MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Dalton Sneed ran for one score and threw for another, helping Montana hold off Northern Iowa 26-23 Saturday night in Bobby Hauck’s first game back as Montana’s coach.
Hauck, who guided the Grizzlies (1-0) to Big Sky Conference titles in each of his seven seasons at the helm from 2003-09, saw his defense hold Northern Iowa to 47 total yards in the first half. Sneed tore off a 17-yard scramble to give the Grizzlies a 6-0 lead about 2½ minutes into the game.
Sneed, who transferred from Fort Scott Community College after beginning his college career UNLV, hit Samori Toure with a 10-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds left in the first quarter, making it 16-0.
The lead grew to 26-0 by halftime on a 25-yard double-pass from Keenan Curran to tight end Colin Bingham, and a 31-yard field goal from Tim Semenza as the second quarter ended.
“When things are clicking that’s how it’s supposed to look,” Hauck said. “After halftime we had a chance to not have it be that close, but we couldn’t win on third down — on either side of the ball.
“Northern Iowa made some plays, so credit them.”
The Panthers (0-1), ranked No. 13 in the FCS, got on the board when backup quarterback Colton Howell ran in from 1-yard out with 1:57 left in the third quarter.
Marcus Weymiller added a 1-yard touchdown run with 11:43 to play and, after a pair of Montana punts, Northern Iowa drew to 26-23 after Howell’s 11-yard pass to Nick Fossey with 3:14 remaining.
Howell ran for 22 yards and threw for 140 in relief of starter Eli Dunne, who was just 5-of-20 passing for 24 yards, with in interception.
“That kid is a competitive dude,” Hauck said of Howell. “He came in and took some shots. Certainly, a way, way different guy than their starter.
“(UNI Coach) Mark Farley is a veteran, and he pulled a really, really good player and put in a backup that’s hard to defend. That was an excellent coaching move.”
After Fossey’s TD, Howell hit Briley Moore for a 2-point conversion pass bring UNI within a field goal. The Grizzlies sealed the outcome when Sneed, who threw for 239 yards on 28-of-39 passing, hit Toure with a 14-yard pass on third-and-2. That allowed 24th-ranked Montana to run out the clock.
“What a great night in the stadium,” said Hauck, who estimated 25-30 of his former Griz players were waiting on the sideline when his team left the locker room for the kickoff.
“The Grizzly fans were in full force and it was great to see. And to beat a really fine football team that is as veteran as Northern Iowa is quite a win for us. It’s great to be 1-0.”
Sneed also led the team in rushing with 58 yards on 15 carries. Toure had seven catches for 56 yards.
Dante Olson had 13 tackles, including a sack, and an interception for Montana.
The Grizzlies improved to 6-0 all-time against UNI. Montana also beat the Panthers 48-10 in the 2011 I-AA playoffs, but the win was vacated due to NCAA infractions.