Big challenge by the Bay for Griz Hoops

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Grizzly hoops faltered out of the gate Sunday and San Francisco jumped all over the inadequacy bursting to a quick 10 point lead never looking back to send Montana to a 76-57 road loss.

The Grizzlies visit the Bay Area for a pair as part of a seven-day road trip.

Martin Breunig continued to have foul problems, playing just 24 minutes against the Dons, but again led the Griz in scoring with 14 points to go along with eight rebounds after a double-double at home last week against Carroll.

Jermaine Edmonds Jr. is starting to show signs that he may be the team's best pop-up and clean shooter and added a career-high 13 including three of nine from outside the arc.

But Montana (2-3) was badly outpaced in the paint (40-18) and shot 21 less throws and while improved play after the break gave them a slight chance, USF pulled away for their seventh straight victory over Montana.

But Wednesday they face even a tougher challenge as they venture into Berkeley to challenge California of the Pac-12 who are unbeaten in three home games and stand 5-1.

They defeated then No. 25 Syracuse 73-59 before losing to Texas in a tournament championship 71-55 and Sunday won at Fresno State by seven.

Sophomore guard Jordan Mathews paces Cal at almost 17 an outing and connects on just south of half of his third-point attempts.

6-foot 5 Tyrone Wallace is right at his heels and drops about five dimes an outing and leads the Bears in rebounding while shooting some 46 percent from the field.

Sophomore Jabari Bird adds about 13 an outing and 6-foot 10 David Kravish also contributes double figure scoring while grabbing about five boards a contest.

Cal is a high scoring lot (77 per outing) and allows opponents just some 35 percent and less than 60 points from the field.

The Bears only turn it over less than double figures while outrebounding opponents by better than six a contest.

California's bench scoring in the early season looks suspect but nine players contribute double-figure court time with the double-scoring quartet playing an average of some 28 minutes an outing.

Tipoff at 8p.m. MT Wednesday    

Victoribus Spolia

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Yes it was supposed top happen this way but no sometimes in competition when something looks to be a shoe-in result all goes awry.

Well I fled the chill and headed to San Francisco for Wednesday hoop against the California Golden Bears.

If you had seen me a couple of hours post-game Saturday wheeling my scooter around the Stadium to the south lot, through the Adams Center then back around the stadium to the north, you would realize my excitement to take a respite from the elements.

But don't think I am complaining. Saturday gave me that continued joy of Grizzly athletics.

And we just hope the pictures we painted allowed you to share our enjoyment to the Nth degree.

Now make no mistake that a non-scholarship league whose recruiting base knows no bounds making an inaugural visit to the post season coming off a 34-3 loss to a fellow Big Sky school (Cal Poly) and facing a hot Grizzly team at home is prime for a spanking.

And when John Nguyen became the second member of his family (Peter) to return a punt for a TD advancing the score to 21-0 about 17 minutes into the contest, the rout was on. 

"Finish It" was the demand in the locker room after Montana added a quartet of second quarter tallies to a 14-0 first-quarter advantage and except for late, inconsequential tallies, they just did the deed.

Credit to the University of San Diego that they continued to stay attuned even given the obvious outcome and played hard throughout.

And I am sure they will cherish the atmosphere and their brief visit to what was anything but a Garden City as the temperature dropped some 19 degrees by the time the final gun had sounded. 

Make no mistake that Eastern Washington claimed the circuit's crown jewel, a third straight league title, but it promises to be quite the rematch on the Inferno.

I never doubted that the playoff road would go through Cheney but this Griz team is on a mission and while the Griz loom as the underdog, there isn't a team in the country that looks forward to facing their rampage.

This one is for far more than bragging rights and the Great Eight awaits the winner. "Victoribus Spolia."  

A look back at San Diego

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It was certainly everything a Griz fan could ask for and more and it is on to the second playoff round for the first time since 2009. 

Yes, I know dear readers that Montana advanced to the 2011 semi-final round where they fell at Sam Houston State but those results (2-1) were vacated due to NCAA infractions.

And I also know I am not the only one that noticed the Saturday game environment so closely resembled that 2009 semi-final game against Appalachian State when the barraging winter storm came charging out of the Hellgate and turned Washington Grizzly Stadium in a winter wonderland.

This time it was the north country that brought a sprinkle to John Hoyt Field in the last few minutes of the half and by the time the Californians returned to the field a legion of shovels had scraped some of the several inches of snow off the yard lines to enable play to resume.

But for the San Diegans, a first-time playoff team, the damage was done and the Grizzlies had played their way to a rematch with three-time defending champion Eastern Washington.

While the stars aligned to the tune of a 52-14 stomping and some of the usual stars emerged so too was the future of Griz football and others on display for the better part of half of the contest.

Loyola Sacred Heart senior wide-out Kevin Berland not only corralled his first reception, a 21-yard dream from Jordie Johnson on second-and 21 to set up the second first-quarter TD, but garnered a nine-yard scoring toss from Shay Smithwick-Hann for the first score of the third quarter. 

He was mobbed by his teammates both on and off the field and Mick Delaney's apt description that Berland's performance and continued attempt to get on the field epitomized Griz football were just the right words from the venerable head man who, unless there is almost an unthinkable flipping of the slipper, came down the tunnel at Washington Grizzly Stadium as a head coach for the last time.

Sentinel product Zack Wagenmann established the tackles-for-loss standard after setting the sack mark the previous week and moments after the contest  described the feeling of making his mark on the home field as surreal.

And now there are 16 and the rematch looms Saturday in Cheney.       

Toreros come calling in FCS playoffs

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Griz hoops picks up a record-evening victory and happy belated Thanksgiving.

Given the challenges of a rigorous non-conference schedule any game in the left-hand column certainly is welcomed, as Montana next challenges the Dons of San Francisco Sunday after trouncing Carroll on T-Day eve.

But not putting the horse before the cart... it is playoff football in the offing Saturday with the Lady Griz completing a three-game set in Cancun.

The University of San Diego is making an inaugural visit to the FCS playoffs after claiming the Pioneer League title three of the last four seasons.

Butler claimed the automatic bid last season and was ripped 31 zip by Tennessee State.

The Toreros imposed a voluntary penalty to forego playoff participation last year after a Pioneer League investigation.

San Diego had it rolling with an eight-game winning streak but concluded the regular season in southern California with a 34-3 drubbing at the hands of Cal Poly.

The Mustang's triple-option attack approached 500 yards of offense and gave the Griz coaching staff plenty of film to analyze the Toreros matching up with a common opponent.

Cal transfer running back Jonah Hodges, who has rushed for more than 1,100 yards and returns kickoffs at better than a 24-yard average, paced USD with just 56 yards on 14 carries.

For a dozen seniors, it was just the second loss in 23 games at Torero Stadium over the last four seasons.

Wide-outs Brandon White and Reggie Bell corralled seven receptions but little yardage as quarterback Keith Williams was just 14 of 29 for 153 yards.

Placekicker David Last produced the sole USD points with his 12th straight field goal to narrow the gap to 7-3 but it was all SLO from there.

While the Toreros score at nearly a 30-point clip while giving up about 24, they twice have eclipsed the 40-point mark and in a third game put up 39.

USD has been relatively stingy on D allowing just 347 an outing but just south of 200 have come via the airways.

Mick Delaney said they could be subject to front-four pressure that was so effective last week against the Cats and USD has put the ball on the ground 13 times while losing eight.

They also have suffered 10 picks while their defense has responded with 11 interceptions.

Kickoff at 2:05 and maybe some welcome weather for our California visitors. 

Saints come marchin' in

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It is not an average Carroll College team that is visiting Dahlberg Arena Wednesday to challenge the new-guard Grizzlies.

The Saints come marchin' in off a six-game winning streak before being upended by Dickenson State Saturday.

That defeat followed a come-from-behind 75-67 victory over Cal-Maritime as Carroll returned from a six game road spin starting with an exhibition against Purdue.

With eight wins that's one less than the Saints put in the left column all last season.

And they've done it with some flair bouncing back from a 10-point deficit and poor first-half shooting against Maritime finally flipping the lead with nine minutes to go, after taking overtime to get Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala.

Before returning to the Capital City, Carroll merely traveled nearly 9,000 miles with trips to Alabama, North Dakota and Indiana.

As for travel upon returning from Gary after beating Indiana-Northwest, their flight was on final when the crew deemed wintery conditions made landing too hazardous so the flight circled the airport for about an hour.

Meanwhile the Grizzlies were all set to sleep their way home on a special sleeper bus as they did last week from Boise but it broke down leaving the travel group stranded overnight until repairs could be made and the trip continued.

But it was a gritty affair at Key Arena where Montana picked up the four-point victory over Seattle University in the inaugural Marv Harshman Classic.

Brandon Gfeller was the sharpshooter with five treys to establish a career high and was supplemented by the free throw shooting of Mario Dunn and the solid play ironically of University of Washington transfer Martin Breunig, who take my word for it will be a force to be reckoned with.

The Saints game is a homecoming for Pat Colberg, the power forward freshman from Hellgate and junior Everett Johnson of Loyola who both are on the roster.

While certainly not minimizing the competition, the Grizzlies gear up again on the weekend with an afternoon game Sunday on the hill at iconic memorial Colisum vs. the University of San Francisco then to Travis DeCuire's old haunts with a Wednesday game at Pac-12 Bears Cal Berkley who last week upset a Top 25 team.

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.

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