Montana Grizzlies football coach Mick Delaney didn’t have to be reminded of how a certain winless Idaho State almost pulled a monumental upset on the Griz in 2009; he brought it up himself.
He was there, on the sidelines in Pocatello, Idaho, when Brody McKnight hit a last-second, 33-yard field goal to lift the unbeaten Griz past Idaho State, 12-10. Montana improved to 9-0; ISU fell to 0-9.
The 2012 Griz are just 3-5 going into Saturday’s home game against the Bengals, who at 0-4 in league play and 1-7 overall happen to be the one program lower than Montana in the Big Sky standings.
That 2009 battle stands out in light of UM’s recent spate of tight, heartbreaking losses.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my career to be on that side of it way more than I’ve been on this side of it,” Delaney said Tuesday. “Ever since I’ve been here, there have been a half a dozen games that hinged on the last drive, or the last two drives.
“I still remember Idaho State, having to kick a field goal on the last play of the game, when they had not won a game. We’re seeing the other side of the coin now; we’re seeing some adversity.”
The Grizzlies have seen Eastern Washington and North Dakota score winning touchdowns in the final minute; Southern Utah took a lead with 2:12 remaining; Appalachian State tacked on a TD with 5:05 left in an eight-point win; and Northern Arizona dominated after falling behind 24-7.
So Idaho State shouldn’t be taken lightly. Not given its propensity for throwing the football and Montana’s giving up 660 passing yards last week.
The Bengals should perhaps have been taken more seriously in 2009 as well.
“We were so bad that day,” remembered Delaney, who came to UM as running backs coach in 2008. “I mean everything we did went haywire and they kept hanging and hanging and hanging.”
Those 2009 Grizzlies still found a way, while the 2012 Griz squad has been left looking.
“That’s frustrating to everybody, obviously,” Delaney said. “To Griz Nation and all the fans. It is tough on the players, but not to the point where we’re not doing the things we’ve been doing: Work like hell and compete.”
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Perhaps lost in North Dakota’s huge numbers last week was that Montana held the hosts scoreless for a majority of the game – from 5:16 left in the first half until the final 12 seconds.
Junior Anthony Goodwin made the first of UM’s three interceptions, late in the second quarter. It set up the Griz with a short field, though a fumble ruined that chance.
“We’ve just got to focus,” said Goodwin, who came down with his pick when UND’s Braden Hanson tried to fit a ball over him and under UM’s safety – on a combination route that the Griz covered well. “I really think that’s what it is. Our coaches have been preached focus all week in film sessions, and harping on technique.”
Despite a strong stretch of defense, giving up a couple Big Sky records hasn’t left the UM secondary feeling well.
“Terrible,” Goodwin said. “It never feels good to have 660 yards put up on you. We’re a unit, and no matter where it happens, it hurts. We’ve just go to step it up this week.”
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Idaho State coach Mike Kramer, while being impressed with the job Griz quarterback Shay Smithwick-Hann did in three quarters of relief last week, was more worried about Ellis Henderson.
“Ellis Henderson can fly,” said Kramer, who did interviews this week – ISU players were not made available – but will serve a one-game suspension Saturday. “And I’ve known about him since he was a junior in high school, playing for Steve Kizer down in Vancouver.
“He’s really a high-wire act and going to be a great player for years to come.”
Henderson, a freshman who transferred after a gray-shirt season at Hawaii, scored 24 touchdowns in his career at Skyview High in Vancouver, Wash.
Kramer also noted that he’ll hold his breath every time Montana runs the ball with Peter Nguyen and Jordan Canada.
“I think we counted 21 times, in the game, where North Dakota’s last possible defensive player made the run-game tackle,” he said.
QUICK KICKS: Updated numbers show Nguyen, with 1,663 yards, needing 57 to break into the top 10 on UM’s career rushing list. Dick Imer is 11th with 1,692 yards from 1953-54; Jody Farmer gained 1,719 yards from 1986-89. … Fans should prepare for snow turning to rain Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, with a high of 41 degrees. … Idaho State QB Kevin Yost leads the Football Championship Subdivision in total offense at 346 yards a game. … Yost has also been sacked 21 times. … Griz DE Zack Wagenmann’s nine sacks lead the Big Sky and UM leads all FCS teams with 29 sacks.