MISSOULA — What a stunningly marvelous turn of events in Seattle.
Buoyed by a fierce defense and resilient offense, Montana shocked FBS No. 20 Washington Saturday night at Husky Stadium, 13-7. Even long-time fans of the team will have a hard time remembering a more surprising or exhilarating regular-season win.
How big was it?
Ponder this: Even when Montana was considered the premiere program in the Football Championship Subdivision 15 years ago, it still looked overwhelmed in a 41-7 loss at Big Ten big boy Iowa. Same goes for Montana's other games since then against Power Five conference teams.
But on Saturday night, nothing about the game left you feeling as though Montana was the least bit overwhelmed by the opponent or the stage. And we're talking about a Washington program that just four years ago pounded the Grizzlies to a pulp, 63-7.
Kudos to Griz defensive coordinator Kent Baer for a brilliant game plan, mixing in deft blitz packages and coverage schemes to befuddle the Huskies. Washington's offense was so anemic in coming away with a 7-3 halftime lead that the Boo Birds came out at Husky Stadium. The frustration continued for the duration but it was hard to hear Boo Birds at the end because the small group of Griz fans drowned them out.
What we learned Saturday is that Montana's defense is both fast and physical, and that's a mighty impressive combination. The Grizzlies had seven tackles for a loss in the first half alone. After surrendering a touchdown to the Huskies on their opening possession, they stopped Washington cold.
It's still a little hard to believe.
There were a lot of heroes on the Montana defense and it certainly overshadowed the offense. But you had to feel extra good for Griz quarterback Cam Humphrey as he jumped for joy afterwards. What a dream come true for a man that grew up near Husky Stadium.
Humphrey showed a lot of heart and moxie. He was 2-for-10 passing in the first half but regrouped in the second half and finished 12 for 23 for 105 yards. He also ran for 14 yards and every one seemed critical.
We know now that Montana is even better than we imagined. And they should continue to get better on offense with the return of several injured players.
But Saturday doesn't mean a darn thing if the Grizzlies fail to maintain the same effort level in their home debut against Western Illinois and beyond. The coaching staff will no doubt make that clear this coming week.
In all my 15 years covering Montana football, I've never been more impressed with a group of players. This wasn't just a win over the Montana State Bobcats or Eastern Washington Eagles and it wasn't your garden-variety FCS playoff win, this was something special.
Last week I penned a column hinting it was time for the Grizzlies to do something dazzling after years of being sort of good. But even as I wrote that column, I never expected Saturday.
A lot of folks across the Treasure State are walking taller this weekend because of you.
Bill Speltz is Missoulian Sports Editor and has served as Sunday columnist the past 15 years. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.