MISSOULA — Fourth-ranked Montana continued its stellar play Saturday, dominating No. 7 Sacramento State 34-7 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium to win its fifth consecutive game.
Sac State took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a Marcus Fulcher touchdown run, but the Montana defense kept the Hornets' high-powered offense in check the rest of the way, while quarterback Clifton McDowell led a balanced offensive attack for the Griz. McDowell threw two touchdown passes, and the Griz scored three times on the ground — once on an Eli Gillman run in the first quarter and twice on Nick Ostmo carries.
Ostmo's 9-yard touchdown early in the second quarter gave UM a 14-7 lead, and the Griz extended the lead to 21-7 later in the period on a 9-yard scoring connection between McDowell and Aaron Fontes.
“I think the fact that we wore them down and then, we talked about it at halftime how we had them close to not wanting to play the run as well as they did in the first,” coach Bobby Hauck said. “In the second half, but particularly the fourth quarter, we made them not want to tackle anymore.”
The Hornets had an opportunity to close the gap in the third quarter, sustaining a 77-yard drive. But the drive stalled at the Montana 6-yard line, and Sac State opted for a short field goal attempt. The kick missed wide right, and the Hornets would never threaten again.
The dagger came from McDowell early in the fourth quarter. With UM's offense backed up in the shadow of its own end zone, McDowell lofted a pass down the right sideline. Keelan White ran under it and outran the Sac State defense for a 97-yard touchdown reception.
Ostmo added another TD later in the period to seal the win.
McDowell finished the game completing 11 of 21 passes for 218 yards and the two touchdown passes. Fontes led the team with six catches for 88 yards, while White had two catches for 103 yards.
The win was the 124th Big Sky Conference win for Montana coach Bobby Hauck, who now has the most wins in conference history.
“I’m appreciative of that milestone,” Hauck said. “There have been so many great coaches and teams in this league and to be able to be at the top of that heap and to be a part of so many good football teams is just special.”
Turning point: The Grizzlies ran a little razzle dazzle on their first play of the second quarter, as receiver Junior Bergen took a reverse and threw the ball to McDowell for a gain of 24 yards. Ostmo then scored on a 9-yard run on the next play to put the Griz up 14-7.
That seemed to spark Montana, which then took a 21-7 lead on its next possession as McDowell hit Fontes in the back of the end zone with a 9-yard TD pass.
Stat of the game: Sac State's 119 passing yards. The Hornets came into Saturday's game averaging 244 passing yards and nearly 33 points per game, but the Griz defense put the clamps on Sac State's offense, which totaled just 268 yards.
Grizzly game balls: RB Nick Ostmo (Offense). Ostmo finished with 68 yards and two touchdowns on just 11 carries, as he was part of a multi-pronged rushing attack for the Griz. Gillman had a team-high 113 yards and a TD on 16 carries, and McDowell added 83 yards on 15 carries.
LB Tyler Flink (Defense). Flink and the Montana linebackers led a workmanlike effort from the Griz defense. Flink had a team-high six solo tackles, while fellow linebacker Braxton Hill was in on nine total tackles.
PR Junior Bergen (Special teams). Bergen had only three punt returns for 37 yards, as Sac State routinely tried to punt away from the electrifying return man. Bergen did manage a 28-yard return that set the Griz up with a short field for their second touchdown of the game.
What’s next: Montana (8-1 overall, 5-1 Big Sky Conference) hits the road for the penultimate game of its regular season at Portland State (4-5, 3-3), which lost to UC Davis Saturday. The Griz remain tied with Idaho and Montana State atop the conference standings with two games remaining in the regular season.