MISSOULA — The sting from this one is going to linger for a while.
For the first time in 13 tries, the Sacramento State football team came to Washington-Grizzly Stadium and beat perennial power Montana Saturday, 28-21. This was no freak accident, with the Hornets beating the fifth-ranked Grizzlies in the trenches, building a 154-84 edge in rushing yards.
We heard all week about Sac State's offense — the two-headed monster, dragon, snake, whatever. Montana's offense was like my 1974 Kmart bicycle with three gears — dink, stall and Kris Brown runs the ball.
But this loss wasn't just about Brown. The gritty redshirt freshman quarterback, making just his second start, was faced with a strong, quick Sacramento State defense that refused to allow the Grizzlies to beat it with the run or big play. Brown was left to try to win the Tom Brady way, with consistent success on short, precise passes.
It's a tough chore for any quarterback on the college level.
Saturday's setback was just as much about Montana's super-gifted defense as it was the sputtering offense. The Grizzlies have a lot to love on that side and they collectively hit like a truck. But son of a gun, you have to be smart as well.
There was that sure interception in the first quarter that never happened because the defensive back was more interested in drilling the receiver. And that stat-padding interception on fourth down in the second quarter that did nothing to help the Griz and in fact hurt their field position considerably. Then, above all, there was the shaky tackling on big plays in the second half.
Ah well, nobody is perfect. Montana is a good team, just not as good as everyone thought when it posted a stunning win at then-nationally-ranked Washington back in early September in Seattle. By the way, that Husky team is now 2-4, just so you know.
One thought ran through my mind as the Grizzlies left the field late Saturday afternoon with their second Big Sky Conference loss in three tries: This season sort of reminds me of Bob Stitt's first campaign as head coach. It was six years ago and Stitt's team followed up a shocking home win over perennial champion North Dakota State with losses in three of its next five.
The optimist in me says the determined, resilient Grizzlies are not going to lose again for a while. Montana redshirt senior quarterback Cam Humphrey — the guy that led the team to a 3-0 start and was guiding the offense to a potential go-ahead TD late at Eastern Washington when he hobbled off two weeks ago — was spotted warming up before Saturday's game. Maybe he will be back for next week at Idaho or perhaps the next week at home against Southern Utah.
Montana actually has a lot of injuries right now on both sides of the ball. It's the luck of the draw I guess, part of the game.
The important thing to remember is the determined Grizzlies are still very much in the playoff race and the biggest game is still five weeks away — at home against Montana State. Win that one, make the playoffs and who really cares what happened this weekend?