MOSCOW, IDAHO — In Saturday’s 34-14 victory against the Idaho Vandals, the No. 11 Montana Grizzlies saw their offense come alive with some key plays as the Grizzlies improved to 5-2 overall and 2-2 in Big Sky Conference play.
It’s been a unit that’s seen drastic change over the last several weeks due to injuries, including to its running back group. But two true freshmen stepped up for big minutes on Saturday in Junior Bergen and Colter Janacaro.
Running back has been a rotating position group all year for Montana, and on Saturday, Bergen drew the start after the Grizzlies entered the game without four of their top options at that position.
Bergen, a true freshman from Billings, ran the ball 18 times for 77 yards and scored twice, including the final nail in the coffin in the fourth quarter against Idaho on Saturday, which was also his birthday.
"Those young guys, they’re putting in the same work that everyone else is especially them knowing that they could get a chance to play so it brightens up everyone’s mood and it brings the juice to the whole team when those guys are popping off runs and starting to perform to a level that we know they can," linebacker Patrick O'Connell said. "So it’s pretty special to see that and everyone’s really proud and happy for those guys."
Bergen arrived at UM as a receiver but was converted to a running back before Montana's season opener against Washington to help add depth to a room already badly stricken with injury. The Grizzlies entered the season without All-American Marcus Knight who they lost in the spring. Nick Ostmo, UM's next option, got injured in fall camp resulting in Bergen's switch. On Saturday, the Grizzlies were also without backs Xavier Harris and Isiah Childs.
The athletic Bergen's progression at the position has been gradual, and the Billings Senior High grad broke through against Dixie State with his first college touchdown, and after Saturday ranks second on the team in rushing yards with 259. Harris leads the team with 396.
On the season, Bergen has carried the ball 63 times and has three touchdowns, and also has 10 catches for an additional 54 yards.
There's freshmen all over the field seeing big minutes for the Grizzlies of late, and for head coach Bobby Hauck, seeing so many step up is a first.
"We’ve got a freshman snapping the ball to freshmen who are handing and throwing it and pitching it to freshmen, so never before in that regard," Hauck said when asked if he'd seen these scenarios before. "Two true freshmen at running back? Never would be the answer."
Janacaro was slotted into the backup running back role due to injuries on Saturday, and the true freshman from Missoula even broke off a 59-yard touchdown run that was ultimately called back due to a penalty.
Still, the Big Sky High School graduate was fit into the gameplan for expanded minutes for the first time in his young career, as he joined Bergen in stepping up when called upon to help aid the running game.
"Those guys did a good job," Hauck said. "It’s a physical position and it’s a physical game for true freshmen to be in there. They’ve got a lot of contact and I’m proud of them for owning up to it and performing well."