POCATELLO, Idaho — Surrounded by his teammates, Gresch Jensen couldn’t help but smile.
He had a lot to be happy about.
The Montana football team beat Idaho State 39-31 on the road and it wasn’t your garden variety road win. Jensen orchestrated a come-from-behind road victory for the first time in Bob Stitt’s career at Montana.
It was also the redshirt freshman’s 20th birthday.
Three hundred eighty-three yards of total offense with five touchdowns and a road win: That’s one heck of a birthday present.
“I wish I’d get this every year,” Jensen said, his smile still beaming.
A lot stood out about Jensen’s performance on Saturday, including his 7-yard rushing touchdown at the beginning of the second quarter.
It was third-and-5 at the Idaho State 7-yard line. Center Cooper Sprunk snapped the ball and Jensen dropped back to pass. Three Idaho State players rushed and every wide receiver was covered.
So Jensen checked it.
Scrambling in the backfield, he ran to the right and made a Bengal defender miss. After that, all he wanted was the end zone.
“He willed the ball into the end zone,” Stitt said, smiling. “He just has a knack of where he needs to go and Gresch is really quick. He’s not the fastest guy in the world, but he can put his foot in the ground and make somebody miss.
“You don't want to take Gresch on too many times because he was a very, very good safety in high school and would knock the heck out of you. He got close to the goal line and our guys were hustlin' and pushed him in."
Jensen’s favorite targets were Justin Calhoun, who piled up 86 yards on three receptions, and Samori Toure, who had three catches for 82 yards.
All four of Jensen’s passing touchdowns went to different receivers — Justin Calhoun, Josh Horner, Samuel Akem and Makena Simis.
On the ground, Jeremy Calhoun almost eclipsed 100 yards again, hitting 90 yards on 15 carries. His backfield partner, Alijah Lee, had 48 yards on 12 carries with a touchdown.
“We want to spread the ball around,” Jensen said of having so many players involved. “That’s what we want.”
For the defense, Connor Strahm and James Banks had 14 tackles apiece. Josh Buss racked up 10 and Jesse Sims had 2 ½ sacks.
Montana (4-2, Big Sky 2-1) didn’t start off as hot as it finished, though.
The Grizzlies went three-and-out on their first two drives, with a -5 yards of total offense. Jensen’s line for those first two series was 2 for 5 passing for 1 yard. But he and UM rallied to score on their next drive on a Jensen 3-yard pass to Simis.
The Bengals' offense clicked in the second quarter. By halftime, Idaho State was up 21-13.
On the Bengals' first possession of the second quarter, quarterback Tanner Gueller connected with his brother Mitch Gueller for a 75-yard touchdown pass — the fourth-longest play from scrimmage for the Bengals since 2011 — to regain the lead.
ISU scored again two possessions later after Jeremy Calhoun coughed up a fumble deep in Montana territory. Tanner Gueller found his brother again on the ensuing play to put the Bengals up 21-13.
Montana wasn’t dissuaded from the challenge, though history was stacked against the Grizzlies — they had lost the eight previous road games where they were down at halftime.
“I went at halftime and said, ‘Listen, if you don’t get behind, you can’t have a great comeback,'” Stitt said. “I think it sunk into the guys that, ‘Hey, this is our next step.’”
Montana had the ball to open the second half and marched all the way down to the Idaho State 29-yard line. Kicker Brandon Purdy missed what would have been a career-long 46-yard field goal.
The Grizzly defense came up big on the next drive.
On third-and-17, Tanner Gueller dropped back in the pocket to pass but Montana’s Korey Alexander swooped in and hit him hard to force a fumble. Montana’s Randy Rodriguez came up with the fumble afterward.
The Griz took seven seconds to score again after that. On a one-play drive, Jensen connected with Justin Calhoun for a 35-yard touchdown pass. The 2-point conversion attempt failed and Montana was down by two.
Idaho State answered with a touchdown of its own to build an 8-point lead and Montana scored again too.
On an all-freshman drive, Jensen first hit Toure for a 71-yard gain and then found Akem for a 4-yard touchdown to bring the Griz within two again.
At that point there was no stopping Montana. Idaho State, on the other hand, didn’t find the end zone again.
Montana scored on its next drive on a 1-yard rush from Alijah Lee to take its first lead since early in the second quarter.
The Griz poured it on in the fourth quarter. Jensen found Horner through interference from Idaho State for a touchdown, putting Montana up 39-28.
Idaho State kicked a 35-yard field goal near the end of the game but it was over.
“For our kids to go out and play like that in the second half, I couldn't be more proud,” Stitt said. “Last week, getting a road win was what this team needed. Now what this team needed to move forward was a come from behind win on the road.”
With this win, check that off the list.