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Still seeking improvement, No. 12 Montana uses gut check against Ferris State to stay undefeated

Posted at 6:26 PM, Sep 17, 2023

MISSOULA — We all know the scenario. Night games in Washington-Grizzly Stadium tend to wild and weird, with something always bound to happen.

On Saturday evening, that story played out perfectly in what was a wacky game between the No. 12 Montana Grizzlies and the Ferris State Bulldogs, and through all of the craziness, the Griz topped the Bulldogs 17-10 in front of a record 26,978 fans.

PHOTOS: NO. 12 MONTANA EDGES OUT FERRIS STATE

"Griz fans are unbelievable, Grizzly football is unbelievable," UM head coach Bobby Hauck said. "We had a Division II football team in here in September and there's 27,000 people in the stadium. It's just amazing what goes on here and it's a blessing and I'm very grateful to be a part of that."

Fans will look at Ferris State as a simple D2 opponent, but the Bulldogs were every bit as advertised as the reigning NCAA Division II national champs, and they pushed Montana to the brink on Saturday night.

"Ferris came out and they really played well. They saved some stuff for us as they should've, and gave us fits at times. When we scheduled them, our guys came and said we're having trouble getting this date filled, do you mind if we schedule a Division II team, and I said no that's fine, but I should've said don't schedule the Division II team," Hauck joked with laughs in response. "I mean, these guys are really good, they're really good. I admire the job that coach does and looking forward to seeing him down the road and sharing some ideas.

"It was a weird game at times. We did some good things and then we couldn't sustain it. I thought that the defense was really good tonight. Even adjusting some things that we hadn't seen, the defense played great. It took plays from the offense, defense and special teams to make it happen and get that (win) which is how we play and how we win. There was some things that we didn't do cleanly enough. We had a chance to get away from them probably a few times. And we just couldn't. Part of that is credit to them and part of that is us not finishing the job but ultimately the object is to win the game and you play to win the game and we won the game."

GRIZ POSTGAME: HAUCK, GUBNER, VIDLAK BREAK DOWN UM'S WIN OVER FERRIS STATE

The Bulldogs led 10-3 at halftime, as their defense gave Montana's offense trouble, while they emptied the tank with their offense to put the Grizzlies on their heels.

"It was just that kind of night where we really didn't get any breaks so to speak, we just kind of made a few and we made enough and there's just some things that not finishing the deal, whether it's getting off the field or having a chance to block some punts and not doing it," Hauck said. "We kind of got run over a little bit in the first half up front on offense. We shored that up and we started getting the ball out quicker and hitting some passes and that certainly helped things. We just weren't clicking enough."

It was the second half where Montana awoke, as Eli Gillman tied the game at 10-10 in the third quarter, while Trevin Gradney got his third pick of the year in as many games to get the record-breaking crowd into the game, which ultimately was UM's biggest advantage.

"They are a Division II team so they don't play in big venues like this," UM senior defensive tackle Alex Gubner said. "This is probably the biggest venue they've played in in I don't know how long, so I think it definitely had an effect. We have the best fans and it's loud. Every third, fourth down, any critical down, the fans know and they get loud and it affects offenses."

Using that crowd after a big special teams play that downed Ferris at the 1-yard line helped as the Bulldogs struggled with penalties.

After a short punt, Montana retook the lead on a Nick Ostmo touchdown run, as quarterback Sam Vidlak helped engineer the offense, and got comfortable as the game went on.

"I think we got into a rhythm at certain points in the game as an offensive unit and at other points in the game, I think we need to be better, so I think we'll watch the film on that and know what we need to clean up," Vidlak said. "But I did feel at certain points of the game there was good rhythm and we were moving the ball well and then obviously there will be some things we need to work on."

The Grizzlies came up with a big stand on defense to seal the game — thanks to a big hit from Garrett Graves, a sack from Levi Janacaro and a game-sealing tackle by Ryder Meyer — and once the final whistle blew, the celebration was on for the players as they joined Helena native and UFC champion "Suga" Sean O'Malley who made his Montana homecoming as a special guest at UM in raising the No. 37 flag before the game, in what was a memorable moment for the program.

"It's Suga. That was crazy," Gubner said. "I wasn't expecting that, he's obviously like the most popular fighter in the world. We all love him and it's cool because he's from Montana, he has Montana roots and I think he really gets what this program is about and that was a once in a lifetime deal, it was awesome."

"I just know that guy's the champ and he was in our locker room and we were glad to have him. Pretty awesome," Hauck added.

Afterwards Hauck noted he likes where his team is headed with plenty of improvements still needed to be made. UM opens conference play at Northern Arizona (0-3) next Saturday in Flagstaff.

"It's always good to get tested in the non-conference season and it's also good to be 3-0. We can't be any better than that. I think we've made improvements. I think we are certainly not where we need to be," Hauck said. "We're not where we were a year ago at this point in time in terms of our ability to dominate games or opponents, but I also think that this can be a great season. We got to take it one week at a time, we're excited about conference play starting and we have a fine football team and the best is yet to come is what I would tell you.

"I'm always proud of my guys, I'm grateful to be with these guys every day. I told them that in the locker room. I love this football team and this football program and it's a genuine blessing for coach Hauck to be the coach here."