The Griz covered all 83 yards in hardly a minute on a seven-play drive that changed the feel of Saturday’s homecoming clash with the Thunderbirds. What was a one-point lead suddenly became eight and the Griz never looked back on their way to a 43-20 triumph.
Stitt went conservative with his play calling, starting with a handoff to Nguyen that went for 8 yards. When his next carry earned a first down with 1:09 until half, Stitt still wasn’t sure. So he handed it off again.
“Any time right before half, you want to be a little bit careful because you don’t want to be too aggressive and hurt your defense, make a mistake,” the coach explained.
Nguyen’s third carry altered Stitt’s thinking. Nguyen rumbled for 21 yards while breaking tackles to reach midfield. A quick spike left 31 seconds on the clock.
It was all in the air from there. Quarterback Brady Gustafson completed a 12-yard pass to Colin Bingham, and after a false start the quarterback went deep to Justin Calhoun. Like an express lane, Calhoun carried the Griz the final 43 yards to the end zone in a flash.
UM led 22-14 at the break.
Montana turned the second-half kickoff into another long touchdown drive and doubled down with a TD on its next possession to quickly bury Southern Utah.
“At the time you don’t think it’s that deflating, but obviously it didn’t fit us too well in the third quarter,” SUU head coach Demario Warren said of his team’s end-of-half letdown. “That’s my job, to get the team ready to come back out in the third quarter. I failed at that.”
Montana had to play almost all of Saturday’s second half without its leading tackler and will be without Justin Strong for the first half next Saturday after the safety was flagged and ejected for a targeting penalty.
Targeting comes with an automatic ejection but if it occurs in the second half of a game, like in Strong’s case Saturday, the penalized player must also miss the first half of the team’s next contest.
On Southern Utah’s first drive after the break, quarterback Patrick Tyler kept the ball and rushed upfield for 11 yards. The QB gave himself up with a late slide, but Strong was already in the process of making his tackle. The defender collided with the runner’s chest and facemask, popping Tyler’s helmet clean off.
Officials flagged Strong 15 yards for a personal foul and, after a review, upheld the targeting ruling.
“It was very close,” Stitt said when asked about the play. “… Justin’s not trying to hurt anybody. He’s just a hitter.”
The NCAA implemented ejections for targeting a player above the shoulder pads in 2013 in an attempt to further protect defenseless runners and discourage tacklers from leading with the crown of the helmet.
Strong was tops on the Griz in tackles with six at the time of the penalty. He has a team-high 35 on the season.
UM hosts Mississippi Valley State next week in nonconference play.