MISSOULA, Montana — The Montana Grizzlies rode three touchdowns from freshman Jeremy Calhoun to a big first-half lead on the way to a 57-16 victory over Eastern Washington in a key Big Sky Conference football game Saturday.
Calhoun's touchdown runs covered 3, 1 and 3 yards, and the Grizzlies (6-4, 5-2) used a fumble return by Herbert Gamboa and an interception return by JR Nelson to push out to a 50-9 lead midway through the third quarter.
The victory snapped Montana's four-game losing streak to EWU, and kept the Grizzlies' slim playoff hopes alive.
"That was a statement win over a very good football team," first-year Griz coach Bob Stitt said. "I'm not exactly how we were able to do that against a good football team like that, but it's what we needed."
Eastern (6-4, 5-2) committed six turnovers, including two interceptions by Jordan West and another by backup quarterback Gage Gubrud.
Gamboa's TD came after the Eagles' starting QB, Reilly Hennessey, fumbled on a hit by Yamen Sanders. The return covered 33 yards and put the Grizzlies up 27-3 with 10:03 left in the first half.
The lead was 30-9 at halftime and grew to 43-9 on a 45-yard scoring pass from Brady Gustafson to Jamaal Jones, and 50-9 when Nelson had a pick-six from 36 yards out.
Jones, a senior, had six catches for 156 yards, and now has 2,762 receiving yards for his career. Only Marc Mariani had more at Montana, with 3,018.
"We're finally getting healthy," said Stitt. "We knew if we got healthy again we could play some really good football. Offensively we went out and finally clicked. Getting Brady back in there we were able to put some of the stuff in that we originally had, and wanted to have in all season long."
Gustafson, making his first start since suffering a leg injury Sept. 19 at Liberty, was 20 of 34 passing for 266 yards. Running back John Nguyen rushed for 102 yards for the Montana, which lost three fumbles during a sloppy second half.
Eastern's first TD came on a 21-yard option pass from receiver Cooper Kupp to Kendrick Bourne in the first half, and a 1-yard run by Gubrud in the third quarter. Gubrud's TD was set up when Eastern's Victor Gamboa stripped the ball from UM receiver Ellis Henderson.
Kupp, Eastern's junior standout receiver, had six catches for 119 yards. He moved past Jerry Rice and into eighth in FCS history in career receptions, with 303. He has 106 catches this season, breaking the school record of 104 he set last year. The Big Sky single-season record is 112.The Eagles' three quarterbacks combined to throw for 319 yards, but Eastern was just 2 of 15 on third downs, and failed on fourth down four times. Eastern was also sacked six times, with UM's Tyrone Holmes notching three.
"Obviously I give Montana a lot of credit for what they were able to do today," Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said. "They made a lot of explosive plays whether they be defensive touchdowns or big plays on offense. For us, it hurts. It's painful. But you've got to give them credit."