Montana shocks Washington in season-opener, hands Huskies 13-7 loss

SEATTLE — When the sun finally set over Husky Stadium on this warm Saturday evening, it wasn’t the Washington Huskies rushing the field in celebration.

It was the Montana Grizzlies.

In the season-opener for both teams, the Grizzlies, who entered the season ranked ninth in the FCS, shut down No. 20 Washington’s offense, broke through for a late touchdown and stunned the Huskies, handing them perhaps the most shocking loss in program history.

13-7 was the final.

Despite offensive miscues throughout the game, Washington ended up with three chances in the final minutes of the fourth quarter to salvage a win.

Montana took its first lead with 10 minutes, 35 seconds to play, and then never lost it. The Huskies went three-and-out on their next drive, offering no comfort for a crowd that was growing increasingly uneasy as each minute passed.

Dylan Morris’ first pass sailed over Taj Davis’ hands. On the next play Patrick O’Connell broke into the backfield and dropped Morris for a 12-yard sack. Morris completed a short pass to Richard Newton on third-and-22, but O’Connell stopped him well short of the first down marker, and the Huskies punted.

Montana spent the next six minutes marching into the red zone again, and pushed the drive inside the 5, but ultimately settled for a 22-yard field goal from Kevin Macias.

Now trailing 13-7, the Huskies started at their own 14, with 2:54 remaining to avoid the stunning upset.

After picking up a quick first down on a 5-yard carry from Newton and a 7-yard pass from Morris to Newton, their drive stalled four plays later. Morris completed a 7-yard pass to tight end Cade Otton. Newton rushed for 1 yard. Then Morris’ pass intended for Davis fell incomplete. Staring down fourth-and-2, Morris looked for Giles Jackson over the middle, but that pass, too, ended up on the turf.

Montana needed only to run out the clock, but was stopped near midfield, missing a chance to secure a two-score lead with a missed field goal attempt.

The Huskies got one final chance with 1:12 to play, but couldn’t rally for the win. Morris threw incomplete on three consecutive passes before finally connecting with Otton for a 25-yard gain with less than a minute to play. Morris tossed the next pass out of bounds, and his final attempt was intercepted by Marcus Welnel, sending Montana’s sideline into celebration.

Montana scored what was ultimately the game-winner moments into the fourth quarter. The Grizzlies reached midfield for the first time since its opening drive on the first play of the quarter, when quarterback Cam Humphrey connected with Mitch Roberts on a 21-yard pass. Seven plays later, the Grizzlies had first-and-goal set up from the Huskies’ 4.

And Humphrey, who grew up playing high school football less than 25 miles away from Husky Stadium at Issaquah, took the next snap and dove across the goal line to give Montana a 10-7 lead with 10:35 remaining.

Outside of the first drive, which ended in a 1-yard touchdown by Morris, the first half was more of the same offensive struggles for Washington.

The Huskies’ first drive was methodical. Morris found Texas Tech transfer Ja’Lynn Polk for 13 yards and a first down on the first play. Richard Newton then carried the ball twice to move UW across midfield. Two more completions to tight end Devin Culp and Newton, and the first of two roughing the passer calls on Montana in the first half, kept the Huskies moving along. Three more carries by Newton set UW up at the 1, and Morris pushed his way into the end zone for the Huskies’ first touchdown of the season.

Newton carried the ball five times for 34 yards on the opening drive, but by the end of the half, the Huskies had combined for only 40 on their 17 attempts, and Montana’s defense tallied seven tackles for losses, including two sacks, across UW’s seven drives.

The Huskies turned the ball over on downs twice in the first half, punted twice, and Montana’s Gavin Robertson stymied another drive by intercepting a Morris pass that was tipped up in the air. The Huskies’ final drive ended near midfield as time expired, sending them into the break with a slim 7-3 lead.

But, even with the offensive miscues, UW’s defense held up after an opening-drive field goal from the Grizzlies. Montana tailback Xavier Harris ripped off a 37-yard gain on Montana’s third play to set up the Grizzlies at the Huskies 11, but the defense held, and Montana settled for Kevin Macias’ 26-yard field goal. Montana didn’t cross midfield again in the half, going three-and-out on four of its final five drives of the half, while also turning the ball over on downs once.

This story was originally published by The News Tribune.