Senior quarterback Chad Chalich didn’t know when his next opportunity would come. He just knew to be ready.
Chalich threw for a school-record seven touchdowns and ran for another score Saturday night as Montana beat Idaho State 62-44.
Starting in place of injured senior Brady Gustafson, the former Idaho starting quarterback completed 21-of-27 passes for 388 yards. He had one pass intercepted. Montana broke 60 points for the third straight game at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
“You talk about the job of a backup,” UM’s second-year coach Bob Stitt said. “He prepares every game like he’s starting, and it’s paid off. Because when he did get the opportunity, he came out and played very, very well. Best day ever for a quarterback as far as throwing the ball.”
The Grizzlies (6-3, 3-3 Big Sky) led 41-31 after a wild first half in which the teams combined for 701 yards of offense. Chalich had scoring strikes of 9, 25 and 4 yards to Keenan Curran, the last coming with 15 seconds left before halftime.
By intermission Chalich, lofting passes to a standout receiver group, tied the school record. By the end, the Coeur d’Alene High graduate surpassed a quartet of Griz quarterbacks who’d thrown six TD passes in a game: Dave Dickenson (1995), Brian Ah Yat (1998), Jordan Johnson (2011) and Capital High grad Makena Simis (2015) — who has since moved to wide receiver, according to the UM roster.
“Makena came up to me. He said, ‘Chad you’re almost there, you’re almost there. Join the club,’ ” Chalich said. “Great opportunity. Our offense came out and scored 60 points, and that’s going to win a lot of ballgames.”
Curran hauled in a 6-yard touchdown pass at 10:49 of the fourth quarter as Chalich set the record and put Montana up 55-31. Curran, who had seven catches for 129 yards, also tied Montana’s single-game record for receiving TDs, becoming the sixth Grizzly to catch four.
Idaho State (2-7, 1-5) led 14-13 at 3:58 of the first quarter on KW Williams’ 7-yard scoring pass from Tanner Gueller, and 31-27 when Michael Dean scored on a 3-yard run with 4:37 left in the first half. Gueller set up that touchdown with a 52-yard burst on a quarterback keeper.
Montana went in front for good a couple minutes later, Jerry Louie-McGee running under a 52-yard bomb from Chalich. That made it 34-31 at the 2:29 mark.
Chalich’s other TD passes covered 61 and 16 yards to Justin Calhoun, and he had a 1-yard scoring run to start the fourth quarter.
“Like coach says, we’re going to come out and give them a chance to make plays and they really made them,” Chalich said. “I mean, Keenan and Justin and Jerry all made plays today.”
Stitt said Gustafson practiced Thursday and could have played, but decided not to risk further damage to the starter.
“Brady would have been the guy had he not been banged up,” Stitt said. “We’ve got to get Brady back healthy and when he is he'll be back in there.”
Joey Counts added a 9-yard scoring run for Montana.
Gueller had three touchdown passes in the first half, two to Williams and one to Austin Campbell, but was injured just before intermission.
“It was a hell of a fight until our quarterback got knocked out on a late hit,” Idaho State coach Mike Kramer said. “And that’s what happened. Our backup came in and we lost an integral part of what we were about up to that point.
“I thought our offensive coaching staff called a great ball game, and we showed our coverage limitations a little bit.”
Trae Pilster took over in the second half and threw for 143 yards and a touchdown to Hagen Graves (Skyview High). Pilster led a pair of scoring drives in the fourth quarter, with James Madison’s 16-yard run completing the scoring with 3:00 left.