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Montana quarterback Dalton Sneed cheers for the defense in the second half. Sneed threw five touchdown passes to tie his career high.

DAVIS, Calif. — In a battle between two of the top quarterbacks in the Big Sky Conference, Montana's Dalton Sneed was more effective than Jake Maier of UC Davis.

Sneed completed 22 of 33 passes for 268 yards with five touchdowns, helping to lead the 18th-ranked Grizzlies to a 45-20 upset win over the No. 4 Aggies.

The 6-foot-1, 216-pound Sneed tied his career high for touchdown passes and now has 35 at Montana, moving into 10th place on the school’s all-time list and surpassing Brent Pease, the Grizzlies' assistant head coach and wide receivers coach.

“I think they had a good plan for us,” Sneed said of UC Davis’ defense. “They were doing a lot of different things. But we really started to take advantage of it when they started playing man and trying to blitz us.”

Sneed didn’t have the strongest start, completing 2 of 7 passes. He fired only five incompletions the rest of the way, matching that with five touchdown passes

Sneed’s 16-yard touchdown to diving wide receiver Samori Toure started the scoring. His 8-yard strike to tight end Bryson Deming made it 14-0 just 70 seconds into the second quarter.

On the first drive of the second half, Sneed connected with Sammy Akem for a 62-yard catch-and-run score deep down the right sideline to put Montana up 24-7. He added a pair of touchdown passes to Jerry Louie-McGee, the first for 14 yards and the second for 23 yards. The latter put the Griz up 38-7 six minutes into the third quarter.

“Offensive line was doing a great job of holding up and receivers were just winning,” Sneed said. “That’s all they had to do was go win, and they did that today.”

Sneed added an impact in the running game, picking up 81 yards on 10 carries. Montana finished with 260 rushing yards, averaging 6 yards per carry.

The Griz converted 7 of 13 third downs (53.8%), picked up 28 first downs to UC Davis’ 21 and didn’t allow a sack.

Sneed’s high-caliber performance wasn’t much of a shocker to Montana coach Bobby Hauck. It reinforced what he knew.

“I think we have the best quarterback in the Big Sky Conference,” Hauck said.

Devouring defense

Montana’s defense rose to the occasion against a UC Davis offense helmed by Maier, a preseason first-team All-American, Big Sky offensive MVP and Walter Payton award candidate.

After giving up 49 points to Davis last season, the Griz held them to just three touchdowns. They allowed 351 total yards of offense, with 291 in the air and 60 on the ground. Davis averaged 4.4 yards per play and just 1.9 yards per rush.

“I think they have a great team. I really do,” Hauck said. “As I said, I wasn’t lying when I said they deserved every bit of their ranking. They went to Fargo, North Dakota, and I never say should have won, they had eight different ways they could have won that game over the perennial No. 1-ranked team in the country.

“I think it’s not about them. It’s about our performance, and I’m proud of my guys.”

Maier finished 32 of 43 passing for 275 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. His 3-yard touchdown pass to Carson Crawford cut Montana’s lead to 14-7 in the second quarter. He connected with Khris Vaughn for scores of 5 and 17 yards, the latter trimming Montana’s advantage to 38-20 with 12:17 last.

Montana posted five tackles for loss, three sacks, three quarterback hurries and six pass breakups.

“We had a good mix on them,” Hauck said of Montana's defense. “They’ve got a quarterback who’s a fine player now. He’s a good player. You have to give him some different looks. If you just line up and blitz him every down, it’s not going to be good. But we did not pressure as much as a lot of games.”

Montana forced three turnovers and converted them into 14 points. Linebacker Dante Olson had an interception and Ryder Rice and Josh Sandry each recovered a fumble.

"We want to start fast and once we get in that situation, we want to put our foot down and hold them there," Rice said. "We were fortunate enough to have those two big takeaways. That was big for our offense to go and score right after we got those."

UC Davis' three touchdown drives went 14, 14 and 11 plays. They covered 56, 80 and 92 yards. The first scoring drive was extended when Montana was called for a roughing penalty on the punter.

"It was a pretty good team win," Hauck said. "We controlled the field position, the special teams very well. We didn’t take chances. We kicked it and covered it, controlled the field position with the exception of the roughing the punter foul and the fumble. We played a very sound game A to Z."

UC Davis did convert 10 of 19 third downs (52.6%) and both fourth downs. The Aggies came into the game picking up just 33.8% of its third down, 85th in the FCS.

Hauck said the focus this week wasn't necessarily about holding UC Davis to a specific passing or rushing yardage total. Last week, the Griz had wanted to hold Monmouth to 50 rushing yards.

“It was more about temperament and effort level," he said.

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Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at frank.gogola@missoulian.com.

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