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Competition rises for Grizzlies today

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | April 16, 2021 12:00 AM

Coming off a 59-3 laugher over Central Washington last Saturday, the competition turns up a couple notches today with Montana playing host to Portland State’s football team at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

The Vikings, a long-time Big Sky Conference foe, bused across three mountain ranges — Coach Bruce Barnam loves these trips — to kick off with the Griz at 11 a.m. They’re coming off a 5-7 mark in 2019 that included a 38-23 loss to Montana at Hillsboro Stadium.

Of course the year before, Portland State came to Wa-Griz and won a 22-20 shocker in Bobby Hauck’s first year back as Griz coach. Among the Vikings still around from that game is kicker Cody Williams, who hit a 52-yard field goal at the end to win it.

That was a tough year for the Griz, who lost several late leads and — this is unheard of — three home games. In 2019 Montana rallied, going 7-0 at home and advancing to the FCS quarterfinals.

Portland State mostly stayed the same, and Barnum’s record there heading into his sixth season is 21-35 — one loss better than Nigel Burton’s record before he stepped down after five years.

It remains a talented team that has six starters back on offense, five on defense and an excellent kicking game. The 2018 win made PSU one of just three Big Sky schools to beat a Hauck-coached team twice.

“It’s been a competitive series between the two schools, and we’re looking forward to a great game Saturday,” said Hauck.

There are some absences, notably kick returner/receiver Emmanuel Daigbe and running back Sirgeo Hoffman, who aren’t on PSU’s two-deep. There are notable additions, including Nebraska transfer receiver Darien Chase (UM’s top receiver in 2019, Samori Toure, transferred to the Huskers) and JC transfer linebacker Tevita Tuitavake.

A familiar name is quarterback Davis Alexander, who guided Portland State on that clock drive against UM in 2018 and then racked up 3,445 yards of total offense in 2019. He’s 6-foot, very mobile and threw 30 touchdown passes in his previous season.

Starting in place of Hoffman will likely be 195-pound Malik Walker, who averaged 4.3 yards on 66 carries in 2019. The top receiver is Mataio Talalemotu, who had 31 catches for 459 yards and four scores.

On defense freshman Parker McKenna and Tuitavake are listed ahead of sophomore Zack Mandera, who started several games in 2019. Anthony Adams is back at corner, and he was excellent in 2019; Jake Porter (4.5 sacks) is back at rush end and 245-pound Nicolas Ah Sam returns at outside linebacker. That’s a good core back from a squad that blanked Idaho in 2019, the program’s first shutout since 2006.

The Vikings also block kicks, and make them: Williams hit a 56-yard field goal in 2019 and has 82 straight successful PATs.

Montana has some intrigue going into this one. Marcus Knight (knee) isn’t playing, so Nick Ostmo and freshman Xavier Harris carried the load against Central Washington. Cam Humphrey, whose 3-0 run as starting QB in 2019 included that win over PSU, will likely split time with freshman Kris Brown.

Both Brown and Harris were dynamic against DII Central Washington; it would be interesting to see how much and how well they play against better competition.

Glacier product Patrick O’Connell had three tackles last week from his rush end spot for the Griz; he shared a tackle for loss. The other Flathead Valley product to see action was Whitefish place kicker Carver Gilman, who had one kickoff and made three PAT kicks.