VERMILLION, S.D.—Montana senior quarterback Dalton Sneed passed for a career-high 430 yards and three touchdowns to lead the 25th-ranked Grizzlies to a 31-17 win against South Dakota Saturday inside the DakotaDome in the season opener for both teams.
It marked the first loss by the Coyotes in a home opener since 2002, ending a streak of 16 consecutive games, which was tied for sixth in the FCS entering the season. South Dakota started its season at home for the first time since 2013.
It was a career day for Sneed and his top two playmakers. All-Big Sky receiver Samuel Akem caught nine passes for a career-high 158 and a score. Junior Samori Toure also had nine receptions, netting a career-high 142 yards and a touchdown. Sneed completed 37 of 52 passes. He also ran 10 times for 11 yards including a 2-yard touchdown run in the first half.
South Dakota quarterback Austin Simmons threw for 246 yards and two touchdowns on 23-of-33 passing. Kody Case, a redshirt sophomore who missed much of last season with an injury, tied USD’s single-game record with 11 catches. Case caught a 3-yard touchdown and a 9-yard touchdown while totaling a career-high 144 yards. It was the second 100-yard game of his career.
“It is definitely fun to play football healthy,” said Case. “We hit a lot of the stuff that we wanted to hit. We need to build on what we did well in this game, and fix what we did not do well.”
Converting third downs and finishing drives was the difference in the two offenses. Montana was 10 of 16 on third down while the Coyotes were 2 of 10. USD settled for a field goal following a 1st-and-goal from the 2 early in the second quarter, and had two of its four second-half drives stall inside the Grizzlies’ 30.
“I’m not just disappointing that we lost the game, I’m disappointed, I think, because we certainly are capable of playing much better than what we did,” said USD head coach Bob Nielson. “Their quarterback is an outstanding player, and he certainly showed that today.
“It’s kind of interesting because we went into the game saying that we have to stop the running game, and the quarterback run game, which we did a great job on. But unfortunately, they took it to us through the air.”
Sneed and company carved up the Coyote secondary with short, quick passes to the edges that led to missed tackles and yards after contact. When it wasn’t those, it was Akem and Toure winning one-on-one matchups down the field. Toure caught a 16-yard touchdown to put the Griz on the board 7-3 with 8:30 to go in the first half. Akem capped Montana’s first drive of the second half with a 43-yard strike against 1-on-1 coverage that extended the Grizzlies’ lead to 24-10.
Simmons countered with a 7-play, 67-yard drive and cut the deficit in half with a strike to Case on a 4th-and-4 gamble from the Montana 9. A 21-yard scramble by Simmons – the longest run of the day by either team – moved the drive into Griz territory.
But South Dakota couldn’t stop Montana.
Sneed went 10 plays and 65 yards the other way to put the visitors back in front by two scores. It was Montana’s fifth-consecutive scoring drive dating back to the second quarter. The Griz overcame a 1st-and-20 in the middle of the drive. Sneed was 7-for-8 for 60 yards and hit running back Marcus Knight out of the backfield for a 6-yard score. A 16-yard pass to Akem helped erase the holding penalty.
Montana outgained USD 510-352. A missed 37-yard field goal on their first possession and two interceptions by Sneed were the Grizzlies’ lone blemishes. Punter Adam Wilson was called on twice.
Coyote cornerback Mark Collins Jr. intercepted Sneed late in the first quarter that led to a short field goal by Mason Lorber and a 3-0 lead. Collins Jr., USD’s top corner, was injured in the first half and didn’t return. Massachusetts transfer Bakhari Goodson and true freshman Cori Fant Jr. were called upon in his place.
USD linebacker Jack Cochrane picked off Sneed in the end zone with 10:33 remaining to end the Grizzlies’ string of scores. USD quickly advanced into Montana territory, but Simmons’ pass to Caleb Vander Esch on 4th-and-2 was defended perfectly by Robby Hauck to end the threat.
South Dakota takes to the road in week two to face fourth-ranked Oklahoma in Norman. The Sooners begin their season Sunday at home against Houston.