It will go down in history as one of the most impressive defensive displays in the 114-year history of the Brawl of the Wild.
Heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale at Montana, the Montana State football team had set a school record for points in a season with 449. The Cats were averaging almost 41 points a game.
Yet very little went right for their offense against the Grizzlies’ inspired defense. Quarterback Jake Bleskin threw five interceptions and his unit had seven turnovers in a nightmarish 34-7 loss at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
“We had our hands full and I thought as a group we responded beautifully,” Montana senior defensive end Zack Wagenmann said. “We were able to get in Bleskin’s face, make him uncomfortable. That’s kind of our job as a defensive line. We were able to do that successfully early and that opened up opportunities.”
Montana’s ability to stop the Bobcats in the red zone was uncanny. In four trips inside the Griz 20-yard line the Bobcats came away with seven points.
“We thought they were going to score points but our defense played unbelievable,” Montana QB Jordan Johnson said. “I was just so happy with how we performed on senior day. It couldn’t be a better feeling right now.”
Montana State finished with 314 total yards, including 153 rushing and 161 passing. It marked their lowest total since a loss on opening day at FBS Arkansas State.
“(Bleskin) is really down,” MSU coach Rob Ash said. “But we’ll go console him and get him back up. Thankfully we have another opportunity to play next week I imagine. Guys have to get up off the mat when they get knocked down, and Jake will do that.”
Linebackers Kendrick Van Ackeren and Herbert Gamboa shared team-high honors in tackles for UM with 11 apiece. Nose tackle Tonga Takai had the play of the game, ending Montana State’s drive inside the 5-yard line with an interception in the first quarter with Montana clinging to a 10-0 lead.
Johnson’s senior season had been all pass and very little run before Saturday, but on Montana’s first drive the QB faked a handoff and ran 10 yards to convert a third-and-5.
In the end -- after a 29-yard run set up Jordan Canada’s rushing TD, and a 43-yard burst preceded Canada’s first career TD reception -- Johnson had 80 yards on six carries.
His best total this season had been 25 yards on eight totes in the loss at Eastern Washington. And Saturday’s performance came on a balky ankle.
“I felt pretty good,” said the QB, who also threw for 313 yards and three TDs Saturday. “I treated it for probably 4-5 hours every day during the week.
“Early on I didn’t think I was going to be able to play, but it just kept getting better and better. I wasn’t going to miss this game for anything.”
Johnson is 3-0 in these Brawls, and his play Saturday was reminiscent of his sophomore campaign in 2011, when he rushed for 506 yards.
It wasn’t anything MSU showed on film; UM just went to its spread.
“We just decided to go with that style of offense and that’s what we are going to do,” Johnson said.
Mitch Saylor’s days as a big-play receiver for the Grizzlies have arrived, and his career day -- six catches, 103 yards and a TD -- came at the best possible time.
His touchdown came on a play-action play on first-and-goal from the MSU 4-yard line. He was wide open.
It made the score 27-0, Griz, and basically put the game out of reach.
Yet he had two more impressive catches in the first half that led to 10 points: A leaping grab of a 26-yard strike from Johnson ahead of Canada’s second TD, and a 31-yard reception in ahead of Daniel Sullivan’s field goal in the second quarter.
On that one he was the check-down, and he rumbled up the sideline and trucked MSU safety Robert Marshall.
“I can’t even explain it,” said Saylor, whose yardage Saturday eclipsed his total (88) from all of 2013). “It was so much fun. Everyone is fired up. It was an awesome experience, awesome atmosphere. I couldn’t ask for a better outcome, or a better day, honestly.”
“I said before the game somebody is going to stand out that’s unexpected,” added Delaney. “And you know, Mitch Saylor was something really special today.”