POCATELLO – On a day where the Idaho State football team welcomed the Big Sky Conference’s top-ranked scoring offense to Holt Arena, the Bengal’s defense gave up a series of second-half touchdown drives following a series of offensive mistakes that cost ISU its halftime lead, and ultimately the ball game.
After holding Montana (4-2, 2-1 BSC) to 214 yards of total offense and 13 points in the first-half, the Grizzlies offense came to life in the second, scoring four touchdowns on its first five drives of the second-half, outscoring Idaho State (3-3, 1-2 BSC) 26-10 in the final 30 minutes and taking home a 39-31 win.
Mario Jenkins led Idaho State with 11 tackles but left the game in the first-half when he was the last one to get up following Idaho State’s first touchdown. He later returned, but head coach Rob Phenicie wouldn’t speak on Jenkins’ injury, only saying that, “stuff went on,” during the play where Jenkins went down.
“He’s a war-daddy,” Phenicie said. “They were being extremely dirty in the pile after the field goal. Their field goal team, let’s just say there was stuff going on in there and we know it.”
“A lot of guys had a lot into this game and it’s tough to get a loss,” said wide receiver Mitch Gueller, who caught 9 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns.
The Griz finished the afternoon with 519 yards of total offense, but 226 of those yards came on five passing plays of 33 yards or more. All but one of those passing plays was in the second-half and Montana hooked up for a long pass play on four of its five touchdown drives.
Montana took its first lead of the afternoon when it put together an 11-play, 80-yard drive that took three-minutes and 33-seconds off the clock to open the second-quarter.
Idaho State blocked the extra point, which enabled the Bengals to retake the lead, 14-13, on its first play from scrimmage the following drive, a 75-yard touchdown pass to Mitch Gueller from Tanner Gueller. Tanner Gueller tossed 25 completions off 40 attempts for 359 yards and three touchdowns, but was sacked six times.
“We came up short,” Phenicie said. “We had too many plays, too many sacks, too many penalties and too many turnovers.”
Montana made a rare offensive mistake at the 7:22 mark of the second-frame, when running back Jeremy Calhoun, who finished with 92 yards off 15 carries, put the ball on the turf at Montana’s own 10-yard line.
One play later, Idaho State was back in the end zone for its second Gueller-Gueller touchdown connection of the afternoon and Idaho State took an eight-point lead into the locker room.
“There’s a level of confidence with each other,” Phenicie said on the Gueller brothers. “It’s a good thing to have.”
Prior to today, Montana was 0-2 on the season when its opponents scored first, and head coach Bob Stitt held an 0-8 record when trailing at halftime on the road.
“We made too many errors and they capitalized on them,” said linebacker Joe Martin who finished with 10 tackles. “Mental errors, not being where we needed to be at in the right spot, sometimes they were going too fast for us. We were solid all practice and we didn’t show up in the game.”
The Griz pounded the Bengals secondary in the second-half and collected its four-consecutive touchdown drives on one, two, seven and 10-play drives, taking less than four minutes each time.
“Our calls were sound,” Phenicie said. “It’s just the human element.”
After missing a field goal on its first drive of the second-half, Montana took advantage of a Tanner Gueller fumble that set the Griz up at the Idaho State 35.
One play later, Montana quarterback Gresch Jensen, who connected on 23 of his 35 passes for 360 yards and four touchdowns, found Justin Calhoun for a touchdown, which pulled the Griz to within two, 21-19.
Justin Calhoun was one of three Montana receivers to haul in over 70 receiving yards, catching three passes for 86 yards and a score.
Idaho State responded with a 7-play, 74-yard touchdown drive, ending with a Ty Flanagan touchdown. Flanagan ran the ball 12 times for 55 yards, which included the 4-yard touchdown and extended the Idaho State lead back out to nine, 28-19.
But the Griz answered by going 75 yards in 22 seconds in two plays as Jensen hooked up with Samori Toure for 71 yards that setup the four-yard Samuel Akem touchdown catch and pulled Montana back to within two, 28-26.
The Bengals looked as if they were going toe-to-toe with the conference’s top-ranked offense, but had their answering drive stall when Idaho State failed to pick up a fourth-and-11 after picking up a third-and-10, a third-and-16 and a third-and-one earlier in the drive.
Montana turned the second Idaho State turnover of the half into more points, this time going 65 yards in seven plays and using 96 seconds. This drive featured a 46-yard connection to Justin Calhoun that put Montana into the red zone and moments later, the Griz took a lead that they would never relinquish courtesy of a one-yard Jensen touchdown toss to Alijah Lee.
“Just a loss,” Phenicie said. “We can still go 6-2 and make the playoffs. It’s just a Big Sky loss and all Big Sky losses sting the same.”
Idaho State once again, put together a potential answering drive, but failed to come away with points when Tanner Gueller was smoked from behind, fumbling the ball on a third-down. Idaho State recovered, but the fumble was enough to push Idaho State out of field goal range and the Bengals punted.
Following the punt, Montana pieced together a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that put the Griz up 11, 39-28.
Idaho State added a late field goal, but was unable to recover the onside kick and was handed its first loss at Holt Arena this season.
Idaho State travels to Sacramento State next Saturday for its second conference road game of the season.