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Griz offense shines in final spring scrimmage


The rain stopped just in time and the offense clicked on all cylinders, as The University of Montana Grizzlies wrapped up their final scrimmage of 2013 spring drills Friday evening in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

"I was standing out here tonight thinking God must have been a Griz this year," joked Griz head coach Mick Delaney.  "It kind of rained off and on all day, but we got through the pre-game stuff with no rain, and I think it just got nicer and nicer as the night went along. 

Six different players combined for seven touchdowns to pace the offense, which racked up 465 yards on 86 plays.

The results were almost the opposite from the Grizzlies' scrimmage of less than a week ago (April 13 in Ronan), when the defense limited the offense to 227 total yards, and registered seven sacks and grabbed four interceptions. 

It was also a special night for a couple of other reasons.

First, two Grizzly greats were on hand, as the two quarterbacks who led the Grizzlies to national championships, Dave Dickenson (1995) and John Edwards (2001), both talked to the stadium crowd prior to the scrimmage. 

Secondly, it was also a significant evening for four current Griz players, as linebackers Brock Coyle and Jordan Tripp were selected as the Grizzlies' 2013 team captains on defense, while quarterback Jordan Johnson and tackle Danny Kistler Jr. were chosen by their teammates to serve that role for the offense.

"It was a great crowd considering all the rain we had earlier in the day, and it was so much fun to have Dave (Dickenson) and John (Edwards) back," Delaney said.  "To have those two Grizzly greats come back on the same night was real special."

Johnson looked like his old self, and was 10-of-19-0 passing for 202 yards and a touchdown, and he rushed 4 times for 13 yards.  Redshirt freshman Brady Gustafson looked impressive as well, going 13-of-17-0 for 131 yards and a touchdown.

"Well he (Johnson) had another week of practice, and had the hamstring (injury) the first two weeks of practice, so he really only had a few days of work," Delaney said.  "He just keeps getting better and better.  He's a very smart guy, so every day that he gets to work on something he gets better.  He was a lot more comfortable out there tonight." 

Junior walk-on wide receiver Kevin Berland had a stellar evening with scrimmage highs of 6 catches for 90 yards, including a 30-yard scoring pass from Gustafson.  Sophomore wide-out Ellis Henderson had 3 grabs for 85 yards, and made a spectacular one-handed grab for a first down on a drive that started from the offense's 2-yard line.  Junior receiver Sean Haynes had just one catch, but it was on a 43-yard touchdown throw from Johnson.

Jordan Canada looked solid once again, as the junior halfback rushed 5 times for 52 yards and he broke free for a 41-yard TD run.  Junior halfback Travon Van rushed 6 times for 17 yards and had an 8-yard touchdown run.

"A lot of guys played well on offense tonight," Delaney continued.  "Both running backs played extremely well.  Ellis Henderson is going to be a big-time play-maker for us.  Kevin Berland and Cam Warren, two little guys both have played well this spring.  I think what happened is that we got healthy offensively, and we could play more guys and we were fresher."

The other scoring came on two field goals (20, 22 yards) by sophomore kicker Chris Lider.  Also, in a goal-line drill starting from the 5-yard line and going in, Johnson scored on a 5-yard run; sophomore quarterback Trent McKinney had a 6-yard TD run; and Van plowed over from the 2-yard line for a touchdown.

Sophomore Kendrick Van Ackeren, a transfer from Hawaii who was just moved from safety to linebacker this week, had a scrimmage-high 9 tackles.  He was followed by sophomore linebackers Kelsey Lippert (8 total tackles) and Connor Lebsock (7 total tackles).  Senior free safety Steven Rominger had the only turnover of the night when he picked off a pass by McKinney.

"This is halftime for us," Delaney said.  "The winter program was the first quarter, spring football was the second quarter, and now our summer program will be the third quarter, and then pre-fall will obviously is the fourth quarter.  And then Appalachian State (the season opener on August 31) and we'll be in overtime.  For us to be a good football team, the four guys (team captains) we have as leaders need to get a lot done for us during our voluntary summer workouts."

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