MOSCOW, Idaho — It was quite the scene in Moscow, Idaho on Saturday evening and even into the early Sunday morning hours for the folks in Montana as the No. 16 Montana Grizzlies got it done against the No. 3 Idaho Vandals, 23-21.
It came down to the bitter end, but in the end, the Grizzlies got it done.
"It feels so good, it's so exciting," UM senior linebacker Levi Janacaro said. "Don't want to brag, I've played at the Kibbie Dome three times, 3-0, it feels amazing. I have the best teammates in the world surrounded by the best guys, the players and coaches, it's awesome."
Those sentiments were shared program-wide as the Grizzlies (6-1, 3-1 Big Sky) beat the Vandals (5-2, 3-1) to avenge last year's loss to reclaim the Little Brown Stein.
"Winning's always good, there's no such thing as a bad win and these guys are ranked No. 3 in the nation, it's good to come in here and it's back-to-back road wins against ranked opponents, first time since 2000, so good on our team," UM head coach Bobby Hauck said. "I like our team.
"Everybody in this organization, there's a standard to play. Everybody is supposed to uphold that standard. Everybody here is competitive and everybody here loves to win so if you love to win you probably act like you love it when you do win a game like that."
For the second straight week, Montana's offense came out firing with Clifton McDowell under center as the Grizzlies built a 20-0 lead by the second quarter.
Idaho struggled to stop them, and in turn, the Grizzlies took advantage.
"When the offense is clicking, we kind of feel like we're invincible," Janacaro said. "As a defense, we know that we're going to do our jobs when the offense is scoring a lot of points, we feel like it's really tough to beat us."
In the second half it was needed, as Idaho found its groove behind quarterback Gevani McCoy and the Vandals clawed their way back into the game, but it was Montana's defense that stepped up late.
"Man, hell of an effort man, I love them guys, I love playing for them," McDowell said of the defense. "That's why I play for them. This is the second week in a row that they came through and made a stop, gave us the ball back for us to kneel it out."
The final stop came with an exclamation point as Kale Edwards strip-sacked McCoy on Idaho's last drive, and Janacaro scooped it up, sending the Griz into jubilation in what was a big moment for Edwards, who grew up just up the road in Coeur d'Alene.
"They called the play for me and I made it what I could," Edwards said. "Did my best and Levi was always there and I trust the whole defense. Great coverage on the back end let us up front kind of ball today."
Edwards was also celebrated at midfield by his coaches and teammates as they shouted, "Sackless no more!" as he registered his first of the year, and it couldn't have come at a better time.
"I love the guys. Been getting crap for a while so it's fun to get rid of that, mostly from the coaches but I got to talk to them and jaw back at them a little bit so a little payback, much overdue," Edwards said with a grin. "It's great man, I got offered (by Idaho) out of high school so these are the ones that really matter to me, all the ones that I hold close to my chest kind of and I'm glad we got the (win) today."
"Very happy for Kale," Hauck added.
The atmosphere was electric on Saturday as the rivalry between Montana and Idaho has heated up, with chippy play, trash talk, and a sold-out crowd of Vandal faithful — the first sell out at the Kibbie Dome since 2010 — that let the Grizzlies know they weren't welcome in what was Idaho's homecoming.
It had all of the makings of a classic, and in that hostile environment, UM thrived in the role of the villains there to spoil the party in front of a national audience.
"We live for that. We do it in practice every day to each other so when the fans can add onto it we thrive so it's always good to do that," Edwards said. "Never seen the Kibbie Dome like this, I've gone to a lot of Idaho games, played here a couple of times, so it was crazy, fun environment just like our place."
"This is what we trained for, this is what we work hard in the summer for, offseason, it just felt good," McDowell added. "It was a nice atmosphere, it was loud, it's louder in Washington-Griz for sure but it was nice loud, nice crowd."
"It was loud in here," Janacaro said. "It was way louder than I thought it would be so that was really cool, but ruining their homecoming, there's nothing that's much more fun than that."
And while the Griz entered the contest as underdogs, don't tell them that, as their self-belief never wavered.
"We kind of played into it a little bit. I would say that anybody in our locker room that we ever considered ourselves an underdog," Janacaro said. "We portrayed it to the media and to whoever thought that we were but within our own walls we didn't think that we were the underdog."
Now the Grizzlies get a little bit of a break as they head into the bye week, and they'll welcome Northern Colorado to Missoula on Oct. 28 as they close the regular season with three of their final four games at home.
While the momentum stalls with the off week, Montana heads into their break coming off of the back-to-back road wins over ranked opponents and having won three straight contests, all by one score, as they've done everything they can to improve and leave their lone loss to Northern Arizona far behind.
"Every game has been close, it's not like we've had a stress-free week so it'll be good for at least our hearts. We'll get a couple years back hopefully on the break," Edwards joked. "I think the Big Sky is just crazy like that, I've been seeing it for four or five years now, so you never know who is going to do what. You just know the Montana Grizzlies are going to do well, and yeah playing hard, playing well, hopefully keep that rolling."
"The only time you want an open date is when you're banged up," Hauck added. "We're kind of rolling a little bit right now, we've won three in a row, two on the road, and just beat the No. 3 team in the country, hopefully we just trade spots with them in the polls. But the open date comes when it comes and we'll make good use of it, whatever that means."