For 30 minutes, Montana showed its potential against No. 6 ranked and league-leading UC Davis, out-gaining the Aggies 292 to 113 and going into the locker room with a 21-3 lead.
Coming out of the locker room, it was a different story.
UC Davis scored 46 unanswered points, and through the first 22 minutes of the second half out-gained Montana 316 to 89 to overwhelm the Grizzlies 49-21 on Saturday. The Aggies scored on seven consecutive drives while Montana punted three times, turned the ball over on downs once, fumbled once and threw two interceptions during that span.
“We didn’t play very well in the second half and played about as well as we could in the first,” said head coach Bobby Hauck. “Our guys were ready to go, and did what we asked them to do in the first half, and we didn’t have it in the second half, which is pretty disappointing, obviously.”
The first half was executed near flawlessly. Quarterback Dalton Sneed was 15-of-21 for 171 yards and two touchdowns. Both went to wide receiver Samuel Akem. Jeremy Calhoun also added a 13-yard scoring run.
More impressive than Montana’s 21 points, however, were the three points the Aggies were held to. UC Davis is one of the nation’s top offensive teams and has scored at least 44 points against every FCS opponent this season, but was stifled early on.
Montana started the game with the ball after losing the coin toss, but set the tone early with a scoring drive out of the gate. The 10-play, 75-yard drive gave the Grizzlies the lead just 3 minutes into the contest.
Nine of Montana’s 10 plays on that drive went for positive yardage, including four completions to Akem. The final one was a 13-yard strike in the left-corner of the end zone in which Akem cut back to haul in the touchdown.
After Montana scored a touchdown on the opening drive, UC Davis countered with a field goal to cut the score to 7-3. After that, the Aggies punted four times.
Montana scored twice more in the final 4 minutes of the half. The first came from Calhoun, who bounced off one defender and then broke another tackle while falling into the end zone to complete a 15-yard scoring run. Akem’s second score capped a quick four-play drive.
UC Davis’ six fourth-quarter touchdowns were quick and easy, averaging less than 5 plays per score and burning less than 1:22 of game clock.
But perhaps the turning point for the Grizzlies, wasn’t a big offensive play from the Aggies, it was a defensive stop that took the air out of Montana’s attack.
Still leading 21-6 in the third quarter, Montana’s offense was picking up steam for the first time after the halftime break with four quick first downs.
With the Griz knocking on the door to the red zone, running back Alijah Lee was stuffed on a fourth-and-one rush attempt. The Griz would turn it over on downs, and the Aggie onslaught was underway.
“You’d be hard pressed to say that’s not a go-for-it situation. I think it certainly is,” said Hauck. “They got some penetration and we didn’t get it. Had we got that play, I don’t know if we would have come out on top or not, but that was a huge, huge play. Big stop by them.”
Sneed finished 25-of-37 for 230 yards but had three second-half interceptions. His top target was Akem, who had nine catches for 75 yards. Calhoun had 16 carries for 73 yards on the ground. Dante Olson had 13 tackles, while three others had eight. Reggie Tilleman had a team-high 1.5 tackles for loss.
The loss marks the first time since 1992 that Montana has suffered through a three-game losing streak.
The Griz will now hit the road for back-to-back road games (at Southern Utah and at Idaho) before the team’s regular-season finale vs. Montana State on Nov. 17.
“We’re 4-4, and probably don’t feel very good about that, even though maybe it’s not unexpected. But it’s not where we want to be and not where we want to be, not where anyone internally expects to be. We have to go play this coming week, so we’re going to lick our wounds tonight, we’re going to get back in the saddle tomorrow and we’re going to fight our tail off next week,” said Hauck.