MISSOULA — Early in the third quarter of Montana’s 42-17 win over Idaho on Saturday, redshirt sophomore linebacker Pat O’Connell dived on a loose ball after a sack of Vandal quarterback Mason Petrino by teammate Milton Mamula.
The Vandals were trailing by just four points at the time and Petrino had danced around in the backfield for much of the first half, eluding a host of Grizzlies. But the pressure, which had been dialed up to 10 starting in the second quarter, finally got to the senior signal caller.
“He’s a great player. He scrambles out there like a mad man,” O’Connell said. “We were chasing him down a lot. We missed a few tackles, but we brought it in together and talked about it and said we’re going to get after it, and we just kept going after him and we were able to get him down.”
Eight plays later Montana scored its third touchdown of the game and Idaho was never able to get any closer.
The Griz forced four total turnovers in the second half, three of which turned into touchdowns for Montana.
Redshirt freshman safety Nash Fouch and junior defensive end Joe Babros each had an interception, while O’Connell and senior linebacker Dante Olson were credited with a fumble recovery apiece. Senior Jesse Sims and Mamula, a redshirt freshman, forced the two fumbles.
Petrino was 12 of 22 for 155 yards in the first half, but just 9 of 19 for 87 yards over the final two quarters.
“There were just different times they actually brought pressure and there were other times where they brought it with a four-man rush,” Idaho head coach Paul Petrino said. “They changed up the coverages here and there a little bit … early on it seemed like we were winning those one-on-one battles, the pass protection battles and as the game went on they started winning them.”
The Grizzlies also racked up six tackles for loss (including five sacks) in the game as well as two quarterback hurries. Idaho lost 41 yards on the tackles for loss.
Olson led the team with 13 tackles and is now fifth all-time at Montana in total stops.
“When a quarterback’s scrambling back there that long, we’re putting the pressure on him, then there’s not a lot of places he can go with it,” O’Connell said. “That constant pressure around him is a huge thing for our defense.”
Rushing touchdowns galore
Following an early first-half fumble, Marcus Knight was trying to find a little bit of redemption.
Knight looked as if he might score off an off-tackle run on the 15th play of Montana’s second offensive drive, but Vandal junior safety Tyrese Dedmon punched the ball out and Christian Nash dived on it.
It stalled an impressive drive, which had included two fourth-down conversions.
True freshman Nick Ostmo got much of the work over the next two quarters and punched in touchdowns from 7 and 1 yard out.
Knight started to receive a few more carries late in the third quarter and made the most of the opportunity. He ended the day with three rushing touchdowns — all from 2 yards or less out — as Montana finished with five total scores on the ground.
Knight now has 17 total touchdowns on the season, which is tied for the fourth-most in a single season in school history.
“He’s a resilient kid,” Montana head coach Bobby Hauck said. “He’ll fight for his team, and that’s what he did the second half.”
The Grizzlies ended the day with just 101 yards on the ground on 36 carries, its third lowest rushing total of the season, but were able to punch it in when they needed. Montana converted five of its six red zone chances for touchdowns.
Plus territory chances
Following the first quarter, Montana had excellent field position through the remainder of the game.
The Grizzlies' average start position was at their own 37 and they were able to flip field position several times. They started three of their seven second-half drives in Idaho territory after getting turnovers
Having just two three-and-outs certainly helped, as did a solid performance from punter Adam Wilson. The senior punted three times for 119 yards with a long of 45 and had touchbacks on five of his seven kickoffs.
Jerry Louie-McGee was able to return only one punt, but he found a gap and raced for 39 yards before being dragged down. Keynan Foster also handled the only returnable kickoff, taking it for 34 yards.
“I think anytime someone wins the field position battle, they win the game,” Petrino said. “They started having real good field position a lot of the time and we didn’t, so that was big.”