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.

  

Griz in control of own destiny

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The Grizzlies face a remaining season of no room for error as league play continues Saturday in Missoula.

With an initial league loss in California last week Montana no doubt is facing a win-out scenario if they are to capture the Big Sky Conference and automatic post season bid. 

But one thing is for certain - and it is something the team has been able to say even after three defeats in eight games - they remain in control of their own destiny.

And with league leading Montana State traveling to San Luis Obispo Saturday night it will be interesting to see if the Mustangs suffer a letdown after a big win over the Grizzlies or if they can sustain momentum and move into a tie for first place by winning a fifth consecutive game.

But for Montana there will be no scoreboard watching.

With the next two games on the road in tough venues and against highly touted quarterbacks before facing the Bobcats, it is a Sacramento State team left to the spoiler role with three league losses that poses the immediate challenge.

The Hornets have never won in Missoula and have defeated the Grizzlies just once, in 2011, but it took overtime in the California capital last year before the Grizzlies snuck out of town with a 51-48 verdict.

But Sac State (4-4) is coming off a bye and unlike last week in SLO the Hornets can be expected to fill the air with pigskins.

Quarterback Garrett Safron did just that a year ago when he threw for north of 400 yards and four TDs while rushing for an additional 93 yards and another two scores.

The Hornets average better than 39 a game by on five occasions scoring better than 40 but they allow about 39 while the Grizzlies pace the conference allow just 21 and change.

One noteworthy stat: Sacramento State has thrown for 22 TDs while Montana has allowed a league-low eight scores via the airways.

Much like Cal Poly's Chris Brown, Safron leads the Hornets in rushing and stands fifth in pass efficiency.

But in league play he's been intercepted a half dozen times leaving the Hornets minus six in turnover margin where Montana is plus two in league and on top of the circuit in overall games.  

It's a bounce-back must-win scenario for the Grizzlies with four games remaining.  

It's that time of year

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In the midst of the season's color change and the home stretch for football, it's hoop season officially unveiling the 2014-15 Griz and Lady Griz teams.

I'm looking forward to the unveiling of a new regime on the men's side and the Lady Griz Wednesday at the Adams Center.

The Griz men under the tutelage of rookie head coach Travis DeCuire take the floor for the Annual Silver-Maroon scrimmage at 5:30 p.m. followed by Robin Selvig's Lady Griz.

For the men the scrimmage is in advance of the initial; exhibition game next Monday (Nov. 3) against Whitworth College.

There are a lot of new pieces for the Grizzlies who finished tied for the runner-up spot in the Big Sky Conference last season and compiled a 17-13 record in Wayne Tinkle's final season at the helm.

The group is headed by a single starter, guard Jordan Gregory, who was last season's third leading scorer at just south of a 14-point clip.

Sophomore point guard Mario Dunn and senior wing Mike Weisner also saw considerable floor time last year starting about half of the team's contests.

The Grizzlies season came to an early end in the first round of the league tournament falling to Portland State as Weber State claimed the tournament title and subsequent NCAA automatic bid.

A quartet of other lettermen return along with University of Washington transfer Martin Bruenig who had to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.

But Bruenig caused plenty of challenges for his teammates as he battled them hard on the practice floor and is expected to make an immediate impact this season while also returning are sophomore guard Riley Bradshaw, Brandon Gfeller, Chris Kemp and Jack Lopez.

Thus far DeCuire has been impressed with Gfeller's shooting. He had streaks last season but connected on just 17 of 53 (32 percent) from long range on a team led in three-point range by Weisner who connected on almost 47 percent from outside the arc.

DeCuire also looks for JC transfer Jermaine Edwards Jr. to have an immediate impact

The power of Griz Nation

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When you live where we live everything sometimes has a tendency to seem so far away-you know it can't happen here.

But it seems we are touched by tragedy wherever it might occur.

The incidents of school violence seem to be all around us and last week's shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High school certainly is no exception.

Grizzly team physician, Missoula orthopedist and former Seattle Seahawk draftee Larry Stayner went to the high school which is some 45 minutes north of Seattle on the Tulalip Indian Reservation.

While no motive was established early on the shooter identified as Jaylen Fryberg entered the school cafeteria Friday and opened fire on a table that included reportedly his two best friends who also were cousins.

While the grief surrounding such incidents is hard to fathom I wanted to let Griz fans know what then took place because of a former Grizzly. 

No. 93 Jay Turner was a defensive tackle for Montana (91-94) who along with halfback Damon Boddie was named the team's top junior in 1993.

He also was a multi all-academic Big Sky Conference choice who prepped at Marysville High School where he was all-area and all-conference.

But the meat of the story is not his achievements as an athlete at Montana or back in his Washington state prep days.

Turner is now the head football coach at nearby fierce football rival Oak Harbor which was scheduled to meet Pilchuck in a critical matchup Friday night. The game of course was cancelled but what happened next deserves notice and speaks as an example of what so many Griz athletes do and how they influence   in their post collegiate time.

As a show of support Turner forfeited the game to Pilchuck serving more than subtle notice that sports has its place in both competition and compassion.

This was passed along to Griz assistant coach and Turner teammate Scott Gragg by Bob Fenton, another Griz teammate.

"An extremely classy move by a former Griz and someone we can be proud to call a former teammate," wrote Fenton in an email. "Thought someone should know."

And now we do and it makes us all proud.



   

 

      

 



 

Looking back to Cal Poly

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Any chance of a miracle at San Luis Obispo disappeared in the hands of Buchannan Award possibility Nick Dunzbar who recovered a high-bouncing onside kick at the Mustang 41-yard line after the Grizzlies pulled within 13 points and six minutes and change remaining.

Montana probably will fall from the top 10 as their four-game win streak ends at the hands of an upstart Cal Poly team that moved into a tie for second place in the loss column by winning their fourth consecutive game.

After falling behind by 20 points on the third unanswered score in the second half, the Grizzlies drove 79 yards in nine plays culminated by a Jamal Jones scoring pass but while Jones kept the kick attempt alive by tipping the bounding ball the Mustangs recovered and controlled the remainder of the game.

It was all Jordan Johnson to Jones on the drive as the duo connected for 21 on third-and-20 and 41 yards on fourth-and-10 before the junior hauled down the two-yard scoring toss.

Jones continued his recently hot play with eight catches for 134 yards while for the second consecutive week Johnson threw for better than 200 yards with a 248-yard outing for three Tds but this one was dominated by Mustang quarterback Chris Brown.

Second in the Big Sky Conference in rushing, Brown hardly made a mistake rushing for 226 yards and throwing for an additional 107 as the Cal Poly run game burned the Grizzlies incredibly for 421 yards and 27 second half points.

Methodical is the Mustang mantra and they scored all six times in the red zone while converting 13 of 18 third-down opportunities and dominating time of possession by nine minutes.

The game was tied at 14 at the break after Cal Poly drove 74 yards to consume most of the last four minutes before intermission.

But on the initial drive of the third quarter Brown found Kori Garcia for the tally and drives of 95 and 55 put this one out of reach.

Cal Poly (5-3. 4-1) entertains the Cats next Saturday while the Grizzlies face Sacramento State before hitting the road for back-to-back contests.

While there's plenty of football remaining, make no mistake Montana with a 5-3 mark is now  up against it.

 

 

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