Late in the fourth quarter of Saturday afternoon’s game between Montana and Idaho, Griz quarterback Lucas Johnson stepped back to pass looking to convert a big first down as he’s done so many times this season. Vandals defensive back Davis Dengah turned the game on its head, though, when he stepped in front of the pass and authored Johnson’s second pick in as many drives. It turned out to be the play that sealed what is undoubtedly the biggest victory for the Idaho program since moving back down to the FCS.
It was clear early that Idaho had come to play. After failing to produce anything on their first series, the UI defense forced a punt from the normally potent Montana offense. With their second possession, the Vandals took the early lead with a 47-yard field goal from Ricardo Chavez.
The Griz answered promptly. Johnson led a drive that took just three minutes to get UM back on top. He hit Junior Bergen for a 19-yard score and the Washington-Grizzly faithful let them hear it. After quieting them earlier, Idaho was once again facing the raucous crowd even in spite of the missed PAT.
The fans only got noisier when Chavez failed to connect on his second field goal try. But, as they would several more times throughout the day, the Vandals defense came up big and forced another punt.
It was their following stop, though, that led to more points. After stopping the Griz on third down midway through the second quarter, UM punter Patrick Rohrbach lost control of the snap and fumbled it backwards. Hogan Hatten drilled Rohrbach in the end zone as he tried to corral it and added two more on the safety.
The Vandal defense comes up big and forces the punt. The punter fumbles the snap and is tackled by @hogan_hatten for the safety! Vandals cut the Montana lead to 6-5!#GoVandals pic.twitter.com/LMe9pWlGQK— Idaho Football (@VandalFootball) October 15, 2022
Now at 6-5, the Grizzlies needed a big play and they got it. Vandals QB Gevani McCoy tossed an interception to linebacker Patrick O’Connell who rumbled 42 yards the other way. This time Johnson and the offense were able to finally get something going. Johnson ran in from a yard out to put Montana up 13-5.
Idaho would not fold, though, and put together a scoring drive of their own right before halftime. It only took just over a minute for McCoy to find Hayden Hatten for the 24-yard score. Instead of opting to go for two, UI took the one and at the break the Griz led 13-12.
The Vandals got their advantage back on the first drive of the second half with Chavez’ second field goal. Now with the lead behind them, Idaho’s defense buckled down and made Montana punt twice. Unease was beginning to set in for Grizzlies fans.
That unease turned to pure worry in just one play. McCoy hooked up with Hatten again for a crowd-stunning 43-yard touchdown. The visiting Vandals now held an nine-point edge over the #3 team in the country and Montana was starting to reel.
The Griz did get a field goal of their own right at the end of the third to cut their deficit to 22-15 but, early in the fourth when they needed a score, Johnson threw an untimely interception to Paul Moala.
McCoy and company, however, were unable to do anything with the takeaway and gave the ball back to Montana. It was then that UI made the biggest stop of the season (so far). McCormick snatched away Johnson’s pass and sprinted down to the Idaho goal line before a shocked crowd. A few plays later the Vandals offense put a nail in it with a touchdown run from Roshaun Johnson.
The Grizzlies did score once more but it wasn’t enough. The Vandals kneeled it out and reclaimed the Little Brown Stein, a trophy they hadn’t taken from Montana since the 1999 season back when they were FBS.
McCoy had a nearly perfect game, going 21-of-27 on his passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns. Hatten’s monster day of 149 yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions. It was the two late picks, though, that put the exclamation point on the upset.
The Griz were one of two Top 4 teams to lose on Saturday, the other being North Dakota State. Montana was perfect on the season up to this point and, now at 5-1, the Griz are staring down the barrel of tough games against Weber State, Sacramento State and Montana State.
The Vandals are now 4-2 and will undoubtedly be considered for the national rankings this week after such a high-profile win. If they keep this up Idaho could sneak into a playoff spot when all is said and done. First-year head coach Jason Eck has to be extremely pleased with where his team sits now.