Big Sky ConferenceMontana Grizzlies


With plenty to clean up, No. 14 Montana adjusts, weathers early storm in opener against Butler

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Posted at 5:54 PM, Sep 03, 2023

MISSOULA — Saturday's game between the Montana Grizzlies and Butler Bulldogs was a little bit closer than most people anticipated.

Butler got within one point in the third quarter against Montana as they kept things interesting in the second half, but ultimately, it was the Grizzlies who emerged victorious on Saturday afternoon with the 35-20 win, as they begin the season 1-0.


Montana was happy with the win, but there's plenty to clean up as well. It was a fast start for UM as on the third play of the game, the Griz scored on a touchdown connection between Sam Vidlak and Junior Bergen.

The Griz offense was also paced by redshirt freshman Eli Gillman who rushed for 119 yards and one touchdown in his first game as UM's starter.

"It was exciting. I love going out there and playing football with my guys, and we've been talking about all week how we got to dominate the run game and when the (offensive line) does theirs, I better do mine (job) too," Gillman said. "We just kept pounding the ball like we know how to and it wears on teams and we're going to keep going and going and going until they can't stop us anymore."

Offensively, the Grizzlies ran into troubles with turnovers, as Vidlak threw a pair of interceptions and Gillman also fumbled it in the red zone.

The offense, in turn, would stall, so the turnovers are seen as an area of improvement.

"If you don't win the turnover battle, you don't win much," UM head coach Bobby Hauck said. "Obviously, we've got to take care of the ball. (Gillman) took some great licks and hung onto it, and I didn't want to jinx our running backs before the game, but we didn't have one fumble during training camp and it was pretty physical so I like where that is.

"Quarterbacks are going to throw some interceptions. If you're going to throw the ball some, the other team is going to catch a couple of them, you just don't want a bunch of them."

Penalties also caused Montana some hardships, including two on the same drive that negated touchdowns before the third time was the charm as Xavier Harris eventually punched it in to make it 21-6 Grizzlies before half. In total, UM had six penalties for 65 yards in the game.

"Some penalties I don't really care about, some I do," Hauck said. "I thought at times their most productive play was the penalty, offensively and defensively. We don't want to be going backwards or giving them free yards which at times we did but sometimes stuff happens too."


Butler was a handful for Montana with quarterback Bret Bushka and their receivers making big plays often. The Bulldogs racked up 304 yards on offense, 263 of which came through the air.

It was in the third quarter when the Bulldogs scored on a fourth-down conversion that trimmed it to 21-20 Grizzlies with 4:48 left in the third quarter.

"A good throw and a good catch beats good coverage every time, so you got to make plays on the ball and that was one of the things I challenged our team at halftime was both sides of the ball is to make plays on the ball and I thought we did," Hauck said.

The Grizzlies then needed a spark, and they found that in quarterback Clifton McDowell, the Central Arkansas transfer who saw some reps in the first half, but after Vidlak's second pick, was brought in the rest of the way to close the game out at QB.

In response to Butler's touchdown, McDowell engineered a fast, three-play drive with two big runs from him capped by Gillman's score, as the Grizzlies got back on track. McDowell finished the game as UM's second-leading rusher with 80 yards on the ground and one score.

The breathing room helped, and Montana found its footing as the defense clamped down the rest of the way as the Grizzlies closed the game out, and put a win on their record.

"Guys started making plays," junior safety Ryder Meyer said. "Trevin (Gradney) made a couple of very key plays on the ball. Nash (Fouch) had the big hit. I think that helped with some of the momentum for us in the second half and then we just kind of feed off of that and kept going."

Week 1 is now in the books and the Grizzlies get set for their first road test of the season as they head to St. George, Utah next weekend to take on Utah Tech.