Starting quarterback Dalton Sneed only played for the first series of the Grizzlies’ scrimmage on Friday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, and his absence was noticeable. Without its leader, Montana’s offense struggled to move the ball and only scored 12 points.
The defense scored 12 points of its own with a pair of touchdowns. One came from a blocked field goal return. The other was a botched snap that sailed over the quarterback’s head; linebacker Patrick O’Connell picked it up and carried it into the end zone.
Redshirt junior Cam Humphrey and red- shirt freshman Garrett Graves got the bulk of the work at quarterback in Sneed’s absence. Graves, a dual-threat quarterback from Eureka, played without the black non-contact jerseys quarterbacks usually wear in scrimmages. This allowed him to play live repetitions and use his legs, his best asset.
“[Graves] hasn’t been hit like he gets hit out here in high school,” head coach Bobby Hauck said. “He just hasn’t played at that speed. None of them have. So he needs some live action, and it’s good for him to get banged around a little bit. He’s physical enough to give his own back, and I thought he did a nice job for a guy who was really in his first live action.”
Giving younger players a chance to simulate a real game was the goal for Montana on Friday, and the reason Sneed watched with the coaches for most of the afternoon.
“That’s the point of the scrimmage for us, to come out and throw us in all sorts of different situations,” Graves said. “We’ve gotta learn how to react in these situations, so when it comes down to it in the game, we’re right there and ready to go.”
The most competitive battle of the day was between Montana’s secondary, comprised of the defensive backfield, and wide receivers, two of the most experienced and talented groups on the team.
“It’s usually back and forth [between the] offense [and] defense,” senior cornerback Dareon Nash said. Nash also blocked the field goal cornerback Gavin Crow returned for a touchdown. “I think we won today. I’m definitely excited about it.”
Samuel Akem, a 6-foot-4 junior, led the receivers, using his height to make a few highlight-reel catches. Sophomore Malik Flowers, whose primary position was kick returner last season, used his speed to make plays in the middle of the field. Both times, Akem caught 40-plus yard deep throws.
“I think Malik Flowers has really stepped up in our group and made some big catches,” sophomore receiver Mitch Roberts said. “I think our group overall has really stepped up. I think we’ve grown from last spring a ton.”
The receivers went back and forth with the secondary for most of the hour-long scrimmage. But the defense came out on top after senior cornerback Kadeem Hemphill broke up a pair of passes and tipped a ball up to be intercepted in the final series.
“I was just trying to make some plays,” Hemphill said. “I’m not on scholarship yet and I’ve been transferring all over places, so that’s my biggest thing. I just want to do what I can do so I can get on scholarship.”
Hemphill got his hand in front of one ball and timed clean hits on sophomore wide receiver Gabe Sulser on two other balls. Sulser wore the blows and bounced back to his feet both times. Despite his 5-foot-9, 160-pound frame, Sulser also brushed off a tackle near the sideline earlier in practice and picked up extra yards.
“He’s a great player,” Hemphill said of Sulser. “He gets me out here in one-on-ones, so we go back-and-forth. Him being a fresh- man, I just want to help him. And he’s helping me, you know? Iron sharpens iron. It was cool, but he took it like a champ.”
Montana will cap spring practices with the 2019 Griz Spring Game, which will be held at Legends Stadium in Kalispell on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. and tickets cost $10, with proceeds going to the Grizzly Scholarship Association. Tickets are available for purchase and the game will also be broadcast on SWX Montana.