Thunderbirds Fall to Grizzlies in Montana's Homecoming Game

October 01, 2016
By SUU Strategic Communication

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MISSOULA, Montana – Despite trailing just 15-14 with just one minute remaining in the opening half, the Montana Grizzlies managed to blow open the second half for a 43-20 homecoming victory in Missoula.

Patrick Tyler threw 16-41-1, including three touchdowns to Mike Sharp. Malik Brown led the Thunderbirds on the running game, rushing 15 times for 118 yards.

The total attendance at Washington-Grizzly Stadium was 26,092, which marks the sixth largest crowd in UM history.

“We did pretty good, but we have a lot of things to work on. I know I have a lot of things I need to work on,” Sharp said. “But I think we responded well to the atmosphere. Hats off to Montana’s community. They brought out a big fan base. It was loud, and they made it difficult.”

The Grizzlies put up the first points of the game with a 25-yard field goal before the Thunderbird answered less than two minutes later as Tyler connected with Sharp on a 26-yard pass. Keita Calhoun knocked in the extra point to give Southern Utah a 7-3 lead.

Responding with a TD, Montana’s Brady Gustafson found James Homan for a 3-yard pass before a failed kick put UM ahead 9-7 to round out the opening quarter.

SUU’s Tyler-Sharp combo opened the second quarter as Tyler threw a 22-yarder to Sharp to regain Southern Utah’s lead at 14-9.

Montana then took off with a 27-point scoring spree. UM’s Brady Gustafson launched the rally as he connected with John Nguyen on a 28-yard pass followed by a 43-yard pass to Justin Calhoun to capture a 22-14 lead at halftime.

Continuing through the third quarter, UM posted back-to-back touchdowns as Gustafson hit Josh Horner on a 10-yard touchdown pass before Jeremy Calhoun rushed in an 8-yarder to extend Montana’s lead to 36-14 heading into the final quarter.

“They have a great defensive line, and that was a great team that we played,” head coach Demario Warren said.

Southern Utah snapped its scoring drought a few minutes into the final quarter as Tyler and Sharp connected for their third touchdown of the game to cut the gap, 36-20 in favor of Montana.

“Sharp is one of the best receivers in the country,” Warren said. “We have weapons outside, we just need to make those plays a little more consistently.”

UM chalked up one final touchdown near the end of the game to seal the 43-20 win.

Ethan Tuilagi led the Thunderbirds defensively with 10 tackles—four solo and six assisted. Tyler Collet and Mike Needham each added nine tackles. Needham and Akili Gray both posted one interception in the loss.

“We just have to figure out what we need to fix and come back next week,” Needham said. “I’m pretty dead right now. I’ll rest . . . and we’ll come back Monday ready for next Saturday.”

The Thunderbirds return home next weekend to take on UC Davis in Eccles Coliseum on October 8 at 6 p.m.