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Injuries, tough breaks too much to overcome as No. 7 Montana loses second straight game

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Posted at 9:17 PM, Oct 23, 2022

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Saturday's Top-10 matchup between No. 7 Montana and No. 2 Sacramento State lived up to the billing for two of the best teams in the Big Sky Conference, but it's a game that will sting for a while for the Grizzlies after leaving California with a 31-24 overtime loss.

"Well that's a rough one to take obviously," Griz head coach Bobby Hauck said. "I thought we played well enough to win. Had quite a few really bad breaks go against us. I was proud of our guys, I thought they played really well."

Those bad breaks came in a number of ways throughout the game.

Montana (5-2, 2-2 Big Sky Conference) opened the game with a 7-0 lead as the Griz offense looked sharp to start with a 15-play drive that ate up almost six minutes of play clock.

But in the second quarter, quarterback Lucas Johnson was delivered a late hit to the head that was confirmed as targeting, but Johnson was taken out of the game and did not return. At that point in the game, Johnson was 6 for 10 for 45 yards passing and had also run the ball three times for 36 yards.

"They weren't stopping us, certainly," Hauck said. "We were moving the ball really successfully, and, I mean, there's a reason why he's our starter. I mean, he's a good player, and it was certainly a hurdle to overcome when we lost him."

The Griz also lost wide receiver Junior Bergen in the third quarter after he was hit late on a punt return fair catch call, and was holding his hand in pain. Starting defensive end DeAri Todd also left the game on UM's first defensive drive as well. Both players did not return.

"We definitely had a gutsy enough performance to get the win," Hauck said. "I wasn't real fired up about the late hit targeting on our quarterback, knocked him out of the game. The 15-yarder on Junior that knocked him out, stuff happens I guess a little bit, but we were down a few guys there for a good part of the game that didn't help us, but still, I thought we played well enough to win."

Kris Brown entered the game the rest of the way at QB for Montana.

While the offense had its stumbles, the Griz running game was productive with Marcus Knight and Nick Ostmo behind a strong effort from the offensive line. Knight and Ostmo combined for 42 rush attempts for 133 yards on the ground and each player scored.

Brown finished the game 16 for 31 for 141 yards and one touchdown, and picked up 18 yards on the ground as well.

"They went after it and ran the ball really well, controlled the game, had some great drives where we predominantly ran it," Hauck said. "Obviously, we played the majority of the game with our backup quarterback which you need those guys to do that and they did."

The game started turning into a back-and-forth affair in the second half, with Montana taking a 17-7 lead in the third quarter when Brown hit Aaron Fontes for a touchdown, but on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Hornets responded on a touchdown connection between Jake Dunniway and Pierre Williams to trim the deficit.

However, a 13-play Montana drive made it 24-14 after Ostmo scored from two yards out, but Sac State responded with a field goal on their next drive, a series extended by a couple of pass interference calls on Montana's Corbin Walker.

"Like I said, we had a lot of things go against us, not all our doing," Hauck said. "You got a chance to win it again and we didn't, they did, so good by them."

On the ensuing Sac State kickoff, an attempted line drive kick bounced off of Montana's Tyler Flink and the Hornets recovered.

As the Hornets were driving, they were forced into fourth and four on the UM 30, and Dunniway heaved it to Jared Gipson whose feet appeared to be out of bounds on the catch, but the call was reviewed and ruled to be in bounds by the officials, which set Sac State up on UM's four yard line. On the next play, the Hornets scored on a run by Asher O'Hara to tie it as things continued to go against the Griz.

In overtime, Sac State scored in four plays to take its first lead of the game, meanwhile Montana went four-and-out, with the final play coming on a throw by Brown to the end zone with a lot of contact between UM's Keelan White and Sac State's Gavin Davis-Smith, but no penalty was called, as the Hornets (7-0, 4-0) sealed their third straight victory over Montana.

It was a tough pill to swallow for the Griz, who lost their second game in a row, and now get set for another tough road trip at Weber State next Saturday.

"I told them I was proud of them," Hauck said of his message to the team. "I think we have a really good team and they had a lot of things working against them tonight, and probably played well enough to win and didn't, which is a disappointment, and we'll have a big game next week."