How it happened: Griz 28-20 USD

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Continuing their mastery over South Dakota the 4th ranked Grizzlies sent the Coyotes packing to set up the biggest FCS game of the year to this point.

After the Grizzlies kept the turnover slate clean through three games and despite their place kicking failures, Montana was strong enough to drop USD for a fourth consecutive time and third straight season.

And while the game appeared to be settled several times with leads of 15, 11 and eight points, the Coyotes wouldn't go away and with a bit less than two minutes to play made it a one-possession game with Eric Shufford's 31-yard TD reception from sophomore backup QB Ryan Seager.

But the onside attempt went awry and the Grizzlies disposed of their 27th straight non-conference opponent before a capacity record crowd at Washington Grizzly Stadium.

Focused on continuing to rush the football, the Grizzlies rushed the ball 40 times with Jordan Canada leading the way by eclipsing the Century mark for the ninth time.

Canada did not see the field in the first quarter - disciplinary matter said Mick Delaney - stepping aside for Travon Van and John Nguyen but his 114v yards was eight more than the senior gained in the first two contests.

While dominating from the get-go, Montana didn't get points on the board until the last 39 seconds of the first quarter after Nguyen culminated a 15-play, 72-yard drive with a robust nine yard tally.

Jordan Johnson was an efficient 16 of 27 for 127 yards and his pair of touchdown passes vaulted the senior into fourth on the all-time list passing Grady Bennett, who was doing the television commentary.

He also moved into seventh on the all-time pass yardage list.

The story of the evening might well have been the defense which completely stifled the South Dakota rushing attack holding them to 134 yards and held the Yotes without a first down until midway through the second quarter.

Buchannan list defensive end Zack Wagenmann paced the unit with a trio of both tackles-for-loss and sacks.

The Missoula senior now stands just 51/2  sacks back of the all-time leader, the late Tim Bush, and passed Trey Young for sixth on the list of career tackles-for-loss.

Now at 2-1 it's on to Fargo to face streaking North Dakota State

Here come the Coyotes

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Montana will have its hands full with a two-headed rushing attack of South Dakota Saturday night and the defensively with a three-man front the Griz face a third different defense alignment in the last three weeks.

South Dakota is young on the defensive front starting a redshirt freshman and junior at the ends and a sophomore in the middle.

And although D end Drew Iddings goes 290, they're not particularly big on defense where there also is a pair of sophomores at four linebacker slots.

A 12-game starter last season, Iddings is a pre-season all-league pick who had tackles-for-loss and eight hurries last season.

The Coyotes didn't have a sack against either Oregon or William Penn and had 10 tackles-for-loss in the two games.

Backup free safety Tyson Graham leads USD in tackles with an even dozen of his 15 stops of the solo variety while sophomore inside backer John Wessel has just one less stop.

The numbers aren't really indicative because besides top-three ranked Oregon, William Penn was an outmanned NAIA that gave the Coyotes little difficulty.

South Dakota is a bit deficient in punting with Miles Bergner booting for 47, 40, 31 and 25 yards but he drilled a 47-yard field goal at Oregon and is perfect in four attempts.

But their return game with backup running back Jasper Sanders and receiver Eric Shufford is solid.

Senior inside backer Auston Johnson also is a pre-season all-circuit nominee who was third on the team with 69 tackles last season but has just a half-dozen stops so far.

Former Montana defensive coordinator Mike Breske's son Adam coaches the backers for Glenn and Jason Petrino, whose uncles Bobby and Paul both are Division-1 head coaches, is the defensive coordinator and in his third stint with Joe.

The Yote secondary could be suspect as all four starters graduated and six new players have rotated.

But I expect pound the rock to be the scenario for both teams.

It could be chilly Saturday night and given the two teams propensity to run the football one might be advised to layer and bundle and get set for a three-plus hour game.





Coyotes come calling

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Nobody can accuse University of South Dakota of not playing a challenging schedule.

The Coyotes feature seven of the top 25 FCS teams and the Grizzlies are USD's fifth straight top-20 team dating back to last season.

Joe Glenn's South Dakota team heads to Missoula Saturday night admittedly with their hair on fire as the Grizzlies go under the lights before hitting the road two of the next three weeks.

The Coyotes haven't had much success in Missoula not winning here since the 60's and lost what was for the former Grizzly mentor a heart breaker in Vermillion last season, the fourth straight loss to Montana and third in as many years.

A South Dakota alum, Joe's been a head coach for 27 years - his 193 coaching victories are sixth-most among active FCS coaches - but you can bet upending Montana at Washington Grizzly Stadium is high on the 65-year-olds bucket list.

While the Yotes are heavy with returnees on offense (8) much like Montana five true freshmen and 10 redshirt freshmen have played in the team's split of games with powerful Oregon and NAIA William Penn.

South Dakota is hard-nosed at the point of attack averaging 300 lbs across the front five and interesting enough their backups average a robust 290.

The Coyotes stand 12th nationally in rushing at 262 yards-per-game and both running backs eclipsed the century mark last weekend.

With starting quarterback Kevin Earl out with a broken thumb, Ryan Saeger performed admirably but he wasn't directing an offense out of the north end zone against one of the toughest rush defenses around.

Jordan Johnson returns for the game and expects to atone for the three picks he threw in last season's game especially since he was picked just five times all last season.

Senior Travon Van, who contributed 153 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns last week, didn't play at South Dakota last season and seeing the speedster with the football in space certainly is worth the price of admission.

Myself I can't wait to see him with the ball on a fly sweep, an inside handoff, or with the ball on a bubble screen cutting back against the grain.

Griz fans have not seen it yet but Montana is a big-play team on both sides of the football and they'll certainly be ready for explosive football especially in this nighttime atmosphere.  

Looking ahead to South Dakota

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Former Montana National Champion coach Joe Glenn certainly is hoping the third time is a charm when he brings his South Dakota team to Missoula Saturday night.

But the fourth ranked Grizzlies are set to send the Coyotes yapping back home to Vermillion.

Glenn and his team no doubt feel a bit snake-bit as the last two years since the Grizzlies have just figured out a way to pick up victories over their South Dakota counterpart.

In the opening game of 2012 - the last time South Dakota came to Missoula - Montana sent them packing but just by 11, while last season in the Dakota dome Ellis Henderson's 98-yard kickoff return with 96 seconds remaining propelled Montana to a 31-27 comeback victory in a game statistically dominated by USD.

South Dakota stands 1-1 after being blasted by Oregon in their opener, then coming home to capture a 12th opening 41-16 home victory over William Penn University.

The Coyotes pounded the rock against the NAIA foe rushing for 357 yards on 54 carriers (6.6 ypc) while attempting just 13 passes.

Sophomore Trevor Bouma, who ran for 147 yards against Montana in the Griz win last season on 25 carries, eclipsed the century mark with 115 yards while senior Jasper Sanders added 110 yards on 18 totes.

In his inaugural collegiate start sophomore QB Ryan Saeger rushed for 79 yards and passed for 111 on just eight completions.

With 10 minutes to play William Penn trailed just 24-16 before the Coyotes cashed in a couple of turnovers to put the contest away with a field goal, a seven-play scoring drive and a 46-yard fumble recovery TD.

The South Dakota defense, which starts four underclassmen including two on the three-man front, proved suspect to the run game allowing more than five yards a carry and 335 yards.

Six players rushed for more than 30 yards but the Statesman did not complete a pass while only attempting eight throws, two of which were picked. After rushing for the first score and a 7-0 lead, Penn starting QB Taylor Parsons was injured in the first quarter and did not return.

The Griz have dominated the series winning 11 of 17 and with two of the next three games on the road in North Dakota you can bet they'll be looking to set the table with league play on the horizon. 


Picking the top 25

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It is always a challenge as I sit down Sunday to vote in the Sports Network poll of top 25 FCS teams.

With the parity especially at the top of the nation's 252 teams in 15 conferences and independents and especially this time of the season when teams are either playing up in money games or down to fill their home schedule it often is difficult to compile an accurate ranking.

While most football fans are pinned to the television switching channels to follow the performances of their fantasy team players and their favorite NFL team, this modest scribe is back at it with not just poll results and voting but writing blogs and recording the first-of-the-week daily programs.

Now don't think I don't love every minute of it since I have been fortunate enough all these years to follow a chose avocation that I easily could say has never been a job but a dream.

I certainly came to realize that even more when a health scare caused me to miss the road basketball games but all is well and I'm as stoked as on the eve of that first Lady Griz game some 30 years ago.

But enough: My point is while there are dominant FCS teams, as was evidenced by the superb performance of quarterback Vernon Adams and Eastern Washington in taking the University of Washington to the brink of defeat, it is still difficult to decide when voting in the weekly poll things like: should unranked Southern Illinois jump substantially into the mix after trouncing No. 16 Eastern Illinois on the road? Is McNeese State a top five team given a close call in losing at Nebraska, or should No 22 Towson be dropped from this week's significance after being shutout 54-0 at West Virginia?

Yes while it certainly isn't brain surgery, woe is me.

A top 10 would be so much easier, or would it?

No doubt North Dakota State, a Griz opponent in Fargo Sept. 20, remains No. 1 and Eastern's showing leaves the Eagles my No. 2 although it was tempting to elevate 2-0 Southeastern Louisiana into the runner-up spot with the Griz record-evening victory over Central Washington leaving Montana fourth.

(I moved McNeese into the top five followed by Coastal Carolina even though they won just 31-30 at North Carolina A & T).

No. 9 Jacksonville State proved up to muster beating winless Chattanooga in Tennessee by an overtime field goal to get to seven on my ballot followed by idle Northern Iowa and New Hampshire.

By the time you read this you will be aware of how else in the country agrees and who does not but if you have read this far, here's a bonus.

On Tuesday I'll reflect on the demise of daily beat sports journalism.

Hall of Fame Game

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You might not realize that Saturday afternoon's opener is the Annual Hall of Fame game.

And while these two running backs being honored plied their trade on the gridiron a half-century apart, both Dick Imer and Yohance Humphery both were dominant running backs whose names are etched highly in the University of Montana record book.

One probably has to be of my generation to remember Dick Imer of Highland, Ind., who played in 1953-54 in the Skyline Conference.

While Montana won just six games under Ed Chinske in two seasons yet twice beat the Bobcats, the University of Washington transfer was twice accorded honorable mention All-American laurels and the "Little Penguin" as he was tabbed, still stands at the top of several Grizzly career lists.

Imer's 8.17 average yards per carry (86 rushes for 703 yards) in 1953 on a 3-5 team with losses against BYU, Wyoming, Idaho, New Mexico and Utah State is simply remarkable.

Still ranked 12th in career rushing with 1,592 yards in only 16 games, he also is the standard-bearer in average all-purpose yards 157.7.

Imer's 8.0 yards per carry in 1954 tied him with Penn State halfback and later Baltimore Colt great Lenny Moore for second in the nation and he stood ninth in the country in '54 in kickoff returns (24.3))

He and wife Betty of Hardin celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in February.

Now I fondly remember the last time I interviewed Yo Humphery who came to Missoula from Eagle River, Alaska. We were on the charter plane our way home from Chattanooga after the Grizzlies claimed a second National Championship in 2001 by ripping Furman in a 13-6 which does not even speak to Montana's total dominance. .

Yo remains UM's all-time rusher and holds the single season mark he established at 1,658 in the title run.

Against Furman in '01 he packed the freight 30 times for 142 yards and scored UM's sole TD.

His single-game mark of 265 yards was set against Weber State in 2001, a game in which he tied game marks with four rushing scores and 38 carries.

Well deserved and outstanding examples of Griz football-Dick Imer and Yo Humphery.        

Looking ahead to the Wildcats

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When he Grizzlies faced off in the opener against the University of Wyoming most of their game prep focused on what the Cowboy's new head coach Craig Bohl did at North Dakota State in winning 43 of the last 45 games and three national championships.

For the upcoming afternoon game against Central Washington, which has not yet opened the season, Montana's game prep will focus on what the Wildcats' new head coach Ian Shoemaker did as offensive coordinator at St Cloud State in Minnesota.

The Grizzlies open the home season at the second of eight different start times this season.

It's a 3:37 affair against the school that in 2008 pushed Montana to the final tick of the fourth quarter clock before Brody McKnight booted the three-point winner 38-35.

But don't expect this edition of Division-2 CWU to put six TDs on the board against the imposing  Grizzly defense that leads the nation after the opening weekend with six sacks and at least a half dozen tackles for loss.

Combine those statistics with a fumble recovery and an interception and one has the looks of a victory.

This week, however, the Grizzlies likely face at Central Washington team which will run a spread offense with quarterback Jake Nelson engineering head coach Shoemaker's zone-read offense.

Nelson threw for 1,282 yards and ran for an additional 261 last season.

Add to the mix third-year sophomore running back Jordan Todd, who contributed more than 1,200 yards rushing last season and a couple of quality receivers and you have the makings of a group that will bring a quite different look than Wyoming.

And defensively the Wildcats, according to Mick Delaney on the Coach's show, may well resemble Rich Ellerson's flex alignment at Cal Poly SLO that resembles a 3-5 look in the box.

Ben Weyer, who was injured in the first quarter in Laramie and didn't return, is day-to-day but may well miss Saturday's game with the possibility sophomore McCauley Todd will get the starting nod at right guard.

Two of the finest running backs ever to play at Montana, Dick "The Penguin" Imer and Yo Humphrey, will be inducted the Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame Friday night.

Remember kickoff this week at 3:37.


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Junior weak-side linebacker Kendrick Van Ackeren sure made the most of his inaugural start Saturday as the Hawaii transfer headed the Griz defense with 14 tackles - six solo and one for loss - and a sack while his strong side counterpart, converted safety Herbert Gamboa also registered double figure stops (10).

A quartet of the top six tacklers at Laramie were new starters as Montana sacked Colby Kirkegaard six times and turned in nine tackles-for-loss.

With Tonga Takai's recovery of Tyrome Holmes' forces fumble and Jeremiah Kose's pick the team that led the league in takeaways last year starts the season at plus-two in that all too important category.

Although Stephen Shaw had a punt blocked when the Cowboys sent the house, three of his eighth punts went for 50-plus, three were placed inside the 20 and his 43.9 average adds to the pace that would set a team all-time net-punt average.

On offense both Grizzly touchdowns both came from newcomers as Josh Janssen hauled in a 26-yarder and Mike Ralston grabbed the 16-yard tackle-eligible scor4ing toss in the back of the Cowboy end zone.

On Saturday rookie head coach Ian Shoemaker debuts his Central Washington University team in Missoula.

The Ellensburg, Wash, group are coming off a 7-4 Great Northwest Athletic Conference runner-up finish and return 13 starters including six on offense and both kickers.

The two teams have met but once but the Wildcats just about pulled the upset in Missoula in 2008 with the Griz claiming but a 38-35 victory in the early stages of a 14-2 National Championship campaign Bobby Hauck's final season in 2008.

The Wildcats won four of five road games last season.

Joe Glenn's South Dakota team is headed Missoula way next Saturday but don't expect to see a look-by from this Montana team as lower division teams have given the Grizzlies plenty of close calls in past seasons.

There were five true freshmen on the road with an expanded travel roster at Wyoming and if thing proceed according to Hoyle some of the group may well see time Saturday. Forty-five of the 69 who made the trip to Laramie saw the field. 

The Weekend That Was

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Like I have said for many a year, the National Champion remains the No. 1 until proven otherwise by defeat as I continued to voted North Dakota State to the pinnacle.

Yet while others voters saw it differently anointed Eastern Washington University to the top after the first-week victory over Sam Houston State, voters realized the error of their ways after the Bison broke Montana's shared mark for consecutive victories at 25 by thrashing Iowa State for their fifth straight victory over an FBS opponent.

But it was by no means unanimous as NDSU outdistanced the Eagles by 30 first-place nods and 26 votes.

The 20-point win at Ames sent a strong message that while the Bison lost a dozen starters and 12-year head coach Craig Bohl, they remain an entity to respect.

The Griz will find that out early when they travel to Fargo Sept 20 after home games against Central Washington and South Dakota.

Bethune-Cookman registered an FBS victory with a two-pointer over FIU moving to No. 18 in the weekly list comprised this week by 156 voters including 18 with Big Sky Conference affiliation.

Both Montana State and Northern Arizona fell two spots after losses, the Cats to No. 20 and the Jacks to 25.

Bison defensive end Kyle Emanuel claimed Sports Network Defensive Player of the Week honors with nine tackles, four for loss, as part of a defense that held the Cyclones to just 102 rushing yards.

The return trip from Wyoming wasn't without a short delay but even after two weather stoppages and a bit of a hold on the tarmac in Laramie the Grizzlies still were back on the ground via charter in Missoula slightly prior to 10 p.m.

The opener was quite a defensive struggle with combined offensive states (554 yards) about equaling what one has come to expect from one league team in a Big Sky Conference matchup.

Jordan Johnson's 185 passing yards propelled him by Drew Miller and into eighth in all-time passing in just 27 starts while Travon Van, who lined up both as a back and receiver, hauled in a career-high nine receptions.

Ellis Henderson, who status for the game was doubtful, made the most of his field appearances, with at least three of his five receptions converting important third-down opportunities.

Buchanan candidate Zack Wagenmann was radio's Player of the Game and his two sacks moved the Missoula senior into a tie with Trey Young (22) for seventh all-time and further in reach of the late Tim Bush's leading mark (30).

Griz games start at eight different times this year with Saturday's home opener vs. Central Washington scheduled for kickoff at 3:30 p.m.

A look back at the Griz vs Wyoming game

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One had to expect the unexpected approaching Montana's opener Saturday at Wyoming.

But I certainly was not prepared for not only the extra time that it took to determine the outcome because of a pair of weather stoppages that left few in the stands and seemed to ping pong momentum and emotion back and forth like the volley of a tennis ball.

And when the team charter sat idling on the tarmac at the Laramie airport after the game, well you know it was just one of those games.

The Grizzlies just couldn't survive a pair of Wyoming rushes scored in the third quarter after lightning near War Memorial Stadium about doubled the halftime intermission.

Montana sported a three-point halftime advantage after wide receiver Ryan Burke took a pitch from Jordie Johnson and connected in the far end zone with Missoula Loyola's Josh Janssen 26 yards out in the opening third of the second quarter.

Late placekicking insertion Harrison Greenberg hit the upright on the PAT attempt to leave the halftime score at 6-3.

But the Cowboys benefitted from strong blocking at the point of attack and some missed tackles to put up a pair of TDs in the penultimate quarter to take an 11-point lead and while the Grizzlies made it interesting with a scoring toss from Johnson to Eugene Oregon Shelton High counterpart Mike Ralston on a tackle eligible set near the halftime way mark of the fourth quarter the two-point attempt was unsuccessful and Wyoming claimed the five-point decision.

But there was plenty to hang their hat on especially with Montana putting itself in a position to win in the final stanza and allowing less than 300 yards to an FBS opponent.

The game marked the inaugural appearance for at least 10 players and the Grizzlies claimed the turnover column with a fumble recovery and a Jeremiah Kose pick that turned back a Wyoming red zone opportunity after the block of a Steven Shaw punt.

Montana knew they had to effectively rush the ball against the Cowboys but with a completely novice offensive line they only were able to gain about two yards a carry on 19 attempts.

I am sure not into moral victories but there is plenty good to be said about how Montana performed.

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