BOZEMAN, Montana — When called upon to represent the wide receivers in Saturday's post-practice home run derby, Mitch Griebel grabbed a bat, strutted to the plate and locked eyes with pitcher Kane Ioane.
The senior, who later would be named a team captain, took three confident swings, each resulting in a prodigious blast that rattled the grandstands. It was a display of power and consistency the Montana State offense could not match in its final appearance of the spring.
Was this cause for concern?
In the moments after Saturday's Sonny Holland Classic concluded, offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey giddily chased one of his sons across the Bobcat Stadium turf.
"I'm going to sleep just fine, no question," he said with a grin. "We have the weapons, we have the strength up front and we have the quarterbacks. And I think we scored seven points last spring, so I think we're going to be all right."
Such was the prevailing sentiment despite a rather erratic performance with the ball in a session that lasted about 70 plays.
While Dakota Prukop and the first team scored 17 points in six drives and the day featured no turnovers, negative plays — the defense piled up seven sacks — and stalled drives abounded. Jake Bleskin and the twos found the end zone once and managed a field goal, but were forced into a trio of three-and-outs.
"Ultimately, when we first showed up we were a little flat," running back Gunnar Brekke admitted. "I'm one of the lucky ones because my body feels great because I haven't played a lot, but obviously guys are a little tired and beat up right now and we had some protection issues and stuff."
Matt Brownlow and Tyrone Fa'anono barreled into the backfield to swallow up Prukop, and Monte Folsom also helped thwart a promising opening drive by dropping Anthony Knight for no gain.
"When the quarterbacks are in red jerseys, they can just pressure you without the fear of the QB escaping — as soon as they get close it's a dead ball," Prukop said. "It's obviously a little different than a live situation, but the defense had a good day."
Added Cramsey, "I would put my money on Dakota for getting out of those and making some money for us."
Prukop and company took advantage of a pass interference penalty on a long toss to Justin Paige and a bruising conversion on third and short from Chad Newell to move the chains during their second go-round. On the ninth play, 6-foot-5 tight end Austin Barth faded to the flat, hauled in a pass and scored from 5 yards out.
The junior, a former quarterback from Columbia Falls, hauled in three catches for 20 yards, including one for a conversion on third and 9 in which linebacker Robert Walsh supplied suffocating pressure.
Barth's conversion was one of two on an opening drive of the second half in which the ones ran 15 plays and steadily marched into the red zone, and then Luke Daly confidently split the uprights with a 33-yard boot.
The sophomore from Billings was one of the stars on this afternoon, completing a perfect scrimmage with two field goals and three extra points before putting on a display after the final whistle. Daly easily converted from 47, 52 and 57 yards, drawing cheers from a sizable crowd.
"We've been working with him on kicking the long ones just the same as he does the short because he's so strong and doesn't need to put anything extra into it," Ash said. "What a great way for him to go into the offseason."
Prukop and Bleskin head into the break after an efficient performance in which they combined to complete 23 of 34 attempts for 192 yards and three scores. Prukop also rushed for 31 yards on six attempts, and later declared himself completely healthy after suffering a PCL tear last season.
"I feel three times as good as I did at the start of the spring," he added. "I'm ready to take that next step."
But first, he and his fellow signal caller stoked a sizable crowd with a pair of long connections. Bleskin eluded a determined rush and hit Brekke on a wheel route for a 25-yard score early, and then Prukop finally found Justin Paige; the sophomore blew past Desman Carter on a post and hauled in a 39-yard touchdown on the session's final play.
Brekke, who earlier this week was surprised to learn he'd participate Saturday, and Chad Newell combined for 7 carries and 22 yards.
"I told Chad, 'Dang, man, I feel like it's my first game again. I'm so excited; it seems like I haven't played in forever,'" Brekke joked. "I felt like we had a pretty good day. It was great to get out here, just fly around and pop some pads a little bit."
Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com
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