Playoff football returns to Missoula

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The University of San Diego was at the end of an eight-game winning streak, a Pioneer League title and a trip to the post-season when they matched up with Cal Poly last weekend.

But any hope of waltzing to the automatic FCS playoffs riding a wave of momentum after claiming the league championship for the third time in four years was swept aside by the Mustangs who hung one on the Toreros (bullfighter) to drop San Diego for just the second time this season.

The men's basketball team remained on the road after their sleeper bus broke down Sunday night en-route from Seattle after the exciting win over Seattle University.

So much for classes and a break before facing Carroll College at home Wednesday-The best laid plans ya know.

But back to playoff football as a glance at the Pioneer League, which receives one of 11 automatic bids for the first time this season.

San Diego won the circuit by two games with just Dayton and Drake showing winning records on the season to claim a post-season appearance for the first time since 1956.

Previous to SLO, the sole Toreros loss this season came in week two when they fell 35-18 to Jacksonville.

Freshman Keith Williams operates the helm, completing 55 percent for 2,093 yards and 21 TDs while being picked just nine times.

The rush game is headed by Jonah Hodges, who posted almost a 1,200-yard season and ran for a half dozen of the team's 15 rush touchdowns. He ran for 273 yards vs. Stetson this season.

A pair of all-league selections head the receiving corps with Brandon White (6-3) grabbing 55 for better than 800 yards after corralling 47 receptions for 590 yards and a dozen scores in earning honorable mention status last season.

First-team all-league receiver Reggie Bell, a 1,000-yard performer last season with 65 catches for nine scores, has snared 39 for 775 yards, almost a 20-yard per catch average.

Ross Dwelley is a 6-foot 5 tight end who also has contributed and combined with Hodges is responsible for an additional 42 catches and close to 400 yards.

It is certainly advantageous that the Grizzlies have recent game film against a common opponent.

 

 

Griz win on the gridiron and on the hardwood

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The new regime of Montana hoop coach Travis DeCuire claimed an inaugural victory Sunday over Seattle University behind the sharpshooting of Brandon Gfeller and a clutch bucket by Martin Breunig followed by clutch free throw shooting of Mario Dunn.

The victory capped quite a weekend for the Grizzlies who played their way into the post season with a dominating victory over Montana State. 

The 66-62 victory over the Redbirds in the Marv Harshman Classic in Seattle brings the Griz back home with a 1-2 road mark to face Carroll College Wednesday night.

But the talk of the weekend came from the gridiron as Montana trounced the No. 12 Bobcats sending both teams into the FCS round of 24 teams where they welcome home games Saturday.

The Griz defense claimed the day in shutting down one of the highest scoring entities around by intercepting backup quarterback Jake Bleskin an amazing five times and with a pair of fumble recoveries advanced their nation leading turnover margin to plus-17.

As senior safety Matt Hermanson grabbed a trio of picks and senior MVP Zack Wagenmann broke the all-time sack record held by the late Tim Bush before an all-time record crowd of 26,352 boisterous fans, Montana moved to a 27- 0 halftime lead and put this one away early.

Jordan Johnson authored another outstanding performance and accounted for 392 all-purpose yards by playing the zone option perfectly for 80 rush yards and connected on 22 of 36 for 313 yards and three TDs against no picks.

And for the 13th time Jordan Canada eclipsed the century mark toting the rock 27 times for 119 yards.

The Cat offensive attack was held some 200 yards under their season average and a pair of Grizzlies, Travon Van and Mitch Saylor, went over 100 yards receiving.

The Cats draw South Dakota State of the powerful Missouri Valley Conference with the winner heading to three-time champ North Dakota State while Montana entertains San Diego, a 9-2 team from the Pioneer League.

South Dakota State has been ranked for the majority of the season and handily defeated Joe Glenn's South Dakota team Saturday.

Meanwhile the Toreros have been receiving votes but are not currently ranked.

Game time in Missoula is 2 p.m. Saturday with a berth in the sweet 16 in the offing.

Griz head to SUU

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Well one thing about heading south it's gonna be warmer even if it isn't that far.

It is now or never for the Grizzlies as they face a team on their home turf with nothing to lose.

And if you think Southern Utah is a push over and Montana can look anxiously forward to the regular season finale with the Bobcats, well I hope you will think again.

There's little doubt it was a bitter loss in Cheney and when you look across the stat board you come to realize they indicate the opposite outcome with the Grizzlies controlling most of the categories except the score.

And thus is the nature of statistics.

The Grizzlies outgained the Eagles and Jordie Johnson put up better numbers, which happen to be career bests, than "Big Play V.A." (Vernon Adams) who returned from a four-week layoff hardly missing a beat.

But let's face it: Eastern Washington is a far greater commodity than just Adams as they sport a phalanx of running backs, who were controlled I might add by the Montana rush D headed by Herbert Gamboa, and more than a equal number of top-notch receivers, two of whom made incredible catches for touchdowns.

And while sophomore Cooper Kupp hardly saw the ball in the first half, you had to know he would get his and if there's a better all-around player in FBS I don't know who it might be.

I have seen as good an all-around player at our level but I don't think I have seen one much better and combined with a healthy Adams I predict that will enable the Eagles to make a deep playoff run.

There was quite a discussion on the Coach's Show Tuesday night about the touchdown that I say was and that Mick Delaney said further justifies the need for replay.

My only question on the bang-bang was whether Sean Haynes bobbled the ball because it was on my side of the field and his body shadowed the catch.

It clearly was not a bobble but while it was a tough call to lose like any game there certainly were other opportunities.

And about the Thunderbirds: well they lead the league in passing and are last in pass defense.

And so?

  

A look around FCS

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You just have to admire the bias involved in the rankings of FCS football. Now while I realize everyone has their form of it, sometimes it just seems ridiculous.

It is Veterans Day - and thank each and every one for your service - let's just glance at the top 25 since it makes little sense to me.

North Dakota State's amazing FCS-record 33 game winning streak came screeching to a half after a through thumping by No. 19 Northern Iowa which threw the Missouri Valley Conference into a quagmire.

But while voters rightfully elevated once-beaten New Hampshire to the top spot for the first time since 2006, 19 voters still cast their ballots for the top spot to NDSU.

Now let's see since the Bison lost by 20 to an in-league opponent and New Hampshire won an eighth straight since losing the season opener to Toledo beating winless Rhode Island 41-14, that justifies picking North Dakota State ahead of New Hampshire or even unbeaten Coastal Carolina, the Big South co-leader that is one of just two unbeaten FCS teams?

The Chanticleers did pick up 55 first-place nods and Ohio Valley Conference Jacksonville State headed up 13 first-place nods but to still waste a vote for the Bison for the top spot made about as much sense as not calling them the unanimous top team all that time when they were unbeaten and three-time defending champ.

J-State did beat No. 16 Eastern Kentucky 20-6 but to leave Eastern Washington as the No. 5 team after talking down Montana by double digits also is an insult to the Eagles who I predict will make a deep playoff run and for that matter the Big Sky Conference.

That is why I think some polls are irrelevant and I am sure are not exactly given measures of consideration when it comes to the post-season playoff field to be selected Sunday, Nov. 23.

Off a seven-point victory over a 3-7 Portland State team the Cats were elected three spots to No. 12, while the Grizzlies deserving dropped five spots to No. 16.

Northern Arizona's Jerome Souers picked up victory No. 100 by 2 over a one-win UC Davis and climbed three places to No. 22 while surging Idaho State's two-point victory over previous No. 21 Cal Poly left them in No. 27 as Cal Poly dropped to 31st.

Just two more weeks and the polls won't mean anything as FCS football starts settling it all on the field with the top eight teams receiving first-round byes and the next 16 facing off.

Just cuz you asked ... or not ... beating Southern Utah and Montana State to finish 8-4 I believe would still get the Grizzlies into the round of 24.

   

 

 

  

  

Recapping the EWU game

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The Grizzlies were one of the five top FCS teams to suffer defeat Saturday but that certainly doesn't make it any easier to swallow.

Hopes of an upset against the high-flying Eagles fell by the wayside as Eastern Washington drove the field for a game clinching field goal to prevail by ten.

You had to know that Montana could not survive a shootout and when they fell well back at 33-10 the casual observer probably had to figure this one was in the books.

But this group of Grizzly continued their never-say-die attitude and came charging back even after the disheartening dagger Eagle score at the end of the first half brought it to 20-10.

A pair of missed EWU PATs helped to make the second half interesting and when the Griz cut it to seven, even though they had just a single time out remaining, I figured we were headed to another one of those classic Montana-Eastern finishes.

While he didn't have his astronomical yardage figures, quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. proved the four-week layoff because of injury affected him little.

After a six TD performance last year, he threw for a mere quartet of scores for 399 yards to seal Montana's fate.

Grizzly quarterback Jordie Johnson had a career day hitting 29 of 50 for 447 yards to pass Cole Bergquist and move into fourth all-time with 7,739 yards.

Jamal Jones continues to be the go-to receiver with a career-high nine catches for 139 yards.

And on defense linebacker Herbert Gamboa simply was outstanding with three sacks, an equal number of stops for loss and 10 total tackles.

Zack Wagenmann picked up a sack and now trails only Kroy Biermann by a half sack and is one behind the late Tim Bush, the school record holder.

With Idaho State's 30-28 upset of Cal Poly, a quartet of teams remain with a single league loss and certainly not overlooking Southern Utah on the road next week, Montana's playoff hopes seem to come down to the outcome of the Cat game.

With Northern Iowa ending North Dakota State's streak, McNeese State, Richmond and Youngstown all losing, it lo0oks to be quite the 24-team FCS playoffs.

A look at the Eagles of EWU

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So just how do the Grizzlies get on a late season run and win a second road game against a potent Eagle team of Eastern Washington?

There is little doubt Roos Field is going to be rockin' as the Grizzlies take the three-hour jaunt to meet arguably the Big Sky Conference's most potent and arguably top team.

The Eagles are a TD against Washington and a point in Flagstaff from being unbeaten and with a single game remaining after Montana a post-season lock.

But cast a further glance at their schedule and you discover that they are eight points from quite a different fate since Eastern Washington crept by the Cats in Bozeman 52-51 and only mastered Idaho State in Cheney 56-53, almost spoiling Hall of Fame Day.

And the Eagles came close to tripping against Northern Colorado finally prevailing 26-18.

So you see EDWU is also just 12 points from a lackluster campaign.

So what does all that mean?

Well nothing really but you have to admit it does get you thinking and lends to questioning whether the Eagles are a dominate power or if the league is just that balanced.

It promises to be a prideful Grizzly defense anxious to avenge last season's 42-37 loss to the Eagles in a No 3-No 10 matchup during which Montana scored the game's last 20 points in the final stanza but couldn't make up a 42-17 deficit.

That one was all about Vernon Adams Jr. who merely threw for six TDs in three quarters and freshman standout wide receiver Cooper Kupp who hauled in 11 for 182 of the Eag's 457 passing yards.

EWU scored on the six of its first 10 possessions and led by 11 at the intermission before adding a pair of penultimate-quarter TDs.

But in less than eight minutes Jordan Johnson led the Grizzlies back connecting for three TDs, two to Ellis Henderson, but an onside attempt after the final tally went awry and the Eagles claimed a second victory over Montana in three games.

The Griz lead the league in defense and nothing will be needed more on Saturday but it is also incumbent on the Griz offense to keep the D off the field and rested as they put together lengthy possessions culminated by points on the board.

      

Griz/EWU heading for collision

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Down the home stretch with two of three road games and two of three against highly ranked teams.

Saturday's game promises to be a classic with both Eastern Washington and Montana trying to hold on to a share of the Big Sky Conference lead.

It is the seventh consecutive season and the 13th time in the last two decades that both the Eagles and the Grizzlies will meet while nationally ranked.

At least two of the half dozen teams sharing the lead will pick up a second league loss Saturday making it unlikely they can claim or share the conference title.

The status of highly honored EWU quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., who hasn't seen the field for the past month, remains uncertain and in his absence the Eagles have continued to roll with Jordan West at the helm.

He throws at a 60 percent completion clip and has a single interception in winning three of four since Adams went down with broken bones in his foot. Adams has seen limited practice time this week but Griz players and coaches agree it matters little to them who is at the helm.

A sophomore West has thrown for an average of 361 an outing with nine TDs.

Sophomore receiver Cooper Kupp continues to excel as does senior running back Quincy Forte who averages north of seven yards a carry.

Meanwhile Kupp has hauled in a dozen TDs and is one completion off the league lead.

The Eags score it at a 44.3 point clip, some 17 better than Montana, but Montana leads the circuit in both scoring defense and total defense.

Eastern Washington has captured three of the last four games and assumed Montana's familiar role at the top of the league standings and the fifth ranked Eagles have a bye followed by a visit to Portland State to end the season.

The table is set for the Grizzlies with a road trip to Southern Utah and the finale in Missoula against Montana State standing in the way of a title tie.

But there is also no room for a Grizzly slip although I suppose a loss in one of the last three would leave Montana at 8-4 with an outside at-large bid looming.

Kicks off at 1:10 p.m. MDT.

      

Griz hoops pick up first win

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The first one is in the books and there was plenty to like and a load of entertainment as the Grizzly men blew the lid off the exhibition season with a pair of 47-point halves.

It rained treys early on for Montana but the "fool's gold" slowed a bit after intermission.

Montana came out of the gate connecting on eight of 13 from long range but while the treys didn't fall quite as readily (3 of 9) in the second half Montana missed but nine of 25 field goal attempts.

Whitworth, a Division III powerhouse from Spokane, jumped Montana early and led by seven points some five minutes in but the Grizzlies hit a spurt to take a 16-point halftime lead.

And behind senior Jordan Gregory's 22 points they looked to have the game put away, leading by as many as 19, before the Pirates came charging back and cut it to a three-possession game in the late going.

But Montana put the hammer down and walked away with a 94-79 verdict.

There is no lack of athleticism with this group with a quartet of players in double figures and point guard Mario Dunn finishing a point short of a double-double with 10 assists.

University of Washington transfer Martin Breunig is everything as advertised as he displayed quick and dynamic hops as did Fabijan Krslovic who netted 16 and 10 respectively.

Jermaine Edmonds also drained five of seven from outside the arc for 19 points while sharpshooter Brandon Gfeller drained az pair of treys and Riley Bradshaw added eight points.

Breunig, Dunn and Chris Kemp were atop the rebound list with a half dozen as the two teams were even on the boards.

But Whitworth, which finished 23-6 with but two league losses last season, took advantage of defensive lapse in the second half connecting on 14 of 26 field goals although for the game the free-wheeling Pirates were but one of eight from three.

Montana made the most of a dozen offensive rebounds by netting 18 second-chance points and tallied eight more points in the paint.

Tonight is the Mick Delaney Show at Brooks and Browns at 6 p.m. while the men are back in action next Saturday after football in Cheney against St Martin's. 

Griz Hoops and Coach DeCuire

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Whitworth University is Monday night's Griz hoop opponent with exhibition play tipoff scheduled for 7:05 on the Grizzly Sports Network.

New head coach Travis DeCuire takes his charges to the floor for the first of a pair of exhibition games before the non-conference season gets underway in mid-month with road games at Colorado State and Boise State.

And it will be a challenging non-conf run before league play opens in Missoula on New Year's Day against Northern Colorado.

Besides facing Carroll College Nov 26, the Grizzlies are only home to North Dakota State, Davidson and South Dakota. 

Talk about getting your feet wet also with games at San Francisco and the University of California.

While the first-year mentor said Saturday he hasn't yet settled on a starting lineup, expect returnees Jordan Gregory, who is nursing a sore ankle, Mike Weisner and point guard Mario Dunn to play key roles.

In Whitworth, a Division III team from Spokane, Montana will face a Pirate team coming off an outstanding 23-6 season but with just two returning starters.

I'll have the pre-game show at 6:30 p.m.

Well what a quagmire we have at the top of the Big Sky Conference football standings with almost half the league, six to be precise, tied for a share of the lead with a single circuit loss.

What it is really going to come down to, with some teams with fewer games remaining than Montana's four-game remaining schedule, is who faces off with contenders and whether they play at home or on the road.

But with the parity top to bottom as evidenced by Weber State's break-out lead over Northern Arizona Saturday is who, if anybody, will blink first. 

While some say Montana State falling to Cal Poly is an example, I disagree since to me the Mustangs are the league's hottest team now having won five straight.

And with the relatively low ranking of the league among FCS conferences, one has to wonder whether a trio of BSC teams will get into the post season. With the 24-team field, I also believe there will be room for a team or two with four losses.

So just how torrid will the Inferno be on Saturday?

Here come the Hornets

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Torrid shooting highlighting Wednesday's Annual Silver-Maroon scrimmage as the lid comes flying off Montana hoop.

With Montana's unimpressive field goal production this year maybe kickers can take a cue from the hoop team's trey success in the opening scrimmage.

Brandon Gfeller was torrid from outside the arc hitting 18 of his 20 points from three-point range on six of nine shooting as eight Grizzlies contributed on 16 of 36 from long range.

Montana opens the exhibition season Monday against Whitworth College and we'll have all the action on the Grizzly Sports Network.

A last look at Saturday's football opponent, the offensive-minded Hornets of Sacramento State, might lend one to believe the Grizzlies are in for a shootout.

While Sac State has never won in Missoula in nine games these two teams have played some barnburners including the overtime affair last season in Sacramento.

Of course you all remember the "Pam" game and how about when secure in victory Hornet quarterback Rickie Ray mistakenly pitched the ball to Damon Porker instead of just falling down at mid-field and DP took it to the house for the 24-20 Griz victory in 2000

Quarterback Garrett Safron will get his yards like he did a year ago when he torched the Griz both with his arm and his feet.

He established team standards in pass completions, passing yards and total offense.

Add to that mix sophomore Jordan Robinson who has amassed better than 600 yards with just 105 carries and a pair of senior receivers, DeAndre Carter and Nnamdi Agude, who have combined for more than 1,600 yards.

But the Hornets have to get it done on offense because their defense has been porous allowing almost 50 points a game and some 558 yards on the average.

Carter's stats make him the second best receiver in the Big Sky Conference with 61 catches and the senior has a nose for the counter with 11 scoring grabs.

Star mike backer Darnell Sankey was just added to the Buck Buchanan watch list but injured a knee and is not expected to be on the trip, while the Grizzlies look for the return of offensive tackle Jackson Thiebes and possibly placekicker Dan Sullivan.

It is Military Appreciation Day with an exciting announcement on the field between the first and second quarter. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:10 p.m.

  

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