‘We wanted to punch them in the mouth’: Sacramento State upsets No. 5 Montana

·4 min read

The goal was to come out strong, to keep the opponent guessing and gassed even, and then to do something that just doesn’t happen.

Win in Missoula, at a venue the University of Montana has embraced as a ghoulish nightmare for visitors.

Sacramento State knows such misery, having gone 0-12 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium over the decades, and the Hornets came into Saturday’s Big Sky Conference showdown against the No. 5 Grizzlies as 19-point underdogs. Time to refresh the data. It’s a new day.

Sac State prevailed 28-21 as Jake Dunniway passed for 227 yards and three touchdowns, and the defense under a coordinator who knows the Montana vibe well came up with a late stop to secure the Hornets’ most impressive win of the season and one of the most inspired, ever, for a program that was founded in 1954.

Sac State moved to 4-2 overall and 3-0 in the Big Sky and are sure to get ranked in the FCS poll this week. The Grizzlies are 4-2 and 1-2 — and 212-34 at their home digs since it opened in 1986. Sac State is now 3-20 all-time against Montana and 2-0 since Taylor came aboard.

More numbers and impact: The Hornets aren’t foreign to beating Montana. They defeated the No. 5 Grizzlies in 2019 at Hornet Stadium en route to the program’s first Big Sky crown. Sac State is now 7-0 against FCS programs on the road under coach Troy Taylor since he took over before the 2019 season. He celebrated after Saturday’s win, including hugs and high fives for and from Andy Thompson, the one-time Grizzlies grinder player from 20 seasons ago who is now Sac State’s highly acclaimed defensive coordinator.

But it isn’t just the defense that makes a statement in the wide-open world of FCS football, where touchdowns often come in abundance. The Hornets also set a tone with its offense and its 1-2 quarterback punch of Dunniway and Asher O’Hara, who led all rushers with 72 yards rushing and a score to go with his 75 yards passing.

“We wanted to come out and punch them in the mouth and set the tempo,” Dunniway said in a news conference after the game. “We wanted to start fast and maintain the energy.”

Sac State led 7-0 after the fisrt quarter on Dunniway’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Chris Miller, and it led 14-3 on O’Hara’s 2-yard run. It was 21-6 in the third after Dunniway found Jared Gipson for a 24-yard strike.

The final points came with 1:24 left in the third when Dunniway found Gipson again, this time for a 24-yarder, and then Sac State shut out the Grizzlies in the fourth, no easy task given the opponent and the venue.

“Our guys didn’t blink,” Taylor said. “Our guys are resilient. We talked of playing through the ebbs and flows, and this is a difficult place to play with the energy and the fans. It was a great challenge against a really good team. I couldn’t be more proud of our guys.”

Sac State had 30 first down, converted 9 of 15 third-down conversions, produced 456 yards of offense and allowed just one sack to the leading sack team in the Big Sky. The Hornets weren’t perfect by any measure as they had five fumbles, losing two, but it dominated time of possession, 36:55 to 23:05. And Thompson’s defense allowed just 17 first downs and 272 yards of offense while coming up with four sacks, and the Grizzlies were held to 84 yards on 29 carries.

Sac State nickelback Marte Mapu led the Hornets with 11 tackles a week after his two interceptions were paramount in 41-20 home win against Southern Utah. Defensive lineman Josiah Erickson had eight tackles, including two sacks. Marcus Hawkins had an interception at the goal line to thwart a fourth-quarter Grizzlies drive.

Sac State plays Northern Arizona at Hornet Stadium on Saturday on Homecoming night.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting