MISSOULA — Montana heads into its 14th game of the season without having a single game finish within fewer than a 14-point margin one way or the other.
The Grizzlies’ 10 wins have come by 14, 44, 20, 25, 39, 17, 15, 25, 19 and 45 points. Their three losses were by 32, 27 and 34 points, all of which came on the road.
Montana has been in a single-score game in the fourth quarter just three times. The Griz led Eastern Washington by three, Portland State by five and Monmouth by six early in the fourth quarter before scoring to push their lead to double digits the remainder of the way. They haven’t had a game within single digits in the final 9:42.
Despite the lack of nail-biter games, Montana coach Bobby Hauck isn’t concerned with his team’s ability to pull through should the game against Weber State come down to the wire in the quarterfinals at 8 p.m. MT Friday in Ogden, Utah.
“We practice it all the time,” Hauck said. “We do two-minute drills all the time. We practice it nonstop, several times a week. Our guys know how to do it. They’re well versed in what they need to do. We’ve always been good at it. Our clock management’s been great. It’s been exemplary as a team all year. It’s no big deal.
“We don’t practice blowing people out, but we seem to be OK at that.”
If there’s a close simulation of the end of a game, it’s the final two minutes of the first half. Montana has been outscored 52-48 in the final 120 seconds of the opening half but has an edge of 28-7 in the past four games.
In the final minute of the half, the Griz have scored two touchdowns and made two field goals. They’ve allowed five touchdowns passes in that same 60-second stretch.
One other potential indicator of late-game success is looking at the fourth quarter. The Griz have outscored their opponents 116-54 in the final frame, meaning they’re not too prone to falling off late in games. Weber State has posted a much-closer edge of 93-74.
Montana senior defensive tackle Jesse Sims echoed Hauck in not being too worried about the defense coming through with a late stop or the offense posting a late score if needed.
“We work on fourth-quarter drills every day in practice,” he said. “They’re all close scenarios. If it’s something we end up in, it’s definitely not going to be something new to us.”
Weber seeks redemption
Unlike Montana’s blowout wins and losses, Weber State has trailed by more than seven points only twice this season.
The Wildcats hadn’t trailed by seven-plus points until their 10th game of the year they went down 14-3 against Montana in the final minute of the first quarter. They fell down 35-3 because of special teams miscues, short fields for Montana and quick-strike offense by the Griz.
“We get a rematch with someone we just played a couple weeks ago, and it’s exciting because quite frankly we didn’t play very good that game,” Weber State coach Jay Hill said. “It’s rare in life that you get re-dos, and we get one.”
After losing to Montana, Weber State rebounded with a 38-10 win over Idaho State. Last week, the Wildcats got down 17-9 against Kennesaw State’s triple-option attack late in the second quarter and rallied with 17 consecutive points on their way to a 26-20 home win.
“To get a little shock last week, I thought, was good,” Hill said. “To play such a physical, hard-nosed option team was, I thought, a great challenge for us in the second round.”
As the scene shifts from Missoula to Ogden, Hauck knows not to expect the Griz to catch so many breaks again.
“I think there’s no two games ever evolve or play out alike, so you just kind of roll with what transpires,” Hauck said. “I don’t even think it’s productive to go into a game and plan for anything like that.
“I think it comes down to if you’re going to have success this time of year, you have to go execute, you have to play well. Everybody’s good. So, we need improvement. That’s our goal every week, but it’s important this time of year to go and play well because if you don’t play well, you’re not going to win.”
Montana senior linebacker Dante Olson is 11 tackles away from breaking Montana’s career tackles record.
The Medford, Oregon, native has 383 tackles, while former strong safety Vince Huntsberger holds the record of 393 from 1998-2001. Huntsberger unofficially had 469 tackles, but playoff stats weren’t counted by the NCAA until 2002.
Comparing them as starters, Huntsberger unofficially averaged 8.53 tackles in 55 starts. While Olson has played in 47 games, he’s started just 24 and collected 316 tackles in those games, an average on 13.17 per start. Count all of Olson games, and his average is still 8.15 tackles despite his first 23 games coming primarily on special teams.
Olson holds the top two single-season tackle records. He had 151 in 2018 to break Kendrick Van Ackeren’s record of 130 set in 2015. He has 165 this year with at least one more game to go.
On offense, wide receiver Samori Toure has hauled in 1,410 receiving yards this year, the third most in a single season in school history. He needs 60 yards to pass Joe Douglass (1,469 in 1996) for second and 70 yards to pass Marc Mariani (1,479 in 2009) for first.