised to answer UM’s opening touchdown. On second and 2 from UM’s 5, consecutive false starts pushed the Bobcats back to third and 12.
Quarterback Matthew McKay was sacked, then MSU settled for a 35-yard field goal from Blake Glessner.
“We only got a field goal out of that,” Vigen said. “There were certainly opportunities for us to take it back, and we just never did.”
Rush Reimer, a freshman who started at right tackle in place of the injured TJ Session, was also whistled for a false start in the fourth quarter.
“The false starts, we worked real hard on the noise and dealing with it,” Vigen said. “We had a couple back to back on that sequence down in the red zone, and you just can’t have that.”
In the third quarter, Bobcats cornerback Simeon Woodard intercepted a Humphrey pass, giving MSU the ball at UM’s 48.
The play was negated, however, by safety Tre Webb lining up offsides.
Montana ended up punting five plays later anyway, but instead of taking possession near midfield, the Bobcats started at their own 7.
MSU was penalized just five times for 30 yards. But Vigen said that many “was too many to probably overcome.”
“This is a game where I think we knew full well we couldn’t make a lot of mistakes,” he added. “And we made enough of them.”