The Big Sky “bullies” are back

There were a handful of plays you could point to as the defining moment of Idaho’s road upset over No. 3 Montana.

Many would point to Paul Moala’s interception late in the fourth quarter as the Griz were threatening deep in Vandal territory, or teammate Tommy McCormick’s similar snag just minutes later to seal the win.

It may have also been the moment Jason Eck rolled the dice on his gutsiest call yet—an onside kick at the start of the second half to steal the momentum. The gamble not only paid off with advantageous field position to set up the go-ahead score, but it also silenced the majority of the 26,000 fans who flooded Washington-Grizzly Stadium to witness the next chapter of the storied Big Sky rivalry.

“We saw something on tape where they left the front line a little early, and it was the perfect kick by (Logan) Prescott,” Eck said in an interview after the 30-23 victory.

But there was one other play Saturday that ultimately turned the tide in a game featuring plenty of heavyweight punches.

With the Vandals facing third down deep in Griz territory and only 36 seconds left before the half, quarterback Gevani McCoy took a shotgun snap and went through his initial read before Patrick O’Connell caught his attention blitzing on the left side of the line. The redshirt freshman gunslinger was only able to take two steps to his right before the linebacker grasped his legs and began to pull him down.

With as much energy as he could muster, McCoy launched the ball across his body down the left side of the field in the direction of wideout Hayden Hatten. Despite double coverage by veteran safeties Robby Hauck and Nash Fouch, the redshirt sophomore was able to reel in the catch and stagger his way into the end zone.

The score was not only a reflection of the scrappy style of play the Vandals have shown in recent weeks, but a deeper look at the proverbial chess match between two of the best coaching minds in the FCS.

It’s no secret Bobby Hauck has a reputation throughout the Big Sky for employing a blitz-heavy defensive approach, forcing opposing quarterbacks to make snap decisions. But this was a game plan that Idaho seemed prepared for during the weekend, as the offensive line was able to hold back the repeated pressure to allow McCoy to take advantages of key mismatches in the secondary.

Hatten was one such mismatch. On a day when 2021 Buchanan Award finalist Justin Ford was reduced to a non-factor, the Idaho wideout carved through the Montana secondary for 149 yards and a pair of scores, including another 43-yard back shoulder catch against Corbin Walker in man coverage.

“That play was actually called before we got into the huddle,” Hatten said of his second score in a post-game interview with Lewiston Tribune reporter Trevan Pixley. “Coach asked me how I felt about the play, and I knew I could get open. We dialed it up and it worked perfectly.”

The end result was a scene the Vandal faithful had not witnessed for more than two decades—the notorious Little Brown Stein hoisted by players and coaches for the first time since 1999. Although it may have marked the biggest victory for Idaho over the last few years, Eck has already set his sights even higher.

“I thought it was a little premature. We haven’t won the conference or anything (yet),” he said. “But I’m glad the win made the players happy.”

Although the victory may have only solidified bragging rights for the time being, it certainly sent shockwaves throughout the FCS and a message to the rest of the Big Sky.

The “bullies on the block” are officially back.

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