MISSOULA — On a day where the Big Sky Conference produced one nationally ranked upset and nearly pulled off two others, Montana didn’t waver in the fourth quarter.
The 19th-ranked Griz were in a single-score game in the final frame for the first time this season when their lead was trimmed to 33-27 against Monmouth on Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
They rose to the occasion, scoring two touchdowns and intercepting two passes in a stretch of four drives to close the game on a 14-0 run and earn a 47-27 victory that gave them a 3-1 record to finish non-conference play.
“You always have to fight for it,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck said after the win that knocked Monmouth to 2-2. “It was a good win for our team over a Monmouth team that I think they feel like they’re a playoff-caliber football team, and they might be right.
“They’re awfully good. They’re well coached. They just do a really nice job. They play hard. Schematically, they’re very sound. They did some things to try to manage the game that were effective."
Leading the team that’s preached winning the fourth quarter, senior quarterback Dalton Sneed threw a pair of touchdown passes for both of the Grizzlies’ fourth-quarter scores. He finished 30 of 40 for 334 yards with four touchdowns and one interception, while receiver Samori Toure threw a touchdown pass on a trick play.
Montana sophomore running back Marcus Knight continued his explosive play from his previous game at home, running eight times for 82 yards on the two scoring drives. In total, he carried the ball 21 times for 148 yards with one touchdown, which put Montana up 33-14, while the offense combined for 221 rushing yards on 40 carries.
“I think it’s what good teams do,” Hauck said of closing out the game with the run. “We didn’t run the ball very effectively a week ago. Our guys kind of took that to heart. … Our goal was 200, and we got after it, and it was fun. Obviously, the backs are running hard. Marcus had a great day. … In my initial impressions, I’d be pleased with our run game.”
It was a pass-heavy day for Monmouth as quarterback Kenji Bahar completed 34 of 50 passes for 393 yards with two touchdowns. The ground game was contained to 81 yards on 33 carries.
The Griz front seven brought pressure, managing six tackles for loss and three sacks, but the Hawks made adjustments and had success until the two late picks doomed their comeback bid.
“We started throwing the ball a little bit quicker trying to stay out of pure dropback stuff,” Monmouth coach Kevin Callahan said. “I thought Kenji did a really good job of getting rid of the ball quickly. We were able to get the ball out on the perimeter a little bit into the hands of our receivers, who were able to make some plays after the catch.”
Montana was the beneficiary of short fields because Monmouth kicked the ball in between the 30- and 40-yard lines following sophomore Malik Flowers’ 100-yard kickoff return. Flowers’ score broke a 7-7 tie in the second quarter immediately after Monmouth scored on a 1-yard touchdown run by Devell Jones to cap an 11-play, 77-yard drive that included a fourth-and-4 conversion.
Despite the shorter fields, the Griz outgained Monmouth, 579-474. Their fourth-quarter scoring drives required them to go 62 and 92 yards, and they did that in 15 plays totaling 5 minutes, 3 seconds.
With its lead cut to 33-27 early in the fourth quarter, Montana put together an efficient touchdown drive of six plays, 62 yards in 1:43 to push the lead to 41-27 with 9:42 to play
Griz senior tight end Colin Bingham had a 30-yard gain to set up Montana at the 20-yard line on the drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Sneed to senior Jerry Louie-McGee on a slant route.
“‘We got to score a touchdown here. We got to extend the lead,’” Bingham said of the offense’s mindset coming into the drive with a 33-27 lead. “That’s been one of the things we’ve preached all offseason is finishing in the fourth quarter. We wanted to go down, have a physical drive, burn up some clock and score a touchdown there. Everyone in the huddle was really motivated to do that. It was awesome.”
Bingham finished with two touchdown catches, the first giving Montana a 21-7 lead in the second quarter and the second one coming as part of a 12-0 start to the second half that put the Griz up 33-14. Monmouth then rattled off 13 consecutive points, including a touchdown following a Sneed fumble, to pull within 33-27 with 11:32 to play.
“When you need it and you can go down the field and get points, whether it was coming out of the locker room in the third quarter or those two drives (to close the game), I thought it was great,” Hauck said.
After Montana went up 41-27, Monmouth responded with a drive into the red zone, but cornerback Dareon Nash came up with an interception near the goal line. It was redemption for him after he was flagged four plays earlier for pass interference and the receiver still caught the ball.
The Griz converted the turnover into a touchdown drive of nine plays, 92 yards, ending with a 4-yard pass from Sneed to sophomore tight end Bryson Deming, who caught a 23-yard score in the second quarter for a 7-0 lead and his first career touchdown.
Knight broke off a highlight-reel 31-yard run on the drive, breaking tackle attempts and keeping his balance to stay on his feet when he got rolled over a defender’s hip.
Making one last drive, Bahar was picked off by redshirt freshman Nash Fouch, who had his first career interception, and the Griz ran out the clock.
“We play hard and try to get the ball back in our offense’s hands,” said Montana senior linebacker Dante Olson, who finished with a game-high 13 tackles. “And if the ball’s in our offense’s hands, the other team can’t score, so that’s an overall goal playing defense.
“I thought that we gave some things up, but overall we got the win, and that’s what we’re here to do.”