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Griz blank Northern Colorado in Greeley

03 Dec 2021 | 06:50 | Football

In a season that has been defined by the countless dominant defensive performances from the Montana football team, the Grizzlies may have put their best effort forward in Greeley, Colorado on Saturday afternoon in a 35-0 shutout victory over the Northern Colorado Bears.

Montana came out quickly, took an early lead and never looked back. The defense entered the game as a top 10 team nationally in points allowed and improved on that number, shutting out an opponent for the first time since 2011.

For a team that is among the best in the nation, even this stood out.

“Any time you can put a goose egg up on the board, it doesn’t matter who that’s against, in modern day college football shutting a team out is dang near impossible,” head coach Bobby Hauck said following the win. “(The win) starts with our defense.”

But, as Hauck also noted, this isn’t the first time Montana’s defense has shutout an opponent this year. The Grizzlies didn’t allow Western Illinois to score an offensive touchdown in a non-conference game, although the Leathernecks did find the end zone on a pick six. This time, it was clean all around for Montana.

The Grizzly defense allowed just 245 yards, with a large chunk of that (over 100 yards) coming in the fourth quarter when the result was all but guaranteed. Montana forced a pair of turnovers, including an early interception for Justin Ford.

The pick was his seventh on the season, one coming in each of his previous seven games. He leads the nation in interceptions and is now second in the Montana record books for a single season.

Montana’s offense helped out its fair share, scoring early and often to keep the game well out of reach. There was a familiar face under center for the Grizzlies, as Cam Humphrey made his first start since returning from injury.

The Grizzly quarterback didn’t miss a beat, throwing for 233 yards and three scores. He also ran for 71 yards and another score.

“(Humphrey) did a good job today. I thought he was sharp and made good decisions,” Hauck said. “I thought he showed rust on a couple plays where we took sacks, but other than that he played a terrific game. I’m happy for him, proud of him, it was really good by him.”

His favorite target was Mitch Roberts, who hauled in seven catches for 74 yards. Cole Grossman had three catches for 49 yards and a touchdown, but it was the play of senior wide receiver Samuel Akem that stood out.

Akem found the end zone twice on just three catches, moving his career total to 27 touchdowns. He now stands alone in second place on Montana’s all-time list, just two scores behind Grizzly great Marc Mariani.

The Grizzlies were balanced offensively as well, getting some good production from a stable of young running backs. Junior Bergen led Montana with eight carries for 64 yards, but Isiah Childs added a touchdown while Xavier Harris also saw carries.

“We did some good stuff (offensively). I thought the front held up in protection well… Our backs are so little, so it was fun to see Childs be able to get back in there and run downhill. He’s starting to learn, he’s still a youngster but he’s got a little more stature and he’s starting to run behind his pads,” Hauck said.

The Grizzlies put together a complete offensive performance overall. They outgained the Bears by nearly 150 yards, averaged nearly twice as many yards per play and also held a distinct advantage on third down. Montana converted over 50 percent (8-for-15), while holding UNC to just three first downs in 16 attempts. In the first action of the final month of the season, Hauck likes where his team is at.

“We’ve talked about, as a football team, playing our best in November,” Hauck said. “I think we got off to a real good start. Northern Colorado, that defense was stingy going into this thing, but our guys got after them pretty good.”

Montana received the ball to start the game for the first time this season, but were unable to score on the opening drive. Still, Ford wasted no time in getting his seventh interception in as many games, picking off a pass on Northern Colorado’s first drive. It was a right place, right time moment for the cornerback. TraJon Cotton rose up and deflected a pass and Ford perfected the tip drill, closing in late to secure the interception.

The turnover led to the first score of the game for Montana, as Humphrey continued a hot start passing the ball, completing four of five passes on the drive including a 21-yard strike across the middle for a touchdown to Cole Grossman. Humphrey showed no rust making his first start since returning from injury, starting 9-for-12 for 103 yards on the first two Montana possessions.

The Grizzly defense shut down Northern Colorado’s offense, and the Bears then attempted a fake punt deep inside their own territory. There was no fooling Montana’s special teams, stopping the fake for an eight yard loss to set up the offense just 30 yards away from the end zone.

Humphrey showed just how tough he is on the next drive, escaping a sack deep in the pocket, scrambling out to his right and diving through a big defensive hit on an incredible 20-yard touchdown to put the Griz up 14-0.

Montana would strike again late in the half on yet another highlight reel play. Humphrey tossed a deep ball outside, trusting his veteran wide receiver Akem to make a play. The senior didn’t disappoint, high pointing the ball, shaking off his defender and then dragging multiple Bears into the end zone with him for his 26th career touchdown as a Grizzly.

The Grizzlies took the 21-0 lead into halftime after a completely dominant opening half hour. Montana outgained Northern Colorado by 171 yards, forced a turnover and stopped the Bears on fourth down to hold complete control entering the locker rooms.

It was the connection of Humphrey to Akem that started off the scoring in the second half, hooking up from 17-yards out midway through the third quarter.

On the first play of Northern Colorado’s next drive Alex Gubner forced a fumble that Braxton Hill dove on top of, giving the ball back to Montana deep in UNC territory. Humphrey had a big run to set Montana up at the two-yard line, where Childs dove in for the score.

Now with a comfortable 35-0 lead, Humphrey’s day was done as Montana threw just two more passes (one from Kris Brown, one from Robbie Patterson) the rest of the way. The Grizzlies made a couple of big stops and Northern Colorado missed a late field goal to seal the shutout victory.

The Grizzlies remain on the road next week for a matchup with Northern Arizona before returning home to Washington-Grizzly Stadium for the 120th Brawl of the Wild.