MISSOULA — In just over a month, the Montana Grizzlies have gone from shocking loss at Northern Arizona to one of the best teams in the FCS.
That fact was solidified on Saturday night at Washington-Grizzly Stadium when No. 4 Montana defeated No. 7 Sacramento State 34-7 in a top-10 matchup. The turnaround of the Griz has been rapid, and successful, and on Saturday in Missoula, records fell, and Montana improved to 8-1 overall and 5-1 in Big Sky Conference play.
"I just really love our guys," UM head coach Bobby Hauck said. "I think we have such quality young men on our team and in our locker room. They're a joy to coach and they are a credit to Montana, and they went out and took that game and took it strongly, and I'm very proud of my football team and the guys in my locker room and I can't wait for next week. I think we're getting better every week."
Sac State came out hot the first two drives against Montana, as the Hornets took a 7-0 lead.
But as they've done all year, UM settled in, took control, responded with a score, and rolled from there.
"You obviously want to start fast in every game you play in, but sometimes things don't go your way," senior linebacker Tyler Flink said. "But we're always going to fight back and do what we can to fight back, and that's exactly what we did. Things didn't go our way early but we just kept fighting and ended up on top."
Once Montana found its groove, the Griz raced to a 21-7 halftime lead, and after trailing 7-0 to start, scored 34 unanswered points, put up a season-high 547 yards on offense, and held high-powered Sac State to 268 yards of total offense, well below their season average coming into the game of 433.8.
"I think it starts with the fact that they're trained in a matter that develops physical and mental toughness and it shows up in situations like that," Hauck said. "Sort of like when we were at Washington a couple of years ago and beat them. They went right down the field in less than two minutes and scored and then we shut them out for 58 minutes.
"That's the mettle of this team, that's how they're trained. It's not surprising to me."
After a scoreless third quarter, the Griz hit the home run ball with a 97-yard touchdown between Clifton McDowell and Keelan White that effectively sealed the win, which also set a record for longest play and touchdown from scrimmage in school history, breaking the previous record of 93 yards set by Brian Ah Yat and Jimmy Farris in 1997 against Portland State.
Records are meant to be broken, and that's what @_Cliff10 and @K_Whitey_12 did tonight as they connected on the longest touchdown from scrimmage in UM history with a 97-yard TD to seal the win. Of course, we went and found the previous record, a 93-yard connection between Brian… pic.twitter.com/J0RyLtCO07
— Kyle Hansen (@khansen406) November 5, 2023
"We were saying in the huddle the whole time, let's go march, let's go 99 down the field, let's do it," White said. "And we had seen that look earlier in the game when Clif said next time we get that look, he's going to pump that out route to Junior (Bergen) because that boundary corner was biting on it so he pumped it, and I was open over the top and Clif made a great throw."
For Hauck, it was win No. 124 at Montana, which also set a record for overall wins by a Big Sky coach in league history, and it was a moment he shared with friends and colleagues from the past, and also, those currently in the present.
"It was cool in terms of (UM assistant coach) Justin Green was here for the first (win), and he was here for this one," Hauck said. " (Sac State head coach and former UM player) Andy Thompson was here for the first one, and so was (Sac State defensive line coach and former UM player and coach) Kraig Paulson, they were here tonight and there's a couple of guys on their coaching staff. I coached (Sac State running backs coach) Donnel Pumphrey at San Diego State, and then obviously my guys, it was fun to be able to share that with them.
"Very grateful for the opportunity to hit that milestone coaching-wise and grateful for the guys that got me into coaching and gave me chances, and also grateful for my football team which is a damn fine football team."
"I grew up watching every Griz game, coming to every home game, I watched him I was just a little guy when I was watching him his first time around here," Flink, a Missoula native, added. "But I spent the last six years of my life here, can't thank him enough for everything he does. He's an awesome coach, great leader and puts us in a great position and congrats to him."