The boys are back in town, Missoula, and they're happy to be home.
In their first home game in nearly a month, the Montana Grizzlies thrilled a plus-capacity crowd at Washington-Grizzly Stadium on homecoming with an offensive showing for the ages. The Griz rolled to 627 yards in a 43-20 dismantling of the Southern Utah Thunderbirds on Saturday.
It's the most yards by a Griz offense since Montana piled high 629 in defeating Cal Poly, 53-3, in 2000 and the first time UM has reached 600 since 2013.
It's also a number head coach Bob Stitt expects to see far more often in the near future.
"It's something that we expect," said Stitt, No. 11 Montana's second-year head man. "We should have had it before now and we knew it was there.
"A lot of that is on the other side of the ball, the defense playing well and getting us the ball back. You can't have 600 yards if the other offense is doing well."
The all-around victory for the Griz (3-1 overall, 1-1 in Big Sky Conference) started from the opening kickoff. For the third straight game the Griz scored on their first possession, this time a 25-yard field goal by Tim Semenza.
The offensive force started building soon after. In response to a SUU (2-2, 1-1) touchdown, a 26-yard pass from quarterback Patrick Tyler to his favorite target Mike Sharp, quarterback Brady Gustafson aired it out for the first of his four TDs. After a toss to Jerry Louie-McGee covered 40 yards thanks to the speedy receiver's dance moves, Gustafson found James Homan on a 3-yard strike in the end zone.
For Homan, who along with Louie-McGee (118 yards) surpassed the century mark receiving with 103 yards, the TD was his first in a Griz uniform. Gustafson finished with 415 yards passing.
"The corners kind of bailed real fast, so we'd run little short routes to catch the ball and get upfield," said Homan of UM's ability to turn short catches into long gains.
A missed extra point, the first of two for Montana on the day, left the score at 9-7 still in the first quarter, and Southern Utah made it 14-9 again with Sharp in the second.
The big receiver caught three Saturday and is among the national leaders now with eight receiving scores after feasting on Griz man-to-man coverage.
"Toward the end of the game they started rolling a safety over the top so I had two guys to work with," said Sharp of UM's counter to his success. "It's probably one of my favorite plays. When I get an isolation route, I know I'm one on one with a guy."
There wouldn't be much to smile about for the Thunderbirds from there though. The Griz found their extra gear in a stretch that featured 27 straight points for the home team.
Montana regained the lead with Stitt's signature flysweep making a cameo. Gustafson faked the bump pass to Louie-McGee in motion and with the SUU defense biting hard, running back John Nguyen was free racing by the secondary on the left side for an easy 28-yard TD pass.
After the teams traded fumbles -- Treshawn Favors losing one for UM before Griz linebacker Connor Strahm ripped the ball out of the hands of Malik Brown one play later -- Montana's kicking woes reappeared. SUU blocked a 39-yard field goal, about the last time UM's offense didn't do exactly what it wanted.
Like with 1:19 left in the half and UM way back at its own 17-yard line. Nguyen carried the ball three times up to midfield and then Gustafson found the hole in the defense for a 43-yard bomb to Justin Calhoun. The TD gave the Griz the 22-14 lead and all the momentum in the world.
Montana received the second-half kickoff and marched 75 more yards to the end zone again. The drive's ninth play saw Gustafson hit Josh Horner on a 10-yard touchdown pass. As Montana receivers were often Saturday, Horner was wide open.
Then defensive end Ryan Johnson picked off SUU's Tyler to set up a Jeremy Calhoun 9-yard touchdown run, in which he body surfed over would-be tacklers the final 2 yards to the end zone.
In the length of one quarter, the Griz deficit had morphed into a 36-14 advantage too steep for overpowered Southern Utah. On offense, the Birds were battered by Montana's pass rush and failed time and again to answer on the scoreboard.
"We only ended up with one sack, but I think we hit him about 15 times," said Johnson, who sacked the quarterback on SUU's last drive of the game. "That definitely factored into (the QB's) mindset. ... We were a step away about a dozen times today. If we were a step quicker, we probably would have had 12 sacks."
Sharp cashed in for his third touchdown in the fourth quarter, but the Griz made sure the T-birds were cooked. Montana's run game, which accounted for 202 of the 600-plus yards, took over from there. Jeremy Calhoun provided the final knife with a 45-yard gut-punch TD with 4 minutes to play.
"We couldn’t reverse that momentum going out in the second half," said a very reserved Demario Warren, SUU's head coach, after the game, "(but) the game got out of reach there in the third quarter."