SEATTLE — The Montana Grizzlies may not have won on Saturday evening against the No. 7 Washington Huskies, but they absolutely played with heart.
And heart is the reason why Montana kept fighting until the bitter end of its 63-7 loss.
On first-and-10 late in the third quarter, quarterback Reese Phillips dropped a dime to wide receiver Jerry Louie-McGee for what would have been a 43-yard touchdown.
But an ineligible receiver downfield penalty negated Phillips’ best throw of the game. The Grizzlies eventually turned the ball over on downs.
"It just goes to show we can play with just about anybody,” Phillips said of his pass to Louie-McGee. “It was encouraging. It hurts. That's a point in the game it really didn't matter, obviously. But that really is a testimony of our team. We were aggressive the whole entire game. We didn't care what the score was."
Phillips completed 17-of-28 passes for 123 yards with two interceptions. He was also sacked three times. His main target of the evening was wide receiver Josh Horner, who had 34 yards on five receptions. On the ground, running back Jeremy Calhoun led the way with 42 yards.
“Would have loved to have played better but we played pretty darn good when you look at the tape,” Montana coach Bob Stitt said. “When you look at the tape, the scoreboard doesn’t always tell the tale.”
Washington (2-0) jumped out to an early lead, scoring on its first drive via a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jake Browning.
Browning finished the game throwing 22-of-26 for 259 yards with two touchdown passes and an interception.
That game-tying interception came late in the first quarter by Montana safety, and Bigfork native, Josh Sandry.
“(Montana) had really good coverage on Dante (Pettis), and anytime you get a tipped ball, something bad is probably going to happen for the offense,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said of Sandry’s pick.
With an open lane ahead of him, Sandry took it to the house for Montana’s only touchdown of the game.
"That was fun there for a little bit being there," Stitt said. Seven to seven was a good feeling."
Sandry also added eight total tackles for the Griz.
Other defensive players with standout games were defensive lineman Tucker Schye and cornerback Justin Strong.
Schye had three tackles, two of them for a loss — a mark that led all defensive players regardless of team.
Schye’s first tackle for loss came on the opening drive when he burst past the line of scrimmage to tackle Washington’s Chico McClatcher for a loss of six.
“Defensively, we played really solid defense,” Stitt said. “We just couldn’t get pressure.”
And Strong led all Griz defensive players with nine total tackles and chipped in a ½ tackle for a loss of one yard in his first game back after having a hand injury. He’s still playing with a brace on to protect his thumb.
“It hinders some of the things I want to do, especially with the pass game,” Strong said of his club.
Other major contributors for the Griz were linebackers Josh Buss and James Banks who had five tackles apiece and punter Eric Williams who had his number called seven times. He averaged 37.1 yards per punt with his longest being 46 yards.
For a game being played against such a tough opponent, Montana is heading home with a lot of lessons learned.
“We’re gonna come out of this with a lot of great things,” Stitt said.
"There's so much we can take away from this game,” he said. … There were so many moments where we were moving the ball with — I won't say ease, but — we were doing what we were coached to do. Granted, they made plays when it mattered and this is, in hindsight, when you step back and look at it, once we get to the Big Sky and once we're on week seven, eight, this is a game we can look back on. We're not gonna be nervous for any other games.
“We just played a playoff caliber team. These guys are the real deal. Once we get deeper into the season in Big Sky competition, the nerves and the feeling of being nervous is just not gonna matter because we just played on the biggest stage you can play on. That's the positive we can take out of it."