Recently in GrizTrax by Mick Holien Category
It's time for hoop and no better time than to take on former Big Sky Conference foe the University of Idaho.
The Vandals are in Missoula on this Wednesday and they come to town winners of just four of nine games.
Stephen Madison and Conner Hill both are WAC pre-season honorees and Hill throws the ball in from three-point range like nobody's business having drained 154 treys in a two-year career to move up to third on the all-time list.
Idaho is facing three straight circuit opponents and four in a five game span as they get a taste of the league they join as a regular member next season in all sports but football.
Four of the Vandals nine games have been decided by five points or less with Idaho splitting the quartet of contests
With a trio of players in double figures Idaho averages some 74 points an outing but shooting just 43 percent from the field barely augmenting a 37 percent three-point percentage.
Idaho has decent size and is decent on the glass splitting the rebounding with the first nine opponents but they have lost three of their last four after beating North Texas.
Their only win over Davis was a four pointer just after Thanksgiving with losses to Columbia, Boise State and a one-pointer to arch rival Washington State.
The one thing the Vandals do is take care of the rock as they turn the ball over less than 11 times a game but that is all opponents give up as well so they are not exactly ball hawks.
These are perennial foes meeting for the 180th time since they were traditional foes even before the founding of the Big Sky in 1963.
Montana got Idaho in the old Memorial Gym in Moscow last year 66-63 shooting 54 percent in the second stanza to make up a four point halftime deficit.
As usual MVP Kareem Jamar led the way with a team leading 17 points and already is averaging nearly 20 an outing to go along with about six caroms.
The 2 teams meet again in Moscow Dec 28 just prior to the start of their respective leagues.
With the annual individual awards the University of Montana football season has unfortunately drawn to what most of us believe is a bit of a pre-mature close.
Idaho visits Dahlberg Arena Wednesday with the Grizzlies looking to get off the snide especially since they face the Vandals twice in less than 3 weeks.
And it's not exactly an easy proposition since this is finals week and the Vandals certainly are anxious to show everybody they will be the cream of the crop when they come back into the Big Sky Conference as a regular member for everything (but football) next season.
But closing thoughts about a 10-win Grizzly football season sure are in order.
It just wasn't that long ago when Griz fans were darn happy to enjoy double-digit win seasons.
Even if you throw out last season's 5-6 campaign, 2003, 2005, and 2010 were all single-digit winning marks, two of which ended with first-round home playoff losses.
Yet no FCS team has won more games since 2000 than the Grizzlies who only are outdistanced by Georgia Southern in playoff victories.
Indeed we have become spoiled by our own success.
It was fitting indeed that junior quarterback Jordie Johnson and senior linebacker Brock Coyle shared the team's MVP award.
JJ is steadily moving up the career passing ladder and became just the 11th player ever to pass for more than 3,000 yards in a season (3,387), the sixth best mark ever.
Coyle, UM's leading tackler, is just one of those guys who knows how to get the ball out and also had 13.5 tackles for loss.
I guess you can't have all three linebackers be first teamers but he should have been there with J.P. Kanongata'a and Jordie Tripp.
Danny Kistler was tabbed the top offensive lineman for the second straight year while Zack Wagenmann also again claimed the defensive award.
Sophomore Ellis Henderson who became just the 12th receiver to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season won the outstanding back or receiver while he easily could have shared the honor with Jordan Canada.
I'll talk a bit more about those guys who will make their mark in the near future tomorrow.
There is little a broadcaster encounters that is more difficult than seeing a season come to an end no matter how fruitful or fulfilling it was.
I think it is even more difficult in basketball than it is in football because given the nature of post season there is a spot in March when you realize while there could be one more game - for instance when the Grizzlies advanced to the second round in Salt Lake City after upsetting Nevada you come to understand the season's completion is close at hand.
I have to admit in the last several minutes of the second quarter Saturday when Coastal Carolina dropped a quartet of scores on the Grizzlies, it gave me pause that the Big South champ might just be better than Montana on that given frozen day.
But half way through the 20-minute break I was back to my senses and remembered the number of times Montana has come back from behind to victory and out came those fabled words you often hear me utter in such circumstances "hey it's no hill for a climber, right."
And no hill it almost was as this never-say-die group cinched down the defense except for a single TD scamper and to the delight of a remarkable crowd that stuck to the very end came charging back to turn a rout into a one-possession game.
And had it not been for the mysterious checkmate call to examine whether a reception was indeed a catch I am a firm believer that the outcome would have favored Montana with the momentum charging to the east sidelines at Washington Grizzly Stadium.
Now I know you can't turn a game on a single call or non-call for that matter but there are a number of problems with the ensuing explanation.
Let's start by whose responsibility it is or was for that matter to tell the media, of which by the way I am one, that there was booth review, who was in charge of it, how it was to be utilized and how one official got a beeper buzz when the others didn't and why didn't the white hat take charge and say if we didn't all get word than the majority rules and the play stands.
Now I suppose I am going to be told there was some meeting where all of this was discussed but the information was not disseminated to me and I'd like an explanation.
No game should be influenced by such a situation and the length of time it took to make a decision is what is wrong with replay - It changes the pace of the game let alone in this a profound outcome.
And besides the catch was anything but a close call. Sure I am the home guy and it sounds like sour grapes but changing how a game is officiated when it comes to playoff time is pure poppycock.
Of course there were plenty of other opportunities and you certainly can argue that had the Grizzlies made the most of other chances, they would not have been in that situation.
Agreed but as often happens there was no prior flow of information and I'm betting there will be no one who takes the responsibility for the lack thereof. Or maybe they just figured home radio didn't need to know such things.
And on another matter since I am on my soap box, all those people who think they know who television rights are allocated for the playoffs and take it upon themselves to write Letter to the Editor or diatribes on social media, you might get your information correct.
The University of Montana, or of all things the Grizzly Scholarship Association, had nothing to do with how the game is distributed and to whom. The NCAA sold the rights for a hefty sum to ESPN which by the way at least decided to make it part of its Game Day schedule which at least made it somewhat available albeit for a fee.
Incidentally that information was out there since the playoffs began. And I suppose somebody is going to tell me so was the play review process.
It just is unfortunate in this day of instant information, people have forgotten how to communicate.
There will be plenty of room at Washington Grizzly Stadium Saturday, especially given the chilly conditions, but there is no doubt there will still be more in attendance at Washington-Grizzly Stadium than any other FCS venue in the country.
It is certainly true to be successful either the Chans or the Grizzlies are going to have to spring a successful rushing attack on their opponent on Saturday.
For Coastal Carolina, it's a case of a big back in Lorenzo Taliaferro (say Tau-la-Fair-oh) at 6 foot 2 and all of 230.
And quite a resume he's put together.
The Big South Offensive Player of the Year, he set the circuit's single-season rushing record, leads in rushing TDs and points scored and multi-rushing scoring games.
Mix in sophomore quarterback Alex Ross, who has enjoyed the benefit of the superb rush game, who connected for a quartet of scoring tosses in the first-round win over Bethune-Cookman after leading the Big South in passing efficiency, pass offense and completion percentage while contributing 22 passing TDs against just seven picks and you might say offensively they've got the whole package.
But then there is defense where mike-backer Quinn Backus, the league's defender of the year who ranks in the top 10 in tackles, tackles-for-loss, picks and defended passes and it's no wonder they carried their collective heads high when they got off the charter Thursday after the two-time-zone jaunt.
Add to the Backus stats, a blocked field goal 56 yards for a score against South Carolina State and establishing the school's lengthiest pick-six (73 yards) against Gardner Webb and he made 126 stops and well if words on paper meant a darn thing in determining an outcome, let's just do a phoner.
But there is just something different about this year's Grizzlies.
I suppose you can call it chemistry but I don't even think that's what it is. Oh sure they have plenty to prove after last season's disappointments and certainly have more than enough an incentive after the Jordan Johnson fiasco.
Win or lose and not unlike every other TEAM, these guys have made lifetime relationships the degree of which has yet to be determined. And we'll know the depth of the degree shortly.
I have to admit after losing more games than they won last season, it is some poetic justice - no pun intended - it's a pretty cool deal to be playing football again in December, something this broadcaster has become plenty accustomed to.
In the midst of a season-first four-game win streak listening to all the babble about whether or not Saturday's playoff game is going to be televised and what effect the cold or maybe even snow would have on a team traveling across a pair of time zones for a first-ever time has been to say the least enjoyable.
And just why not?
Nobody has been to the playoffs more than Montana and only Georgia Southern has won more games.
And while the nation's largest playoff crowd could be affected a taste by the balmy weather, those who do brave the elements will be boisterous football fans who realize full well what an effect they could have on Coastal Carolina's attempt to communicate.
It's not even so much pure volume as it is atmosphere and they'll be telling people in South Carolina about it - like Eastern Illinois' Tony Romo does - for years to come.
For the true athlete it brings out the best in you and that's why you want to play in games like this and the resolve that it brings to the forefront is almost beyond description.
For the meek-well you get the picture.
Both teams want to run the football but in different ways.
Coastal Carolina could be described as zone-read but Mick Delaney said it even more resembles triple-option while the Griz would rather just have the hogs lean on you till you break which more often than not occurs about five minutes into the penultimate quarter.
By the time you read this the Carolinians will be well on their way on a 2,600-plus mile journey to where the victor will head to the great-eight of FCS football.
They've split their last four games while the Grizzlies have yet to play their best football even while winning seven of their last eight.
It's time-It's playoff football-It-s the post season-and in a month it all will be decided on the field.
Now what can be better than that.
While it is better than 2,500 miles to Conway, S.C. and Coastal Carolina never has played a game outside the Eastern Time Zone, don't think that is going to have much effect on Saturday's second-round FCS playoff game.
After a week to heal some bumps and bruises, Montana takes a four-game win streak and No. 4 listing against the Chanticleers (Shon Ti Cleers).
And it will be by no means an easy proposition.
Oh sure the weather will be cold, maybe some snow during the game, the nation's largest following will be in attendance, all of those things that could play some kind of if not a substantial role in the game's outcome.
Coastal Carolina, a relatively new football program (2003), has been to the post-season the last two years and in winning the Big South Conference their only FCS loss was a three-pointer on the road to Charleston Southern.
But in their finale, against FBS South Carolina, they were battered 70-10.
Now granted the Grizzlies have the playoff numbers, haven't lost a home playoff game since 2007 and sport a 27-6 home post-season record.
But numbers don't lie and this is an excellent Coastal Carolina team.
They total about 42 a game while giving up 29, total some 493 yards of offense - 10th best in FCS - and feature running back Lawrence Taliaferro, a Walter Payton Award candidate, who has rushed for 1,572 yards and 24 tallies.
Quarterback Alex Ross, who runs the zone-read, has thrown for 2,706 yards with just seven picks against 22 TDs.
Their receiver corps, led by Matt Hazel (6-foot 3) who has brought down 58 receptions for 881 yards, have a quintet of receivers with more than 20 catches.
Their offensive line averages better than three bills and they're extremely experienced.
Mike backer Quinn Backus is a Buchanan Award candidate who leads them with 126 tackles, 10 for loss, and also has picked off three passes.
What might be most impressive is third down conversions where Coastal Carolina gets there 53 percent of the time, as well as being successful eight of ten times on fourth down.
This is a Griz team hungry for success - We'll soon see just how hungry.
There was a lot of speculation as to why the Big Sky Conference had so many teams ranked in the polls but were sitting sixth among 13 FCS leagues.
With a week left in the regular campaign you remember the talk that if the Cats beat the Griz there probably had to be five league teams in the field of 24.
Well we know that didn't happen and with five losses and four straight the Cats had no chance to be included in the post season but the circuit still with four teams had more entities advancing to post season play than any other league.
Now part of that of course was how hot Southern Utah got at the end of the year and the Thunderbirds deservedly so along with Northern Arizona got first round bids with the Lumberjacks even getting a home game probably just on the basis that they defeated the Grizzlies who had advanced to the poll's Number four position.
But league representation quickly was cut in half with both Southern Utah and NAU going down in flames leaving just the two seeded teams, league champ Eastern Washington and Montana to carry the torch.
Unfortunately head coach Jerome Souers was not on the sidelines after being hospitalized and replaced by former Grizzly Andy Thompson, the team's defensive coordinator, which was particularly unfortunate since the Jacks had not been to the post season since 2003 and Jerome certainly was deserving of his spot pacing the sidelines.
Running back Zach Bauman, who again eclipsed the century mark, finished his career third on the league's career rushing list but the Lumberjacks only converted one of 13 third down opportunities in falling 26-7.
The Thunderbirds ran into a buzz saw in Texas which should surprise no one since Sam Houston State has owned the Big Sky winning the last half dozen playoff games over the league's opponents.
Southern Utah jumped to a 10-point lead only to see the Bearkats run off 30 straight to win easily going away 51-20.
This weekend will be no aberration for Montana since the Grizzlies have had their back against the wall since falling to Eastern Washington. It should be double digit temps by kickoff.
Off to a rough start at the get-go the Grizzlies came bouncing back in Oahu Friday but couldn't sustain the effort and fell to the Rainbows 72-61.
Trailing by just a half dozen at the intermission Montana pulled within one 36-35 before Hawaii scored nine unanswered to pull to a double-digit advantage that they never relinquished.
League MVP Kareem Jamar who has led Montana in scoring in every outing this season was scoreless in the first half but finished with 16 points but only was joined in double figures by Keron DeShields with 11.
Struggling at the line in the season's first four games, Montana improved to 16 of 19 from the charity stripe but connected on just five of 29 from three-point range as they struggled to get back into the game against Hawaii which advanced their season mark to 5 and 2.
Montana got more effective post play as Eric Hutchison connected for a couple of field goals to augment a four-for-four free throw performance for eight points and tied Jamar in rebounding with six.
The Grizzlies matched Hawaii on the offensive glass with 10 and were outrebounded by just six but Montana assisted on just a half dozen of their 20 made field goals.
True freshman Mario Dunn played substantial time at the point (15 minutes) and another true frosh Brandon Gfeller continues to see considerable court time and added nine points on three treys in 17 minutes of action.
But Montana connected on just 20 of 56 field goal attempts (35.7 percent) while the Bows shot some 62 percent after the break and 57 percent for the game.
The Grizzlies don't play again until Dec 11 in Missoula when they host the University of Idaho which rejoins the Big Sky Conference in hoop next season.
Meanwhile the Chanticleers (say Shon-ti-cleers) of Coastal Carolina make the trip across a couple of time zones to face Montana in the FCS second round Saturday at Noon.
And In case you missed it former Montana player and coach Brent Pease and the offensive line coach were fired at Florida on Sunday. His freshman quarterback is former Detroit Lions and Grizzly quarterback Marty Morninweg's son.
It's back to the hardwood tonight as the Grizzlies
venture to the Island of Oahu for a rematch with the University of Hawaii.
Montana looks to get back to the winning way with a tough
matchup with the Rainbows.
This is a payback game for the Hawaii visit to Missoula
two years ago as part of BracketBuster then oddly enough it's almost two weeks
before the next game at home against the University of Idaho on Dec. 11.
Losers of three of their first four games but the last
against San Francisco and Washington by just five points, the Grizzlies visit
the Islands for the first time since they played in the Big Island Classic in
The last time the two teams met was in Missoula in 2012
resulting in a 94-79 Griz victory as Kareem Jamar enjoyed the only
triple-double of his career.
The Rainbows beat New Orleans Wednesday 91-58 to advance
their season mark to 4-2. The Bow losses have come to Missouri and New Mexico
Hawaii features a three-guard look with no true post and
while they go 6-foot 8 at the two forward spots, they are undersized at guard.
Christian Standhardinger leads Hawaii in scoring at about
18 an outing but they feature a quartet of players in double figures.
Sophomore forward Jesse Fotu averages just short of 15 to
compliment nine caroms an outing followed closely by 6-foot 2 guard Garrett
Nevels who shoots well over 50 percent from three-point range while averaging
14.6 points per game.
Five-foot 11 junior guard Keith Shamburger adds a bit
more than 10 points an outing for fourth-year coach Gib Arnold.
Hawaii is 4-1 at home and averaging better than 100
points the last two games with a 42-point margin of victory.
The Bows are shooting 48 percent from the field and
hammering opponents by double digits off the glass, thus far a Grizzly weak
And Hawaii is getting to the line some 20 times a game
where they are shooting in the mid-70 percentile.
They next face Northern Arizona in another BracketBuster
payback game before a long respite between home contests (Dec. 23).
And a Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours and especially
to those who can't make it home for the holiday.
Grizzly football gets a couple of days off after a couple
of days of practice on what really is a bye week before the second round of the
A record quartet of Big Sky Conference teams are among
the first-ever field of 24 and of course league champ Eastern Washington and
No. 4 Montana are seeded and thus take a bye into the second round where the
field is cut to the sweet 16.
While Northern Arizona will host an 8-4 South Dakota
State team, Southern Utah has the unenviable task of traveling to Huntsville to
challenge Sam Houston State.
Eastern Washington will host the winner of that game
which is ironic since the Eagles and the Lumberjacks didn't face each other
While the Big Sky Conference, which this season was
ranked sixth of 13 FCS leagues, has sent more than a single team to the post
season for the last 15 years and 28 of 30 years, this marks the first time four
teams have advanced.
Even with the NCAA vacation of the 2011 appearance,
Montana returns to the playoffs for the 22nd time in 30 years and its string of
17 straight appearances (1993-2009) is the FCS standard.
With a pair of titles and five runner-ups, the Grizzlies
sport a 30-18 playoff record which is 20 more wins than any other Big Sky
In fact as a whole the circuit has won 75 while losing 63
in the post season with six titles and seven second-place finishes.
Georgia Southern, which is moving to FBS and just
defeated Florida last week leads with 45 playoff victories, followed by Montana
with 32 and Youngstown State with 25.
Montana's 22 playoff appearances, the most ever, is two
more than Eastern Kentucky and Appalachian State and a single time more than
Northern Arizona is making its first playoff appearance
since 2003 while EWU makes its 10th appearance and in Cheney where the Eagles
are 5-1 in the playoffs on the fabled red turf. They sport an eight game
There were few Montana players who did not receive some form of recognition as the Big Sky All-Conference teams were named.
As Griz hoop was making a strong showing in Seattle only to fall to the Huskies Tuesday night even with a career showing by Jordan Gregory, Montana dominated the all-league football selections.
A trio of players including junior Zack Wagenmann joined three other players as two-time first team selections and the remainder of the three teams selected on both sides of the ball included a myriad of Grizzlies.
Joining the record-setting Wagenmann was tackle Danny Kistler and Jordie Tripp, who both will be all over NFL teams boards when the time comes in the spring.
Wags was fifth on the defensive unit in total tackles with 54, but 15.5 were for loss to go along with a team-leading five sacks.
Add to that six hurries, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery and you can see why his upcoming senior season, let along the playoff run, indeed looks promising.
Tripp trailed only mike backer Brock Coyle in tackles with 89 stops, five for loss and 1.5 sacks but he intercepted three balls and set a team standard with three fumble recoveries and now has 10 in his illustrious career.
And Kistler was a stalwart on an offensive line that allowed but 17 sacks in 12 games. J.P. Kanongata'a also was a first-team selection.
NAU's Zach Bauman and Eastern Washington cornerback T.J. Lee both were selected to the first unit for the third consecutive time, while to no one's surprise the Eagles Cooper Kupp was accorded Freshman of the Year honors and probably will also claim the National Award , while sophomore QB Vernon Adams was the offensive choice.
Montana State end Brad Daly and tackle Sullivan Grosz shared the defensive Player of the Year Award while running back Gabe Manzanarez was named the league's top newcomer.
Sophomore Ellis Henderson was a second team choice both as a wide out and a return specialist where the Grizzlies dominated with William Poehls, Kjelby Oiland, Alex Bienemann, Coyle, Chief Goodwin and Matt Hermanson all received recognition.
For Griz hoop it's on to Oahu for a Friday matchup with the University of Hawaii.
The Mick Delaney Show is a go tonight from Dickey's Barbecue in downtown Missoula and while we'll be talking the results from Bozeman a plenty the weekly get-together will be followed by hoop from Seattle.
The fourth-ranked Grizzlies take a week respite in anticipation of hosting the winner of Saturday's Coastal Carolina-Bethune-Cookman matchup.
Montana's leading tackler Brock Coyle made his last visit to his hometown gridiron indeed memorable as his performance netted him his second league Player of the Week award.
And what a day it was for Coyle who among his 14 tackles were a dozen unassisted, two for loss, a pair of forced fumbles and a sack.
And in averaging 9.4 stops an outing, he leads the Griz defense with 113 stops and continues to advance on the career ladder in that regard.
Tuesday night after the Delaney Show, the Griz men, off a disheartening one-point loss to San Francisco in Missoula, challenge the University of Washington in Seattle.
Then they hit the aerials for the trip to Oahu to meet Hawaii in a Friday night game with a 10:30 p.m. tipoff.
The Huskies show a 12-point win over Eastern Washington and a double digit victory over Seattle University combined with losses to Cal Irvine, Indiana and Boston College.
The last time the two teams met in Seattle, the Griz led throughout and appeared to secure a then Pac-10 victory but eventually fell 63-59 after a horde of free throws enabled Washington to claw its way to victory.
Washington visited the line 18 more times netting a dozen more charity points.
With the victory over South Dakota State Griz Head Coach Wayne Tinkle, a two-time circuit Coach of the Year, moved into third on the school's all-time win list with 142, one more than Blaine Taylor.
And in leading the team in scoring in the first three games and averaging 22 points an outing, league and team MVP Kareem Jamar now has moved into 15th on the career scoring list.
He also has 319 rebounds and 304 career assists.
But a Griz team that set an all-time record for free throw proficiency last year has thus far struggled at the charity stripe, shooting just 57 percent.
Tom Schultz has the call Tuesday right after the Delaney Show.
The season of retribution continued for the Grizzlies Saturday as Montana ended the season for a Montana State team that ended a 26-year string of winning seasons with a victory in Missoula last season.
Montana reached a double-digit season by doubling up on a Bobcat team beset with injuries that dropped three straight.
And since the NCAA vacated Montana's 2011 playoff run, Montana heads back into the post-season for the first time since the Championship Game appearance in 2009.
For pure pigskin fans the first half might not have given you much as the Griz offense was simply anemic and the only score for the first 29 minutes was the 82-yard punt return by Shawn Johnson to give the Cats a 7-0 advantage.
But riding the back of improvisational quarterback Jordie Johnson, who consistently turns his scampers into first downs, Montana utilized most of the last six-and-a-half minutes of the second quarter to drive 89 yards with JJ finding Cam Warren to send the teams to the locker room knotted at seven.
Then taking the opening drive of the penultimate quarter 71 yards in just short of four minutes with a pair of key catches by Jamaal Jones before Trey Van scored from three-yards out, with the scoring pace the Grizzlies have exhibited with a 14-7 advantage you might have thought there was breathing room.
Moving into the final stanza where Johnson located a wide-open Clay Pierson after one of two Cat turnovers, I have to tell you I thought the Cats might fold up.
But to their credit a length of the field (92 yards) Cat drive again made it a one-possession game.
But Johnson wasn't having it as the road team won once again as the junior found Jones twice for crucial clock-consuming third-down conversions and with Jordan Canada's TD run the Divide trophy headed back west this time on the back of Montana's behemoth offensive line.
It was bitter sweet for a Cat team picked to repeat as league champ but injuries are a part of this game and everybody has them and key players usually miss time during the course of a season.
And with a first-round bye Montana gets some heal-up time for the perils of a playoff run.
Certainly there are dates and times for that matter that forever are emblazoned in our minds.
And if you were alive in 1963 there just isn't anyone who cannot quickly tell you where they were and what they were doing 50 years ago today.
While there have been a plethora of programs and news articles for the weeks leading up to today - and I think I have about seen them all - that morning in the Pacific Time Zone looms a bit differently in my mind because you see John F. Kennedy, and the dreams and hopes right or wrong that he epitomized, was my Commander in Chief.
I was, believe me, a wet-behind-the-ears 19-year-old who had enlisted in the U.S. Navy fresh out of Gonzaga Prep in Spokane only to discover just after my eighteenth birthday that the U.S. Marine Corps, a division of the Navy, didn't have their own Hospital Corpsman and thus for the remainder of my what turned out to be six-year tour I wore a Marine uniform adorned with Navy insignia and served at the pleasure of the Third Marine Air Wing.
Fresh out of training in 1963 I was assigned a small unit at Marine Barrack Bremerton whose main job was the entrances to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
Thus most of my duties revolved around working in the hospital's emergency room and that is where I had been serving until the early morning (0600) hours of Nov. 22.
And because barracks aren't the quietest place to catch some shuteye, it was common practice for those who came off a 12-hour night shift to take a sleeping pill - Doriden as I vividly remember - basically to knock your socks off so you could sleep in the noisy confines.
The problem was it was a barbiturate that basically knocked you to oblivion for the better part of 10-12 hours.
So when the word that there had been an "attempt" on the life of the President reached the barracks came some five hours after I hit the rack, when a sidearm was thrust into my hand, prone on the bed, I wasn't in the best of shape to have any idea what anybody was talking about.
True part of the situation was the stupor I was in but just as relevant was the preposterous nature of what was being said - All I can remember thinking was: Lincoln was shot and in America we don't shoot our presidents.
How little did this teenager realize it was just the beginning of the most of tumultuous times in this country.
Many have said it was the end of innocence which probably was true for a young person.
But it went even deeper than that because such occurrences, as absurd as they are, became the norm rather than the exception.
It seems everyone has a theory or a belief about what happened that day in Dallas but rest assured one thing is certain for me: It was the beginning of a profound change in my life and certainly played a prominent role in shaping the person I became.
Whether that is a good or bad thing, I'm still trying to figure out.
There is little to be taken for granted when it comes to Griz -Cat in any sport but especially when it comes to football
There were a number of these 2013 games where avenging last year might have been on the mind of these Grizzlies who suffered through a 5-6 2012 season.
In a couple of cases they did - North Dakota and Appalachian State- and in a couple of others Eastern Washington and Northern Arizona, well not so much.
But all that matters little Saturday as this nine-win No 5 team vies to bring a playoff game back to Missoula be it in the first or second round.
Granted December football used to be a Washington Grizzly staple as did top five rankings but since the 2011 semi-final playoff run was vacated by the NCAA you have to go back to 2009's national championship run to catch a taste of true post-season success.
But none of that really matters on the approach to the 113th meeting between the state's two Division-1 institutions.
Conference stats indicate the winner may be the first team to score 40 and the two teams allow about the same number of points (just over three TDs.)
They are about equal in total offense while Montana State boasts a bit better total defensive numbers.
They rush about equally, allow about the same number of opponent's rushing totals, while the Grizzlies are a bit more effective via the airways and the Cats are plenty stingy when it comes to pass defense. MSU does well on third-down conversions but the two teams are about equal in what they allow opponents on third downs.
One difference that stands out certainly is turnovers as Montana is plus-13 in league play while the Cats are but plus-3.
And the Griz are seldom penalized while their opponents are the most penalized league team while Bobcat opponents are the league's least penalized.
If the Griz, especially with the full return of Travon Van and the more than capable contributions of Jordan Canada, are able to run the ball consistently Jordie Johnson will be highly effective in the pass game.
The Griz are healthy - the Cats not so much - but Dr. Game always figures into this one.
Well it is here again is the week that "G" comes before "C" in my alphabet but the 113th meeting sure doesn't line up as I anticipated.
And while I am not totally surprised that Eastern Washington already has again claimed the automatic bid who could anticipate Cooper Kupp and Vernon Adams and I am totally amazed the events in Bozeman don't figure into the league title chase.
But really Griz-Cat now is all about playoff seeding for Montana and a playoff appearance for Montana State.
A Montana win brings a first-round post Thanksgiving bye while a third loss probably brings the grizzlies with a first round home matchup against a team in the bottom 30 percent of the field.
For the Cats, their playoff string of three straight is in jeopardy because a fifth loss in 12 games, even with the expansion of the post-season field to 24, won't cut it.
But an eighth win, and over a top five Montana team, makes it likely they could even host a first-round game.
What is most surprising, and I have to admit I have no idea how this formula is tabulated, is that the Big Sky Conference with four teams in the top 13 and three in the top 10 are ranking sixth of 13 FCS teams behind even the ivy that does not participate in the post season.
The problem as I see it is Weber (104), Northern Colorado (102), North Dakota (93) and Idaho State (83) are far down the FCS ranking and are listed in the area of 200 in all of football.
Montana has not lost in Bozeman since 2005 although the 2011 victory was vacated and the Cats have lost back-to-back games for the first time since the 2008 season but none of that will matter come 3p.m. Saturday afternoon.
It seems like the matchup, no matter the stakes, is always a knuckle buster and fair weather will guarantee excellent playing conditions.
You can't hide the hype and you either are or you aren't, so it seems to this humble scribe It is just time for one of these teams to really show their mettle.
There's plenty of time this week not just to celebrate what already is a nine-win football season and the cross-state match up that will determine not just the state's bragging rights but playoff seeding for both the Griz and the Cats.
But today is a testament to the greatest basketball coach in Montana history, my good friend Robin Selvig.
The most uncomfortable guy about the hoopla over a possible 800th career victory Monday is the 36-year University of Montana head coach.
I'd like to think I have a bit of a unique perspective on "Bo" since for the first eight years of my University of Montana broadcasting life was spent not just as his co-pilot - although he would argue I didn't play that much of a part in his customary misdirection on road trips - but also in the early years as his roommate since there certainly was no budget for the radio guy to have a room of his own.
That all started in 1985 in the eighth year of his amazing and unpatrolled career.
It was the dog days of the old Mountain West Conference, years before the Lady Griz and most of their other traditional opponents moved into the Big Sky Conference.
I was new to Missoula but not exactly a novice with women's collegiate hoop.
The Washington State women played the prelim to George Raveling's Cougar games in Pullman and I had often caught the second half of those games featuring a future Lady Coug Hall of Famer so it was plenty ironic when my inaugural UM road game came against BYU in a tournament in Pullman.
The victory numbers since that initial year speak for themselves as do the number of league titles, post season tournament appearances and player graduation rates but what speaks volumes to me is not just Bo's competitive demeanor and passion for the game and his student athletes but also how he is the same person all these years later that I climbed on that bus with on a Friday morning so many years ago.
While our lives don't cross as much since I am usually on the road when the women are playing at home, our friendship has endured and prospered and while Selvig is one of the nation's most respected basketball entities, he remains the same humble Montana man who came to Missoula after an outstanding prep career in Outlook to play for Jud Heathcote in 1970.
Whether he reaches the 800-win pinnacle Monday against the University of Portland or late in the month on the road really is immaterial because whenever it occurs it will be a legion of past and present players he will recognize for his ability to be listed among the nation's elite.
Noteworthy is the fact that in the team's media guide, contrary to most other programs, the coach's profiles are listed well back in the publication which begins with player listings.
It is just a subtle indication about how Robin always has his priorities in order and just one reason why I am proud to list him as one my dearest and most important friends.
Over the years there are many things "Bo" could have done with his career but the state is so fortunate that he also held all those things in perspective and remained here in Montana where he always will be recognized as not just the finest coach in state history but also one of its most prominent citizens.
Thanks for the memories coach!
The regular season home schedule closes Saturday with league tail-ender Weber State making the nearly 500-mile trip to Washington Grizzly Stadium.
Former Griz Head Coach Robin Pflugrad, at the offensive helm of the Wildcats, looks for some vindication with a Weber State team that has lost nine straight games since opening the season with a surprising 10-point victory over Stephen F. Austin in Ogden.
That opening salvo was indeed surprising since the 50 points WSU scored against SFA was about twice as many as the Wildcats have scored in any game since then and in fact in the next half dozen games Weber State scored a grand total of 41 points.
But their schedule has been brutal having faced a quartet of teams ranked in the top nine in the country among nine losses.
Offensively Weber has struggled mightily scoring less than two TDs a game on the average and barely averaging 300 yards an outing.
But true freshman Austin Chipoletti has started to figure some things out and connected on 29 of 46 for 263 yards and a career-high three touchdowns in last week's loss to Southern Utah and a second true freshman, 6-foot 2 Cameron Livingston (No. 81), took a pair of his five receptions to the house.
But John Hoyt Field has not been kind to Weber State. The Wildcats have not won in Missoula since 1987 - a string of 13 games - and have lost 13 of the last 15 games to the Grizzlies.
But in Ogden last season, after the Grizzlies seemed secure with a 10-point fourth quarter lead with about four minutes to go, Cordero Dixon took the ensuing kickoff the length of the field to make things interesting although the Grizzlies held on for a 24-21 verdict.
But the majority of offensive skill players from that game, save for Jordan Canada, are no longer in either team's fold but on defense there are still a lot of familiar names including Wildcat linebacker Anthony Morales who amazingly had a hand in 23 tackles in the game.
Thirteen Montana seniors make their final appearance in the regular season and fans are asked to bring a new toy for the Griz For Kids Toy Drive.
Given how the season has progressed even while winning five of their last six games I don't even think winless in league Weber State is a break for the eighth ranked Grizzlies.
One of the oldest rivalries in the Big Sky Conference is renewed Saturday in Missoula.
It marks the 53rd time the two teams have faced each other and the Grizzlies have dominated the series having won 13 of the last 15 meetings with Weber not winning in Missoula since 1987.
To compound matters, WSU is 0-6 in the Big Sky, 1-9 overall and mired in the league cellar.
But we've seen this team of Cardiac Kids seem to find a way to be victorious while not playing their best football and that certainly can be both a positive and a negative.
On paper there surely is no way the Wildcats belong on the same John Hoyt Field as the Grizzlies especially since Weber is allowing close to 45 points a game while scoring just 15 in comparison to Montana's 15-point average margin.
Add to that Montana's league leading plus-12 in turnover margin to Weber's minus-nine.
Wildcat quarterback Austin Chipoletti has thrown for slightly better than 900 yards in the last three games while the freshman signal caller has risen to seventh in pass average even after throwing for just 528 yards in his first seven games.
But standing at the bottom of the circuit in scoring offense, scoring defense and near the bottom in most other categories does not bode well for a Wildcat team that leads only North Dakota in turnover margin.
The Wildcats have failed to stop anybody on the ground, giving up almost 226 yards an outing, yet ironically they slightly lead Montana in total defense as the two teams only stand ahead of Idaho State.
Senior wide-out Erik Walker seems to be their go-to receiver but of his 41 receptions just one has gone for a TD.
WSU's biggest threat seems to come from kick returner A.J. Coney who stands third in the circuit at some 27 yards per return while punter Troy Epperson is one of the league's most proficient kickers but then again the senior has been required to kick way more than anyone else in the Big Sky.
Well there's been a few basketball games over the year that I have not attended because of travel conflicts with football. And the only football game I have missed in 21 years was when I opted to go to the Big Island rather than broadcast a playoff game that the Grizzlies ultimately lost in 2002 to McNeese State.
Tuesday night's loss at Minnesota was quite a different thing.
Yes, schedule conflicts between football and basketball are going to occur where it is just impossible to get from one place to another in time to do the next game.
But many times I have finished a football game, slept a few hours and hopped on an airplane to fly to a far away or even close by place to catch up with hoop in order to do what I do - be the voice of Grizzly basketball and football.
But Tuesday night was different and I have to tell you to be honest I didn't like it much but it gave me even more incentive to work harder and shake the effects of what medics describe as a mini-stroke.
Now I am uncertain as to who describe it as such but I can tell you it's been a struggle to bounce back and get my feet underneath me, especially given the dropped-foot syndrome that you have seen me struggle with for so many years, but put caution to the wind - I am still charging and am unlikely to give up.
But listening to Tom Schultz describe the action and receive some six voice messages from people who were in Williams Arena in Minneapolis wondering why I was not in attendance was by no means an easy proposition.
There will be some nine other instances where that will occur but suffice it to say that the games I am able to attend - road games that do not require a flight - will be even more appreciated and I am confident will bring favorable results much like what Wayne Tinkle's troops have accomplished in three of the last four seasons.
The Griz were drubbed Tuesday night by the Golden Gophers but mark my words, much like this Vox, they will return in full stride and be there when it counts.
Men's hoop gets goin' Tuesday night and the non-conference road season looks especially daunting.
Unfortunately there is no Mick Delaney Show Tuesday but there is basketball to sink your collective teeth into.
And led by Honorable Mention All American Kareem Jamar, Montana opens the season with a pair of challenging road games before the home opener Nov. 22 against the University of San Francisco Dons.
Tuesday it's Williams Arena in Minneapolis against Minnesota and the Golden Gopher under Richard Pitino. Yes that Pitino family, the son of legendary coach Rick Pitino.
Minnesota opened the season with an easy 81-62 victory over Lehigh by shooting some 45 percent and limiting the Mountain Hawks to just 22 of 61 field-goal attempts.
A quartet of Golden Gophers scored in double figures led by sophomore forward Joey King's 20.
The last time the two teams met resulted in a Griz 72-65 victory in the old Spice Classic Tournament in Orlando in 2006.
Minnesota returns top scorer junior guard Andre Hollins and present a huge inside challenge with 6-foot 11, 240 lb junior post Elliot Eliason who pulled down a game-leading 17 caroms against Lehigh.
Shooting guard Austin Hollis, who started 34 games last year, dropped in 11 and pulled down seven rebounds in the opener.
The Grizzlies are coming off a pair of premier seasons and a 14th ranking in last year's final Mid-Major poll.
They went to the Big Dance for the second consecutive season, made a third appearance in four years and quite frankly have just been a recent dominant entity setting a Big Sky record win mark of 19-1 last season.
They broke the 14-year old record for free throw percentage last season (76.7 percent) and finished fifth in the nation in that category.
In addition to Jamar, the league's MVP last season, Montana returns starters Jordan Gregory and Eric Hutchison.
And among other returnees is Keron DeShields, who started nine games, part-time starter center Andy Martin and junior forward Mike Weisner, who played in 32 outings.
Wayne Tinkle has been tabbed Coach of the Year in consecutive seasons and has the challenge of molding a variety of new but excellent talent into a viable entity before the start of league play.
And make no mistake the road schedule might be a make-or-break deal.
Pre-game with Tom Schultz at 5:30 with tipoff at 6 p.m.
Home safe after another Cardiac Kid finish fans have become accustomed to, the Montana Grizzlies will take Monday not only to catch their breath but get some treatment and healed up from the rigorous nature of an already 10-game season.
While I kept talking turnover and field position during the second half of another exhilarating triumph over a tough opponent, I sure didn't expect Matt Hermanson from nearby Sioux Falls to benefit from the ball hawking exploits of Jordie Tripp and waltz untouched into the end zone.
Then after mentioning Ellis Henderson would again exceed the 300-yard all-purpose mark with a runback to see him first of all on the kickoff return team, then striding past the Yote kicker at mid-field and taking it to the promise land was just plain surreal.
And it's now a two-game league stretch to bring the regular season to fruition and build more momentum for the post season.
But indulge me for a few minutes to honor our military and veterans on this traditional national holiday.
While today certainly presents an opportunity to thank a veteran, I see that occurring more and more these days as we pass those in uniform.
I am old enough to remember when Nov. 11 was known as Armistice Day and while it provides a three-day weekend this year, the actual recognition occurs on whatever day the 11th falls on.
You see that marks the cessation of hostility between Allied troops and Germany and the signing of the armistice recognized in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
First recognized for a moment of silence at 11 a.m. in 1918 but it wasn't until 20 years later the day was elevated to a legal national holiday.
But in 1968 the signing of a law to guarantee federal employees three-day weekends connected with four holidays changed the observance to the second Monday of November.
Because of the historical and patriotic significance of Nov. 11, in 1978 President Gerald Ford returned the date to its traditional Nov. 11 date.
Fans it is not about what might be today's holiday but about commemorating the end of the "war to end all wars" - how did that all work out - and to recognize the service of those who answered the call.
Take at least a moment to reflect today.
A four-point loss to Youngstown State dashed South Dakota's playoff aspirations but you had better believe former Griz coach Joe Glenn will have the Coyotes seething when Montana visits Verrmillion Saturday afternoon.
Montana has won the last three meetings including an 11-pointer in Missoula last season.
The Coyotes had high hopes after upsetting Northern Iowa in double OT but subsequent back-to-back losses at Illinois State then to YSU have dropped South Dakota to 4-5 and into an also-ran.
But 6-foot-6 quarterback Kevin Earl, who didn't take the South Dakota helm until the fifth game a win over Missouri State and directed three consecutive victories presents plenty of challenges.
Josh VanderMaten played decently in the opener in Missoula last year hitting 12 of 19 for 172 yards but Dan Moore ran roughshod over the Coyotes for a career-high 138 yards in the 35-24 victory.
But make no mistake, South Dakota plays tough at home winning three of four in the DakotaDome and in their sole loss to then ninth-ranked Youngstown the Coyotes held the lead before the Penguins scored with 14 seconds to play after a 74-yard two-minute drive.
South Dakota has been jumped in the middle quarters then substantially outscoring opponents 79-40 in the fourth.
That is somewhat similar to the Grizzlies who have drubbed opponents three-to-one in the final stanza.
While running backs Trevor Bouma and Jordan Roberts average about four yards a carry make no mistake Earl wants to toss the rock and while his completion percentage is lacking (just 55 percent) he has thrown for 1259 yards and seven scores since the sophomore got the nod from Joe Glenn.
This certainly is a validation game for the second-year head coach who has won everywhere he's been.
Not only would it even his mark at 5-5, this is Joe's school and he'd like nothing better than to slap one on the Grizzlies. South Dakota is a cumulative 38 points from being 8-1 and of course for Montana it is all about playoff implications.
It is one of the sheer pleasures and certainly one of the reasons I have been involved in collegiate athletics for so long.
Yes the Grizzlies did complete their exhibition with not exactly an awe-inspiring but an easy victory over Lewis Clark State College out of the Frontier League.
But that is not exactly what is first on the plate today.
Not only was one of the Big Sky Conference officials a former Griz player, Deldre Carr, who also happens to be married to former Lady Griz Cheryl Keller, but also in attendance with his wife and child was one of my favorites, Shane "Scooter" Christiansen, who for the last nine years has been a member of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Now both guys are from Las Vegas and no doubt came through a different door at the Adams Center than they ever did as players when they went to the NCAA Tournament under the tutelage of Head Coach Don Holst.
If you are a basketball fan you remember the Dan Trammel slam off a miss by David Bell that defeated the Cats in Bozeman and sent them into the championship game where they qualified for the Big Dance.
Del seemed a bit uncomfortable as he greeted the coaches, especially Wayne Tinkle, prior to the game but when the ball went up he was right at home as well he should be having worked in the stripes for the last eight years including a stint as a NBA replacement ref.
As for Shane, well he holds a pair of world records for spinning the basketball on his nose and head and even won a karaoke contest while he lived in Montana.
The ball handling magician still has that magic smile that made him one of Montana's most popular players and as people discovered him at Adams Center Wednesday night they flocked to say hello.
You can hear an interview with Christiansen during the statewide tailgate party Saturday prior to the South Dakota football game when he talks about taking his bucketball exploits to some 70 countries during his Globetrotters tenure.
Oh yes and about Griz hoop 12 of 20 from three-point range but just an 11-point victory led by Jordan Gregory's 20 points.
Yes it is basketball season again and on Wednesday the Grizzly men take to the floor in Missoula for the second of two exhibitions prior to the tipoff of the regular season on the road on Nov 12 against Minnesota.
Lewis-Clark State College, a staple of the Frontier League, visits Dahlberg Arena tonight.
The Warriors won the circuit last season with a sparking 11-4 record and posted a 26-6 overall mark.
Like last week this game will only be streamed and available for your pleasure on gogriz.com with Greg Sundberg alongside.
But there's a change with men's basketball this year and I wanted to take a moment or two to share it with you.
Of course there is always the conflict between football and basketball especially with travel considerations which oftentimes has taken me to four different states and five games sometimes in the case of just one week.
But starting with the regular season opener in mid-month at Minnesota followed by a game two days later at South Dakota State you are going to hear a different radio voice for some road games.
For those who don't know I had a mini-stroke in July that quite literally has knocked my pins loose.
The rehab is coming along, thanks initially to the amazing people at the St Patrick Hospital Providence Center where I spent almost a month prior to the start of football season.
You might have seen me being toted around in a golf cart on the outside of Washington Grizzly Stadium as the athletic department has been super helpful getting me from one place to another.
And I have been relying on a wheel chair for transportation on the road for football just to make it easier and safer to make the trek to sometimes difficult to reach press boxes.
But commercial plane travel is quite different than the charter planes used by the football program and it just is not feasible to try to make some of the lengthy road trips especially given the challenge of a bag full of heavy equipment.
So it was decided it would be best to send my good pal Tom Schultz on the road for some broadcasts (about eight I think) which will allow me to continue to attend rehab sessions, walk and build my strength hopefully to return at full strength at some later time.
As I am sure you have heard, the mini-stroke which occurred right after back surgery did not affect me cognitively nor did it have any impact on my voice, but it did considerably weaken my already challenged left leg.
Now mark my words I will continue to push as hard as at all possible to get back to some form of full strength and believe me when I say Grizzly Sports Properties (a division of Learfield Sports) as well as the University of Montana Athletic Department have been over-the-top supportive to make it possible for me to continue in this play-by-play endeavor that has been so much a part of my life for the past 29 years.
In writing this blog post, I hope the chance of any rumor mongering is set aside when a different voice graces the airways to describe what has been an amazing and record-setting run of Griz basketball.
While Tom will handle the toughest road trips - including one to Hawaii darn it - you can count on one thing, I'll join him for any game I can get to on the ground.
And of course I'll be at the helm for the remainder of the football season and return in full stead next football season.
I appreciate your kind thoughts and prayers for my recovery and Go Griz!
Talk about some kind of senior season - What a superb seven games running back Jordan Canada has enjoyed.
With a quartet of rushing TDs vs. the Hornets, Canada joins some of Montana's elite - his coach Justin Green, Lex Hilliard, Yo Humphery and Arnie Blancas - with the single-game record.
And now with 25 rushing scores he moved past Green, Jody Farmer and Tony Rice into fourth all-time.
His 1,824 rushing yards moved him past Green and Monty Bullerdick and into eighth all-time and he should easily finish the season in the team's top six career rushers.
But Canada is not the only Grizzly moving up the various career ladders.
With his OT winner in California, Ellis Henderson is just one scoring reception from fourth on the single-season list occupied by Marc Mariani, Marvin Turk and Mike Rice and the sophomore's 14 career receiving TDs places him 12th tied with the aforementioned Rice.
And "Hendo's" all-purpose yardage total of 357 yards (180 receiving, 177 kickoff and punt returns) is the most since Mark Mariani totaled 389 yards in the comeback win over South Dakota State in 2009.
How do his 180 receiving yards compare you ask - Well it the 14th highest total in Grizzly single-game history and he did it with just five catches.
Along the lines of just in case you missed it, the 381 passing yards accumulated by Jordie Johnson was a career best and he did it with 19 of 38 passing after starting the game as I remember at least just three of his first 10.
And with a pair of TDs, the junior signal caller moved into a tie for the fifth career spot with John Edwards and Drew Miller.
And his 24 passing scores are tied with Dave Dickenson (1994) and Grady Bennett (1990) for ninth all-time.
And you have to like OT - Montana is 8-3 in overtime games since 1988 and have won six of the last seven games determined in extra time.
There's a long ways to go but as you have heard me say, everything but the league title is on the table.
It certainly isn't the first time the Grizzlies were cardiac kids but it still was an amazing finish to a high scoring affair in the northern California pleasant sunshine as Montana kept their playoff hopes secure and turned Sacramento State into a league title also-ran with their second overtime victory among seven wins this season.
I'm still catching my breath after Montana claims victory after squandering a 14-point fourth quarter advantage in Sacramento.
And while the Griz defense gave up 45 points and 580 yards on an amazing 97 plays in regulation, it was that same defense that answered the call after Montana won the toss in OT.
Starting at the 25 yard-line the Hornets converted a single first down at the Griz 15 yard-line before Montana only allowed seven additional yards on Garrett Safron's 41st pass completion forcing a Sacramento State field goal.
And seconds later Jordie Johnson again found a sprinting Ellis Henderson in the right corner of the Hornet endzone for the 51-48 Montana victory.
It was of course the same combination that connected to propel Montana to an overtime victory over Cal Poly just two weeks ago.
And what a classic battle of offenses this Big Sky Conference game became after the two teams had gone to the locker room tied at 17 after Sacramento State scored in a little more than a minute to take the momentum back after Montana burst to a seven-point lead with 93 ticks remaining before intermission.
The penultimate quarter belonged to the Grizzlies 21-7, while Sac matched that margin in the fourth quarter to force the OT after a 77 yard, 10-play drive 23 seconds before the end of regulation.
Those three Sacramento State TDs are particularly significant because the Grizzlies had allowed but 13 fourth quarter points the entire season and had broken to a 38-24 lead at the end of the third stanza.
But the Griz D just couldn't stop Safron who not only threw for two of his four touchdowns in the fourth but also ran another in to set up the extra stanza.
With seven wins Montana is guaranteed a winning season for the 27th time in 28 years.
And the beat goes on.
It's about that time of year when a look at conference only team statistics reveal quite a different football team than their overall offerings which often contain numbers from games against higher division opponents.
And that sure is the case with Saturday's Griz opponent, Sacramento State.
You can sure understand while the Hornets are right on the verge of being in the middle of the Big Sky Conference title run with a 3-1 mark and coming off a bye but they have beaten just tail-enders Northern Colorado and Weber State but lost a heartbreaker to Northern Arizona by a point after leading by 17.
The Grizzlies suffered a loss to the Hornets for the first time here in 2011 after 16 straight victories.
A look at some league-only numbers are quite revealing.
Sac State leads the league in turnover margin at plus-seven, has been penalized just 20 yards per game on the average and is allowing just some 17 points an outing while tallying 34 themselves.
Teams have rushed just 114 yards a game and a young Sac defense is allowing just an average of 364 yards a game.
And take a look at the behemoths on the offensive front. 6-8 and 6-4, 290, 6-3, 330 and 6-8, 295.
That's a bit of beef protecting junior signal caller Garrett Safron who has thrown for more than 1,000 yards and an average of 255 per game.
He is fourth in the league in passing and pass efficiency and stands only behind Eastern's Vernon Adams in total offense.
The Griz are allowing almost 25 points to league opponents but they match the Hornets in league scoring.
Sac has made a statement stopping the run and Montana is third in the circuit in rushing offense and out-do Sac in total offense. Can we predict a battle of wills?
While the Hornets start four underclassman on defense, including a pair of freshmen, they have been opportunistic and rank fourth in total defense, well ahead of the Grizzlies who are allowing 421 yards a game.
And Montana is just a single turnover back of Sac and pace the circuit with nine picks.
The Griz rushing game is hurting with the loss of Joey Counts and an ailing Travon Van so in my mind it's high time to see the passing attack of junior QB Jordie Johnson come to the forefront.
The Hornets look to prove they are a legitimate contender while Montana - well you know that story.
While the Grizzlies have only lost to Sacramento State a single time in 16 games and have won seven of eight games in the California capital, the last time around it was all Hornets as they prevailed 42-28.
It's a must-win scenario for Montana as they travel to upstart Sacramento State.
While just 4-4 overall, the Hornets are just a game back of the league pacesetters in winning three of four circuit games.
After being shut out by both San Jose State and Arizona State to start the season, Sac shows wins over Southern Oregon, Weber State and Northern Colorado and at North Dakota while losing by three to Southern Utah and by one point to Northern Arizona.
Quarterback Garrett Safron completes almost 63 percent of his throws for nearly 1,900 yards and 18 TDs while being picked nine times.
While Morris Norrise leads the Hornets in receptions with 53, DeAndre Carter has hauled in 43 catches, 11 of which were TDs, for 599 yards and an average per catch of just short of 14 yards.
For Sacramento State it is a prolific passing attack as running back Ezekiel Graham leads in rushing but has packed the ball but 77 times in five games for 322 yards.
The Hornets average 156 rush yards an outing and 238 via the airways, sixth and eighth in the Big Sky Conference respectively.
But when it comes to the defensive side of the ball, Sacramento State stands solidly sixth in rush defense (145.4), yet 11th in pass defense (265.6), eighth overall (411).
Sacramento State is one of the league's highest scoring teams (27.6) but they give up a point more (28.6) than they score.
Safron has registered the fourth most yardage of any quarterback but his league numbers are even more impressive.
The junior trails only Eastern Washington's Vernon Adams averaging about 301 yards a game in total offense.
And he's thrown for nine scores against just four picks in four circuit contests while standing fourth in the league in pass efficiency.
Norrise and Carter have accounted for 50 of Safron's 86 league completions while Carter has been the red zone go-to guy with five scoring receptions.
And Safron has been sacked just three times in four league games.
And here we go.
The guys on the gridiron are approaching the home stretch with one-third of the season remaining before the playoffs but for bucket ball the season has just begun.
The exhibition season has begun for men's hoop with the second game scheduled for a week from today.
It was a powerful display in the opener Saturday as everything seemed to be right on stride for yet another record-breaking season for Wayne Tinkle's guys.
They scored the game's first 10 points against Simon Fraser University and just never were threatened as every player who was dressed saw floor time.
I guess it should come as no surprise that Big Sky Conference MVP Kareem Jamar paced the outing connecting on eight of 10 shots including a pair of treys and an additional 10 of a dozen free throw opportunities for 28 points to lead all players in scoring.
The senior guard from Venice, Ca., also dished off four assists and tanked down an also team-leading nine caroms but it is on the defensive end that Tinkle has challenged Jamar saying in a post-game interview he expects him to be the league's defensive Player of the Year.
That's quite a challenge for the versatile Jamar but one that should inspire others on this talented team.
Now granted Simon Fraser was not a noteworthy opponent, while they did beat Montana years ago in an exhibition game during Blaine Taylor's tenure, but it gave the coaching staff the opportunity to get film and watch especially how their new players perform in game situations.
Jordan Gregory was the night's sharpshooter connecting on four of five from outside the arc along with a pair of deuces for 16 points but true freshman Brandon Gfeller showed off his shooting touch with three of four treys and 16 points in just 18 minutes.
And newcomer guard Mario Dunn Jr. added 11 with three assists but also suffered four of the team's 16 turnovers.
Veteran Mike Weisner added 10 points to the double-figure mix while in the post Eric Hutchison was good for seven points and five boards, three offensive, and seven-footer Andy Martin dropped in four points and also grabbed five boards.
Early-on what's not to like.
Big Sky Conference home teams won three of five league games Saturday but home-field superiority has not been in evidence at least past the halfway pole of the circuit season.
While the Grizzlies fell just a taste in the latest Sports Network poll they still are solidly in the playoff race even after falling to a league title also-ran.
You remember when Big Sky Conference home teams were solid favorites to hold serve and in some venues would be up to seven-point favorites on the basis alone of being the home team?
That though was in the days of nine teams yet now with 13 league football members, visiting teams are winning at about the same rate as their home counterparts.
In 29 games thus far, home teams have only a 15-14 advantage.
Now granted any number can be skewed by situation. In other words which teams are particularly tougher at home and which opponent has thus far visited.
Of particular note of example is Idaho State which now has lost 43 consecutive road games and take for example this week in Greeley where the Bears entertain defending-champ Montana State and in Pocatello where co-league leader Eastern Washington visits Idaho State.
There was no movement in the top six teams this week with two-time defending champion North Dakota State the unanimous leader with Eastern Washington standing third behind Eastern Illinois and Montana State standing firmly in the five hole.
Once-beaten Towson jumped Sam Houston State into the seven position with Fordham and Maine rounding out the top ten.
The Grizzlies slipped to 12th while Northern Arizona, even in beating formerly ranked Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, made just a two-spot jump to 14th.
I have talked before about the challenge of finding about the last five spots in the poll and with 24 teams to be selected to the post season, the NCAA needs to get ready to struggle likewise.
Villanova even managed to stay on the list in 20th but just with a 4-4 mark but not to insult anybody here is the bottom three - Tennessee State (7-1), Charleston Southern (6-2) and Southeast Louisiana (6-2).
Mark my words this will be a post-season field with several teams from obscure former lower division leagues making their inaugural playoff appearance. I'll let you decide whether or not that is good for FCS football.
The turn of the weather late in the weekend corresponded with the Grizzly season's turn as with the loss to No. 3 Eastern Washington, the Grizzlies no longer control their own destiny and are left by their own devices to play spoiler in the race for the Big Sky Conference crown.
You know I was not at all surprised that sophomore sensation quarterback Vernon Adams enjoyed the good fortune via the airways as Eastern again defeated Montana at Washington Grizzly Stadium.
But I was surprised that the Grizzly defense couldn't keep Eastern out of the endzone and were required to make a frantic cardiac-kid kind of fourth quarter comeback to cut into a 42-17 deficit before the Eagles claimed victory.
And it certainly didn't come from a lack of persevering but in the end, to the displeasure of the third largest crowd in Stadium history, while they set Eastern on their heels for a time and had enough possessions, it just wasn't to be.
And now with two league losses but just the single team goal of claiming circuit superiority off their plate, the remainder of the season comes down to claiming a trio of league wins and playing for possible playoff placement.
With 24 teams due to be selected to the post-season it promises to be interesting to say the least.
After the loss the Grizzlies of course will drop out of the Sports Network top 10 but with six victories in eight games probably will not plummet much further than four or five spots with Sacramento State next on their plate.
For some reason Northern Arizona has been less than respected by pollsters but now matching Montana's overall record by slipping past Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, since they hold a victory over the Grizzlies, the Lumberjacks should jump Montana in the latest poll released Monday.
In my mind a question remains however: Since the league is ranked fourth in FCS football if the Grizzlies by any chance finished with three losses, would the committee select four Big Sky Conference teams to the post season?
Of course a clean slate from here including a victory in Bozeman would secure a spot anyway.
Just something to chew on.
There are some folks, including this humble scribe, who predicated before the season started that Saturday's matchup between top 10 teams Eastern Washington and Montana, would shape up to be the Big Sky Conference championship game.
Now that observation certainly is not meant to take anything away from Montana State, the odds-on league leader and the co-defending champion.
Here's the rub - the 411 if you will - about this key FBS game in Missoula Saturday.
More often than not Eastern Washington University and Montana both are ranked when the two teams faces off be it either in Missoula or on the red turf of Cheney.
Fueled mostly by Montana's success but contributed also by the Eagles the two adversaries have been to the FCS playoffs 30 times, 21 times by Montana.
But in the last five seasons during which span both teams were ranked, only once in 2009 have both teams made it to the post-season and never has the EWU-UM loser won a share of the circuit championship.
Both teams have Montana State remaining on their schedule, Eastern with the Cats at home, and the Eagles also have to travel to San Luis Obispo to face Cal Poly while the Grizzlies are on the road in league all but one of the remaining three weeks of the season - with a non-leaguer at tough South Dakota also in the offing - so you can see this one is just flat pivotal as to not just the outcome of the league but any post-season aspirations as well.
The Eagles certainly can put points on the board, averaging almost 37 an outing and they total nearly 500 yards a game and convert 50.9 percent of their third-down opportunities while allowing the opponent just 37 percent.
And their offensive front looks like the gang from Hormel Meat Packing as they go 290 at both tackles and 300 at both guards and the center slot.
But Eastern has run the ball just 126 times while attempting well over 200 passes.
A quartet of receivers have hauled in 20 passes each in seven total games with Ashton Clark pacing the outfit with 38 receptions and Cooper Kupp contributing 33 catches for an 18-yard per catch average.
Who needs defense but count on it strong side linebacker Ronnie Hamlin is the real deal so be in your seats early and plan on staying late for this Military Appreciation game.
Saturday marks the faceoff between a couple of top 10 FCS football teams but unusually it is Eastern Washington that is top ranked while the home-standing Grizzlies are nestled in the ten hole.
Victorious at John Hoyt Field more times than any other team, the Eagles bring their prolific passing attack to Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Not only has Eastern Washington been victorious in Missoula on four occasions the Eagles have come away victorious in three of the last four matchups.
But before that Montana had won six of seven games and in the last two decades since winning three straight (1990-92), Eastern has won only a quartet of games.
In the last three occasions the Eagles have been the higher ranked team but prior to that in eight of 11 teams the Grizzlies stood higher on the pinnacle.
Games between the Eagles and Montana have been traditionally sharply contested with 11 recent games decided by ten points or less.
And it is another chance for the Grizzlies to gain a measure of revenge after losing to Eastern Washington by six last year after leading by nine points with eight and change to play.
Vernon Adams, now a highly-heralded sophomore quarterback, now on the Walter Payton Watch list, tossed a pair of late TDs to secure the Eagles victory on the red turf in Cheney.
Adams is up to his same exploits, this year leading FCS in passing efficiency - and check out this stat sheet.
He is completing 67 percent of his tosses (144 of 234 - eighth in FCS) for 2,189 yards for 24 TDs against six picks. A season ago he threw for a school-record yardage.
Redshirt freshman receiver Cooper Kupp averages 85 yards per-game and has caught nine TDs, while senior receiver Ashton Clark hauls down better than five catches an outing on an Eagle team that stands sixth in total offense and eighth in passing.
But EWU gives up better than 26 an outing and 407 yards of total offense including 173 rush yards.
Turnovers might be a key stat in this one as the Grizzlies are a robust plus-10 in that category, nine superior to the Eagles.
Don't look for an early resolve in this one.
It comes so darn quick and then before you know it it's gone.
In the heart of the football season the Griz and Lady Griz hit the floor yesterday for the Annual Maroon-Silver scrimmage. Both the men and women's team begin defense of their Big Sky Conference championship.
For the Lady Griz a trio of seniors, Katie Baker, Kenzie De Boer and Alyssa Smith completed their eligibility as did Ali Hurley while for the men return three starters and eight letter winners to a 25-win team that established a league record with a 19-1 record.
Of note of course for the Griz is senior Kareem Jamar, the circuit MVP and an honorable mention All-American.
Also returning are starting post Eric Hutchison and junior guard Jordan Gregory along with center Andy Martin, forward Mike Weisner and sophomore guard Morgan Young.
Add to that mix freshman guard and sharpshooter Brandon Gfeller, Oakland, Ca. guard Mario Dunn and 6 foot 5 Australian Jack Lopez.
JC transfer Chris Kemp, who played at West Texas College after prepping in Baltimore, is solidly in the fold and expected to push for starting time at the power forward position.
Corvallis prep Riley Bradshaw, a transfer from Utah State, won't be eligible until the start of league play in December, while Dane Muller from Billings Skyview will redshirt because of an injury and University of Washington transfer Martin Breunig also will sit out because of NCAA transfer rules.
The next time the men hit the floor will be in an exhibition game with Simon Fraser on Saturday after the Eastern Washington football game. They will then host Lewis and Clark in an additional exhibition on Nov. 6.
For the women, forward Jordan Sullivan and point guard Torry Hill, both seniors, are the sole returning starters.
So five additional letter winners will compete for starting positions and playing time.
Early on Carly Selvig, Maggie Rickman and Kellie Cole look to push for starting time while four other redshirt players, Rachel Staudacher, D.J. Reinhardt, Haley Vining, and Molly Klinker also will figure into the mix although Klinker recently hurt her shoulder and will be out for an undetermined amount of time.
Picked to finish second in the league, the Lady Griz open the exhibition season Monday followed by a matchup with Montana-Western Nov. 7.
An exhilarating overtime victory over Cal Poly by Montana did little this week to impress voters in The Sports Network poll.
Now past the halfway pole the Grizzlies made things exciting and remained No 10 in the country, the third Big Sky Conference team in the nation's first 10 ranked football teams.
Voters left the 6 & 1 Grizzlies far back on the nine spot occupied by 8 & 0 Fordham.
The big movement in the poll of 156 voters occurred with McNeese State which upended formerly No. 2 Sam Houston State in a key Southland Conference game that moved the Cowboys five positions to No. 4 but dropped the Bearkats five spots to No. 7
Twenty-one of those voters from the Big Sky voted Eastern Washington (5-2) and this Saturday's Griz opponent into the three spot with the Bobcats solidly in the five position.
Also on the national FCS level Northern Arizona running back Zach Bauman claimed the league and the nation's offensive player of the week laurel.
He toted the ball 28 times totaling a career-high 266 yards and with seven receptions for an additional 58 yards, the senior compiled the most all-purpose yards in the circuit this season.
With 4,560 yards he now has moved into fifth on the career list.
Grizzly linebacker Brock Coyle is the defensive Player of the Week after a 15-tackle performance against Cal Poly and the game cinching interception at the two yard-line in overtime.
But overlooked in the voting of special teams was senior backer Jordie Tripp whose amazing block of Bobby's Zalud's 26-yard field goal attempt enabled the Grizzlies to get the ball and utilize just about every bit of the game's final two minutes to force what at that time certainly was an unlikely overtime.
Tripp also was the third Grizzly with double-figure tackles with 13 and his fourth-quarter fumble recovery was the ninth of his stellar career and moved the Buck Buchanan candidate into a tie with Mike Rankin with nine, the most in Montana history.
Matt Hermanson wrapped up 18 tackles while John Kanongata'a added 16.
Sometimes you have to win ugly but there was nothing ugly about the Griz defense that pitched a shutout for the game's final 36 minutes.
The Mick Delaney Show is tonight at Dickey's Barbecue in downtown Missoula at 6 p.m.
How about no hill for a climber.
Dominated by almost 100 total yards and some 13 minutes of possession time and held to a season-low 73 rushing yards the Grizzlies launched a picture perfect two-minute and change length of the field drive for a tying score against a prevent defense then stole away the upset with Mr Touchdown Ellis Henderson's overtime reception and for the second straight week Montana defeated a league leader.
I've seen a lot of miracle outcomes but Saturday may well have taken the cake.
The Grizzly defense played a show-stopper second half pitching a shutout and while it took 28 minutes to get the offense percolating they were there when the chips were down to stay alive in the Big Sky Conference title chase.
When Cal Poly lined up for a probably game securing chip-shot field goal with 2:22 remaining in regulation to add salt to a seven-point advantage, the situation appeared dire.
But senior backer Jordie Tripp had other ideas anchoring off the charge of Alex Bienemann to make the block off Bobby Zalud to set up the late heroics that culminated with tight end Clay Pierson corraling the tying reception on fourth and goal.
It took the Griz little time in the extra period with Hendo fighting his way the last five yards to the north endzone for a 23-yard score.
The Mustangs could not answer and the game ended with linebacker Brock Coyle picking off sophomore Dana Graves at the goal line on third down.
With victories Saturday, Eastern Washington and Montana State stand alone at the top of the circuit with Montana being joined by Sac State, Davis, Northern Arizona and Cal Poly with single league losses.
Along with the game-saving field goal block, Tripp also etched his name in the Griz record book with a ninth fumble recovery tying Mike Rankin for the top spot on the career list.
Quarterback Jordie Johnson saved the day after a lackluster performance connecting on all but three of 11 attempts on the final drive as the Mustangs opted to drop into coverage and employ an odd front something the junior just chipped away at until completing the final tying tally.
It's not about how but how many and that is six of seven.
Home teams in the Big Sky Conference don't seem to have much of an advantage here in the first part of the league season.
The Griz are in the midst of final preparations for a diverse Cal Poly team intent on defending their share of the Big Sky Conference title won last season.
And while as you know Montana seldom loses at Washington Grizzly Stadium, Cal Poly is one of those teams that handed the Grizzlies one of just 24 losses at John Hoyt Field.
And home teams are just fifty-fifty in the 18 league games thus contested.
And in the Mustangs you have a veteran coach in Tim Walsh who has brought plenty of teams into the Stadium and already has been quoting as saying in coach speak it is the loudest crowd he has ever experienced.
According to Mick Delaney the toughest part of getting ready for teams like Cal Poly is that it is impossible to simulate their offense, you just don't have those guys on the scout team that can effectively show the defense what triple-option teams do.,
Sure you can run their plays but there is no chance that you bring the speed and resulting misdirection that players that run that system every day bring to the game.
And going clear back to Delaware in 1993 - you remember that 49-48 playoff loss right - Montana defenses under a plethora of coaches and coordinators have struggled defending the triple-option attack.
While the Mustangs are just 3-3 yet 2-0 in league play, until losing to Yale they remained ranked in the Sports Network poll but since have fallen to the list of also-rans.
They stacked up 580 yards against Weber State and forced 10 Wildcat punts holding WSU to just 53 rushing yards while ironically mostly because of the level of competition the Mustangs have been outscored on the road 82-17 in the first half and about tripled in total offense.
In the second half Poly leads in scoring 63-26 and in yardage 926-515.
It will be a battle of styles, turnover margin, and any kind of special team mistakes.
This one could be a last team to have the ball kind of matchup.
In the midst of playing Big Sky Conference front runners in each of three straight weeks, the Grizzlies will have more than their share of adversity Saturday when Cal Poly rolls into Missoula.
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo ventures to Washington Grizzly Stadium Saturday for the eighth time since 2000.
It was a 23-year hiatus between when the two teams played in 1971 but since that time they have become perennial opponents meeting on each other's campus for the 15th time on Saturday.
And the Mustangs have been a worthy opponent even before joining the league and have victories in 2005 in the first round of the playoffs - one of only six losses in the Stadium in the last seven seasons - and again by just two points in 2010 in California although the Grizzlies lead the series 14-2.
They stand 3-3 with losses at Fresno State, Colorado State and in California to unbeaten Yale with victories over San Diego to open the season, at Portland State and at home last week 47-0 over last-place Weber State.
Cal Poly is a defending circuit champ, having shared the title last season losing in the playoffs to powerful Sam Houston State earning their third post-season spot and tenth winning season in the last dozen.
Their forte of course is their multi-tiered unique option attack that may have come of age last week with diminutive Air Force Academy transfer quarterback Dano Graves at the helm.
Key said Head Coach Mick Delaney on the show Tuesday night is the fullback, Akaninyene Umoh (say Ah-kuh-KNEE uh-nay OOh moe) who doesn't get the rock a lot (31 carries), but in assignment football requires the initial attention of the defense.
The Mustangs would like to get the ball to Kristaan Ivory who eclipsed the Century mark last week and leads the league in rushing averaging better than six yards a tote.
But wingback Chris Brown also averages better than four yards a carry and Graves rushed for 115 yards against the Wildcats.
Finding the pigskin and staying in your pursuit lanes is of prime importance, said the second-year head man, and the defense being able to react early-on to the option is key.
It could be a barnburner since SLO averages nearly 30 points an outing.
A quartet of one-loss teams trail a trio of unbeaten pacesetters as the Big Sky Conference race passes the one-third mark.
For Montana in facing Cal Poly on Saturday they again face an unbeaten team sitting atop the league ladder.
The Mustangs remained undefeated by trouncing hapless Weber State 47-0 securing the Wildcats a spot in the league basement with Portland State and Northern Colorado.
It was a double-headed attack for the Mustangs in San Luis Obispo as quarterback Dano Graves rushed 17 times for 116 yards and threw for three TDs while Kristaan Ivory went over the Century mark on 16 carries, three of which resulted in scores.
There is a regular quagmire in the circuit standings with a quartet of teams (Southern Utah, Northern Arizona, Sacramento State and UC Davis) joining Montana a game off the league lead with 2-1 marks behind Cal Poly, Montana State and Eastern Washington.
Approaching the halfway mark it is going to be interesting to see who climbs the league ladder especially since with a 13- team schedule, all teams don't play each other.
For Montana it's a tough stretch with league leaders in Missoula the next two weeks before a return trip to Sacramento to face the Hornets.
In the Griz camp running back Jordan Canada continues to climb the career rushing ladder and with 126 yards Saturday he leapfrogged Les Kent, Arnie Blancas, and Terry Dillon into 13th.
Zack Wagenmann's 1.5 sacks moved the junior defensive end into a tie with Randy Riley for 13th on the career list. And what an overall season the junior from Missoula is enjoying.
From a defensive line position Zack is third in tackles, 9.5 of which were for loss, and has two sacks, a pair of hurries, a pass break-up and another pair of forced fumbles.
He has nearly one-third of the total team's TFLs and one-fourth of the defense's sacks and with a season and a half of eligibility remaining Wagenmann may well approach the deceased Tim Bush on the career ladder in a couple of categories and he's started just 17 games while playing in 30. That speaks to the depth the front-seven works to achieve and why he and senior backer Jordan Tripp were pre-season all-league selections.
Winners of consecutive Big Sky Conference games and sharing the league lead, UC Davis was looking to step up to a breakout season by entertaining a Homecoming crowd with a victory over Montana.
But instead they ran into a buzz saw Grizzly team intent on continuing to rebound from the now-distant disappointing loss at Northern Arizona and remain focused on the week at hand.
Looking inside Montana's initial league road victory after a dominating performance of UC Davis let the Aggies know they've got a ways to go to be a factor in league play.
And while the Aggie defense had its moments about the only Grizzly negative was a pair of Ben Worst missed field goals from 45 and 42 yards out.
It might have been the wind or the Worst misses that prompted Mick Delaney to go on fourth down instead attempt again from 42 yards out but nevertheless quarterback Jordie Johnson tiptoed down the Grizzly sidelines barely converting the first down and on the ensuing play found Ellis Henderson for his second TD reception and Montana was secure with a three TD advantage headed to the locker room for intermission.
And even though the Aggies marched the field 70 yards at the start of the third quarter to cut into the lead, Montana's dominant second half produced just as many points as the first as they claimed a 42-7 victory.
Griz D again saddled an opponent's star running backs as Gabe Manzanares, who got the rock more than 30 times in the last two games for 383 yards, had just 15 carries and 60 yards.
Johnson again was super efficient and now has thrown 144 times without an interception and continues to move up career lists for touchdowns and yards gained and I look for the junior to soon be added to the Walter Payton Watch List.
Montana had season-high scoring drives of 83, 71, 77 and 61 yards and better than a seven-minute time of possession advantage.
But UC Davis defensive end Nick King handed off some bulletin board material casting the UC Davis defense as on equal footing physically.
"They are big boys but we are in the weight room too, he told the Sacramento Bee. "It all boils down to technique and will power."
UC Davis plays in Missoula next season.
There were just a couple of instances when Montana's game at UC Davis was in question: before kickoff and when the Aggies cut the deficit to 14 points at the start of the second half.
After a short hop back I'm back to Missoula after the Grizzlies dismantling of a Big Sky Conference opponent picked to finish 12th in the 13-team circuit.
The Grizzlies who have been a fast-starting group this season jumped quickly on the Aggies with back-to-back first quarter touchdowns and led 14-0 just past halfway through the quarter after an Ellis Henderson scoring reception and a Travon Van 18-yard scamper.
It was a dominant effort on both sides of the football and with a couple of top-10 losses should move Montana well back into the top 10 of FCS teams as compiled by voters of The Sports Network poll.
And with the next two games in Missoula starting with the "pink" game Saturday against Cal Poly, Montana stands to enhance not just their league standings but also their national ranking before the torturous last third of the season that see the Grizzlies on the road three of the last four weeks.
Wide receiver Henderson, who was shut out last week against Portland State, continues to be the go-to guy for scoring receptions as he connected with Jordie Johnson for the seventh time this season and now with 38 scoring tosses Johnson moved into a tie with Andrews Selle and Marty Mornhinweg for eighth on the career list.
And with 163 yards passing, he moved past Brent Pease and within a couple of good games of the top 10 on the career yardage list in just his 18th start.
Montana grabbed a couple of picks and now stands plus-10 in turnover margin while running back Jordan Canada eclipsed the Century mark for the fourth time in six games this season and with 19 rushing TDs the senior now stands seventh on the all-time list.
What was most impressive to me was the length of Montana's scoring drives which speak to the team's domination of the clock. We'll have plenty to say about that on the Mick Delaney Show Tuesday night.
And the Grizzlies remain the only FCS team without an interception.
The night the lights went out the last time Montana visited UC Davis in 2009 might well have saved the Grizzlies from defeat as the Aggies were down deep in the red zone and trailing in the late going by seven.
But some 18 minutes later when the lights re-torched, Trumaine Johnson preserved the Grizzly victory with an interception and Montana headed home with their fourth consecutive victory over UC Davis in a series that began in 1926.
It has been an odd season for the Aggies who opened up the season with a quartet of losses including non-conference matchups with a pair of conference opponents.
But since then they seemed to have righted the ship with consecutive circuit victories not only with the return of Randy Wright to starting QB status but also the exploits of running back Gabe Manzanares who enjoyed back-to-back outstanding performances.
And there certainly has been no hesitation for new head coach Ron Gould to give the San Francisco native the rock as he carried 67 times over the last two weeks.
His 383 rushing yards in that period ranks him seventh in the UC Davis record book and now with 546 yards this season he ranks high on the league charts as well.
And after being intercepted four times in their initial 80 attempts, Aggie quarterbacks have not been picked in the last 89 attempts and in the last three games they have gained seven turnovers while losing but two fumbles.
But in the Grizzlies, UC Davis is facing not only an opportunistic defense (plus eight in turnover margin) but also one of the top rush defenses in FCS football allowing just 115.6 yards per-game and just a trio of touchdowns.
And the Grizzlies lead the league in points allowed (19.6) while the Aggies have scored just an average of 14.2.
UC Davis also will have to contend with a phalanx of Griz running backs who average 235 yards an outing and with Jordan Canada, Trey Van and Joey Counts all gaining about six yards a chunk, free bodies are always getting the ball.
It's Homecoming in California and a chance for the Aggies to prove they have arrived in Division-1 football while the Griz are in quest of their initial league road win.
I am mindful of the fact that any mention of this, if you worried about things like this, could jinx the Montana quarterback Jordie Johnson, but you need to know about this streak.
You all probably know by now that Jordie Johnson continues to be near the national pinnacle in passing efficiency.
Now that is not a stat completely dependent on completion percentage although he still is around 60 percent in that category.
But the amazing statistic to me is that he now has thrown 124 passes without an interception dating back to the 2011 season and Montana remains the sole program in FCS football not to suffer an interception this season.
Now keep in mind that includes action by a quartet of quarterbacks where it's always possible a QB might get picked off late in a game.
And there's a bunch of other Johnson stats that certainly are worthy of additional mention.
The junior already has moved to 12th on the all-time passing list with 3,603 yards in just 17 starts (24 overall games) and only trails Brent Pease, who was a JC transfer from Walla Walla, by just 52 yards.
With four TD passes last week in the win over Portland State, he vaulted past Pease, now the quarterback coach at Florida, and into ninth on the career list, just two back of Marty Mornhinweg and Andrew Selle.
It has already been an amazing season for Johnson with everything left on the table in front of him.
And he's not the only national leader.
With his dynamic performance earning him national honors this week, Anthony Goodwin stands on the top of the ladder in passes defended (2.8 per-game)
It was 2009 but that last trip to UC Davis was indeed memorable, not just because of a 16-minute delay for the lights to reset after going out, but also because Aggie QB Greg Denham attempted 67 passes completing a school record 43 including 18 to Chris Carter - no not that Chris Carter but it seemed that way.
And with senior Randy Wright returning to his spot over center don't expect anything different although Gabe Manzanares has been effectively toting the rock of late.
After four straight losses the Aggies have won two straight and share the league lead at 2-0.
So here we go.
Sometimes it is all about being in the right place at the right time while in other instances it is more about putting yourself in the right place at the right time.
That certainly was the case with Anthony "Chief" Goodwin this weeks' Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week.
The senior "shut-down" cornerback from Temecula, Calif., who is listed complimentarily at 6-foot-1 had the game of his two-year Griz career in Montana's blow-out victory over Portland State.
Nicknamed Chief but called "Chiefy" by his mother because his dad shares his given name of Anthony he picked off a pair of interceptions, both of which were converted to touchdowns, was credited with three tackles and had seven pass breakups, the majority of which came when the Vikings threw to 6-foot-6 Victor Dean who still led all receivers with four receptions for 118 yards and caught a TD over Goodwin in the south end zone.
Goodwin was no Chief Saturday, he was more an Admiral as his timing was impeccable in tipping away the pigskin just as it was about to be corralled by a Viking receiver and his seven deflections are the most by any FCS defender this season.
"He's got the mental set you need to play that position," in describing Goodwin said Mick Delaney in this season's Press Guide. "He'll be a leader at that corner position."
That statement sure proves prophetic
A JC transfer before last season from Mt. San Antonio in California, Goodwin started to emerge at the end of last season when he started the last three games, but he really bounced to the forefront with outstanding spring practices.
Clocked at 10.6 in the 100 meters, his sole interception last season came in the blow-out loss at North Dakota when the Grizzlies surrendered 660 pass yards.
His freshman JC team won the national championship and played for the title in his sophomore season when he was named first team All Conference.
Already this season "Chief" has a dozen deflections and 14 break-ups to go along with 18 tackles, 11 of which were unassisted.
How tight end Clay Pierson didn't share the offensive award is a mystery to me. Sacramento State QB Garrett Safron claimed the honor after throwing for three scores leading the Hornets to a first-ever 2-0 start to conference play.
While Safron has thrown 15 TDs in Sac's last four games and had 345 yards of total offense in the defeat of Northern Colorado (1-5), when is the last time you remember a Big Sky Conference tight end catching three touchdown passes?
The Grizzlies didn't pitch a shutout or play a perfect game against Portland State on Saturday but they gave the Homecoming throng plenty to be proud of by defeating the Vikings for the eight consecutive time.
I am sure Montana junior quarterback Jordie Johnson is not nearly as sore this week as he was last week after the game in Flagstaff where it seemed if he wasn't hit he was at least pressured every time he faded back in the less-than-secure pocket.
But against the Vikings, who had registered some 17 sacks coming into the game it was an entirely different story as the "hogs" held their ground, running backs picked up any slack with outstanding cut blocks and Johnson again threw for four touchdowns in leading Montana to what will be every week's mantra, a must win.
PSU hangs their hat on getting pressure with the front four and an occasional added rusher and the offensive line not only held strong but blew open the line of scrimmage allowing a nine-yard per carry average and a season-high 378 rushing yards.
A quintet of running backs picked up the yardage led by Trey Van and Jordan Canada who both eclipsed the Century mark for the second time together this season.
Joey Counts added 79 yards on 10 totes while Johnson rushed for a 10-yard average on three running decisions.
I see some prominent stats in the fact that Montana did not turn the ball over and moves to plus-eight in that category by picking off PSU quarterbacks Kieran McDonagh and Collin Ramirez three times and recovering a fumble.
And of course it was Buchanan Watch List senior Jordie Tripp with the recovery off of a Zack Wagenmann strip to move into second on the all-time list with eight.
Not to be a jinx but Johnson now has thrown 124 times over two seasons without a pick and while his completion rate was just 50 percent (12 0f 24), paramount were three TDs to Clay Pierson and a single to Cam Warren on an amazing throw to the back-side corner of the north end zone.
Pierson, the senior tight end from six-man football Twin Bridges, has battled through injury and certainly showed his mettle and his pass-catching abilities Saturday.
So much to talk about in so little time so we'll have more on Tuesday with the Mick Delaney Show at Dickey's Barbecue at 6 p.m. Join us.
There is starting to be some separation between the haves and the have-nots not only in the Big Sky Conference but also in the poll of top 25 FCS teams.
The number of circuit unbeatens fell to five with the weekend's results as Northern Arizona, off of a Montana hangover, fell on the road and Southern Utah couldn't hold serve at home falling to suddenly relevant UC Davis.
And now a quartet of teams already have suffered a second league loss and thus have dwindling hopes of a league title.
Cal Poly was surprised in San Luis Obispo by an unbeaten Yale squad while North Dakota survived in Pocatello to defeat Idaho State, Sacramento State pounded hapless Northern Colorado and Weber State has a share of the league basement after being overwhelmed by Eastern Washington in Cheney.
Now only just five of the league teams sport an overall winning record and there's a good chance that with Southern Utah's loss for the first time in some time the league will have just four teams ranked in the Top 25.
With national FCS results two-time defending champion North Dakota State will hold onto the top spot by just by the skin of their teeth as No. 4 Northern Iowa gave them all they wanted in Fargo with the Bison claiming a one-point victory.
Since Sam Houston State was idle they'll hold onto the No. 2 spot and with Towson overwhelming victory (44-28) over No. 19 New Hampshire they'll claim the three spot.
But with huge point spreads, Eastern Washington (22) and Montana State (29), the Eagles and the Cats move close to passing idle Eastern Illinois (4-1) for the fourth spot.
And with the 28-point victory over Portland State the Grizzlies could well move past unbeaten Coastal Carolina (5-0), who were also idle, and solidly back into the top 10.
One of the upsets of the weekend saw unranked yet unbeaten Fordham, (6-0) blast No. 13 Lehigh 52-38, while Samford surprised No. 16 Georgia Southern 44-34.
No. 11 McNeese State picked up a 59-28 victory over No. 14 Central Arkansas and 5-1 Jacksonville State made a case to move into the rankings with a two-TD victory Over No. 22 UT Martin.
There are a couple of things you can be sure of with this Saturday's opponent. Portland State will pound the rock and if their stats hold true the Vikings will score quickly.
It is Homecoming in Missoula and Portland State hasn't exactly enjoyed success at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
The two teams started competing in football in 1965 and while Montana has dominated the Vikings, they have been especially effective in Missoula where Portland State has never won on John Hoyt Field.
Having won 15 of the last 17 over PSU, Montana will face an offense that racks up almost 300 yards per game on the ground and is second in the nation in rushing.
D.J. Adams is a quality running back who gains yards in a bunch (7.1 per carry) and also is a big-play receiver (an average of 25.4).
It shapes up as a battle of the league's highest scoring team (PSU leads the league at 41 points per game) and Montana's top ranked defense which allows but 17.8 points-per-game.
Even with three turnovers in last week's loss to NAU, the Grizzlies still are plus-four while Portland State has had its problems with turnovers (minus-4).
The Vikings gave the Cal Bears all they could handle in Berkeley and in losing by four in San Luis Obispo they just didn't finish the deal.
They merely gained 487 yards - their lowest total of the season - and averaged better than seven yards per play.
Sophomore quarterback Kieran McDonagh hit the ground running and was the league's player of the week after his performance against Cal.
He is averaging 313 yards-per-game by himself - ninth in the nation - and leads in yards per completion (19.6).
Junior receiver Kasey Closs leads the circuit in receiving yards per game (117.6) and the walk-on from nearby Lake Oswego has registered three 100-yards games, averages 24.5 per catch and has tallied five scores including one for 81 yards.
Two things stick out in the stats: PSU doesn't hold the ball long (minus nine time of possession) and they have been heavily penalized (94.8 points per game).
It's that old story - establish the run and stop their rush - and get a turnover or two (they have lost nine fumbles and given up five interceptions).
Another different start time - 1:30 p.m.
It was not a running but a pass play that Mick Delaney called on fourth down from the Northern Arizona two-yard line in advance of the Jordie Johnson fumble that in my opinion completely changed the tenor of Saturday's game at the Skydome.
But on Tuesday's Delaney show the head man took full responsibility for going for six instead of a field goal and said that if indeed it was meant to be a run he would have called the play to the wide side rather than short side by the Grizzly sidelines.
Montana has long since put Northern Arizona in the rear-view mirror and looks to rebound Saturday against one of FCS's most prolific offenses in Portland State.
In falling just to No. 10 in The Sports Network poll and still sporting a high Sagarin computer ranking the season is all still there for the grabbing but players and coaches know they can't afford another loss in a march to the 24-team playoffs.
Tuesday's player guest J.P. Kanongata'a was resolve in sharing that attitude and also commented on just how difficult it was to tackle the churning Jack running back Zach Bauman.
He also revealed that he prefers to be called J.P. instead of just John because he was given the two names in honor of Pope John Paul XXIII and the J.P. just stuck as a nickname.
You're truly missing out if you are not listening to the Tuesday night player segment.
The players who have attended have done a marvelous job representing themselves and the football program with frank answers to often challenging questions.
They have been articulate, not mumbling, friendly with the folks who have attended the gathering and made eye contact and in a 15-minute session get ample opportunity to let us know not just things about them and their families but also about their aspirations and true feelings.
As far as this weekend all one has to do is examine how Portland State played against the University of California to realize they will be a handful at Washington Grizzly Stadium.
They are loaded with drop-downs and could easily have pulled the Pac-12 upset as well as defeating Cal Poly in their league opener last week.
The Vikings rank second in FCS in rushing offense (299.4), third in total offense (587.0), and seventh in scoring offense (41.0).
Head down for the parade, then bring your calculator and watch the feathers fly. Kickoff is slated at 1:40p.m.
The sell-out crowd of some 12,600 that attended Saturday's Griz loss at Flagstaff required extra seating behind the west end zone and was the Skydome's first sellout since 1994.
And you know from the pictures and the sounds that attendance was bolstered by a horde of Griz fans the majority of whom brought their Maroon contingent the couple of hour drive up the hill from the Phoenix area.
Now if you were to ask me if the Grizzly Defense was to hold record-setting Jack running back Zach Bauman to just 118 yards, I probably would have said that stat would indicate Montana had done enough to win in Flagstaff.
That is especially true after he rushed on the first drive for a 42-yard score.
But that is what is deceiving about statistics as with his performance the senior "bowling ball" back jumped past both Montana's Lex Hilliard and Chase Reynolds on the Big Sky Conference rushing list and into the eighth spot.
And he's done it in just 37 games whereas Reynolds played in 52 contests and Hilliard in 49 games.
Remaining injury free, Bauman will easily move to fourth on the career list and in so doing would trail just Sac State's Charles Roberts, Portland State's Charles Dunn and Weber's Trevyn Smith.
He trails Eastern's Jesse Chatman by just 101 yards with Boise's Cedric Minter, Nevada's Charvez Foger and Portland State's Ryan Fuqua next up the rushing ladder.
While there's probably no record for total touchdowns scored by a defense, NAU with two fumble recoveries that went the distance now have scored five TDs and by five different players.
And there's another one of those streaks on the line Saturday.
Before Saturday the Grizzlies hadn't lost in Flagstaff since 1987 and with Portland State coming to town it's often noted that the Vikings have not won in Missoula since 1985.
That was in Larry Donovan's final season when the Vikings were a Division-2 team, Missoula's Pokey Allen was about to be at the PSU helm, and before the construction of Washington Grizzly Stadium.
Montana has won 15 of the last 17 over the Vikings, 11 of 12, and seven straight but they bring the nation's second most prolific rushing game to Missoula Saturday for Homecoming at 1:30 p.m.
Greek philosopher Epictetus said: It's not what happens to you but how you react to it that matter.
And it is anything but back to the drawing board after a tough loss in Flagstaff because a careful examination of how the conference opener played out reveals while the game is in the right-hand column, but for a couple of things Montana played well enough to win.
But that certainly is not to take anything away from Jerome Souers and his crew who exorcized a demon in beating the Grizzlies back-to-back.
Defensively they battled heartily in the trenches and sophomore quarterback Kyren Poe enjoyed a career outing especially in throwing on the run to eight different receivers while sprinkling in the exploits of Zach Bauman who after an early 41-yard scoring scamper was held down about as effectively as possible especially after the intermission.
But of course the lynchpin of the contest was the 98-yard scoring return of Ryan Reardan who scooped up the Jordie Johnson fourth-down fumble that had he scored would have cut the Griz halftime deficit to but four points.
Whether or not Johnson was going to make it to the end zone is debatable but readily epitomizes the Montana fortunes all evening - Oh so close but no banana.
Johnson was pressured throughout and while he threw for 292 yards on 17 completions again to 10 different receivers, the Jack defense made big plays when it was necessary to the delight of some 12,600 fans, the largest crowd in some time.
But the Grizzlies that I got on the charter plane with were the same ones I accompanied out of Missoula and while it was quiet given the hour when there was talk it was about football and examining what had occurred.
Mick Delaney said on last week's show given the league's parity that he was certain the conference champion would have one or maybe two losses.
It certainly is why win or lose you never put too much stock in any one game in what is a marathon not a sprint of a season.
Join us for the show from Dickie's Barbecue in downtown Missoula at 6 on Tuesday.
High-powered Portland State is here Saturday for Homecoming after a stinging four-point loss at Cal Poly.
After a disheartening loss to Northern Arizona knocking Montana out of the unbeaten ranks, the pre-cursor to the trip home from Flagstaff just added insult to injury.
It seems like just a few short hours after leaving the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome where No. 7 Montana dropped a game to Northern Arizona for the first time since 1987.
That was in the second year of the Don Read era when the Grizzlies lost consecutive games to NAU then ran off 24 straight victories.
It was during that string of success that Read suggested if Montana were to compete favorably against the Lumberjacks, the team would be far better served if they were able to fly directly into Flagstaff rather than landing in Phoenix and busing the two-and-a-half hour trip.
Early-on in fact the runway was barely substantial enough for an airplane required for such a trip from Missoula and several times an intermediary fuel stop was required on the return trip.
Even now while the runway has been extended if not for the efforts of folks who drive an equipment truck some 18 hours to Flagstaff and holding seating at a premium, the 105-person travel party would be too heavy to take off with a full fuel load.
Yes travel in the Big Sky Conference can be arduous as well as challenging and in fact Idaho State also was delayed because of plane trouble after their loss to UC Davis.
But I digress because you see in UM's case it wasn't plane problems, too heavy a load, the lack of an airplane or crew - all of that has previously occurred - instead it was none of the above.
Upon arriving at the Flagstaff airport, the four busloads of players and support personnel were greeted by an announcement that a Transportation Safety Board crew was staging what was described as a "special spot check" and we could expect a delay.
We watched from buses as they painstakingly roped aisles for us to walk through after we completed the usual visual and physical examination under the close scrutiny of what I assume was a "special TSA crew."
Now I'm with you when it comes to safety but I only wish I could have videoed the entire circus, which featured a lot of standing around and paper shuffling and delayed our departure some two hours.
Just some insight into life on the road which brought us back to Missoula about 3:30 a.m.
Zach Bauman has never failed to eclipse the Century mark in rushing in a game against the University of Montana.
The Lumberjacks premier running back is closing in on both Montana's Lex Hilliard and Chase Reynolds on the league all-time rushing list where he currently occupies the tenth spot.
He's 62 yards back of Lex and 103 behind Chase and he's done so in just 33 games compared to 49 for Hilliard and 52 for Reynolds.
But while the Payton Watch List back and pre-season All American has played in far fewer games he's been handed the rock some 794 times, far more than any back in Northern Arizona University annals.
And he'll get the ball plenty on Saturday night - maybe some 30-plus carries - but unless he busts one for the distance I don't see him gaining 100 yards against the staunch Griz rush defense that leads the league and is one of the top in FCS football.
Now granted stats can be deceiving and it could be that Bauman gains inconsequential yardage or like I said hits one for 80 yards but while he'll gain some yardage mostly because of the number of carries, Ty Gregorak's D will not allow Bauman to beat them.
NAU's defense is the best in years, according to long-time Jacks' radio voice Mitch Strohman.
They have adequate, not huge size, he said, but are fast and quick and have a ton of depth.
The Jacks don't bring a lot of pressure (5 sacks in three games), play quite a bit of Nickel and feature a talented stable of defensive backs.
Their three opponents have rushed an average of 34 times for a 4.7-yard average and five TDs.
They've allowed opponents to be successful just a third of the time on third-down opportunities but while they have an overwhelming edge in time of possession, NAU only has been good on 21 percent of third downs.
They predict a sellout, which it should be for the conference opener among the league's heavyweights and it can get plenty noisy in the Skydome.
It took Jerome Souers 15 years before Northern Arizona shed a bagel by defeating Montana in Missoula last year and you can bet his Lumberjacks are more than ready to continue that streak Saturday in Flagstaff where they have not defeated the Grizzlies since 1987.
The Big Sky Conference gets rolling for real this week with a half dozen games on the slate.
And for No.7 Montana the first of five league road games, including two in the next three weeks, features a matchup between two of the circuit's prime rivals.
Saturday marks the 46th meeting between the Lumberjacks and Montana although the Grizzlies as an inaugural member of the league joined the Big Sky some seven years before Northern Arizona.
The length of time the two teams have been playing is certainly enough to establish a genuine rivalry but the situation is even intensified when you consider NAU head coach Jerome Souers is the former Griz defensive coordinator (coaching at UM from 1986-97) and assistant coaches David Reeves and Andy Thompson are both former Griz players.
Ranked No. 22 in The Sports Network poll, the Jacks are simply loaded on defense and feature one of the league's premier running backs in Zach Bauman who quite literally has owned Montana although only winning one of the three career matchups with the Grizzlies.
They lead the league in pass defense (147.0) while returning eight defensive starters and allow just 307.3 yards an outing including stats from a whitewash of 35-0 by Arizona.
Two of the Jacks' five pre-season All-Conference selections, Lucky Dozier and Anders Battle have pick-six's as does Marcus Alford.
And Andy Wilder leads the league in punting (44.0) which should bring about quite a matchup with Montana's Stephen Shaw (44.9), who has not punted enough (7) to lead in the statistics.
But NAU may have an Achilles in rush defense where they allow 4.7 yards a tote and five of their seven TDs, while with four running backs the Griz are rushing at a 5.5 yard pace and a trio, including true freshman John Nguyen last week, have eclipsed the Century mark in a game.
Head Coach Mick Delaney expects plenty of pressure which may well pay dividends in the efficient passing game of junior Jordie Johnson who has yet to be intercepted in 48 pass attempts and leads the Nation in pass efficiency.
Game time is 7 p.m. (MDT) from the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff.
Wide receiver Greg Hardin, who had torched Montana for 333 yards in the previous meeting, had an opportunity to become North Dakota's all-time leading receiver when the Grizzlies visited Grand Forks.
But while the game plan wasn't designed to shut out one of the premier receivers in FCS football, you'd better believe the defensive unit was bound and determined that he would not set that mark against the Grizzlies.
There's a similarity to that situation in this weekend's matchup.
Yes it's time for the start of Big Sky Conference play and who better to open with than former UM defensive coordinator Jerome Souers at the helm of Northern Arizona.
Last season in leading the Lumberjacks to a 10-point victory in Missoula, Zach Bauman rushed for 253 yards and scored three TDs.
The league's third leading rusher, he's averaging some 92 yards a game and has moved into the league's top 10 in pounding the rock on the ground even while also being a threat to catch a pass out of the backfield.
The Grizzlies have been plenty stingy against the rush, leading the circuit in that category and only allowing a single rushing TD and don't think Bauman isn't on the top of the scouting report.
But for that matter they haven't allowed much on defense also leading the league in total defense allowing just 284 yards per outing and just 12.3 points.
In fact none of the first three opponents have touched the Grizzly end zone in the fourth quarter while Montana also is plus-five in the all important turnover margin.
Next to last in total offense and with no quarterback listed among the league's leaders NAU has its own thing going on defense where they trail only the Grizzlies allowing just 307.4 a game.
And while they stand minus-one in turnovers, they have returned three picks for TDs in the last two games.
The Grizzlies are anxious to prove that winning in Missoula last year was an aberration - The Jacks last won in Washington Grizzly in 1997 - and Montana has owned the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff where they have prevailed the last seven meetings.
Here we go!
There is Just a single Big Sky Conference team in the unbeaten ranks prior to the start of league play but the lid comes off circuit matchups Saturday and like they say up goes the price of poker.
The counters for the automatic league bid to the post season opens with Montana at the top of the non-league slate at 3-0 and now when league teams face each other it counts in the standings.
The Grizzlies also are the top league team in the Sagarin computer rankings just edging Eastern Washington and trailing two-time defending champ North Dakota State, Northern Iowa and Towson among FCS teams.
Montana is ranked 81st among all of the nation's football teams, three spots ahead of the Eagles while Montana State after being upset by Stephen F. Austin dropped to 109 overall yet third among the league's FCS teams.
Southern Utah dodged a bullet in beating Sacramento State 24-21 in overtime, tying the game in the last 31 seconds then surviving two Hornet interceptions one of which was returned 100 yards for a TD.
Both were nullified by penalty and the Thunderbirds won on an overtime field goal to win for the third time in four games.
Looks like Portland State might well be the league's offensive juggernaut as they totaled 600 yards for the fourth straight week in blistering winless UC Davis 41-10.
The Bobcats staged an amazing comeback in Texas rebounding from a 31-17 deficit to a seven-point lead only to see the unranked Lumberjacks charge back with 21 unanswered points for the win.
And this week's Grizzly opponent Northern Arizona stayed in the top 25 with a fast 19-0 start then hanging on to beat Joe Glenn's South Dakota squad 22-16 in Flagstaff to move to 2-1 in the non-conference slate.
The Lumberjack D also was in evidence as they held the Coyotes to just a dozen first downs and 284 yards of total offense.
Yes, running back Zach Bauman is still in the Jacks' fold and the Walter Payton Award candidate toted the rock 22 times totaling 151 yards and a score.
It's a pivotal couple of weeks for Jerome Souers' charge as they host Montana followed by the trip to Montana State next weekend.
There was no shortage of Grizzly players who participated in Saturday's blow-out win over an outmanned Oklahoma Panhandle State squad and except for a brief eight-minute span at the end of the second quarter, they performed up to muster.
With losses by a trio of teams in front of them in The Sports Network poll, the No 9 Grizzlies are bound to jump a few spots after scoring 31 straight first-quarter points to put this final non-conference game away early surprisingly in front of the eighth largest crowd in Washington-Grizzly Stadium history.
Some 56 Montana players hit the field, many of them seeing their first action, and 30 Grizzlies made or assisted on a tackle.
The three quarterbacks who were suited Jordie Johnson, Shay Smithwick-Hann and Brady Gustafson all controlled the offense, utilizing a half dozen running backs and eight different receivers.
And true freshman John Nguyen made the most of his opportunity by becoming the third different running back to eclipse the Century mark with 144 yards on 22 totes.
The Griz continues to be stellar in the red zone by netting points on all seven occasions and for the time being found a placekicker with Ben Worst drilling three from better than 40-yards out including a 50-yarder that might have been true from 10 yards deeper.
They won the turnover battle with a pick and a fumble recovery by Addison Owen and another recovery from Derek Crittenden while just losing a single fumble themselves, leaving Montana plus-five after the three games.
It took the Grizzlies little time - 41 seconds to be exact - to get on the board when Johnson found a streaking Ellis Henderson for his fifth scoring toss of the season and the rout was on as before the quarter ended the outcome was virtually determined.
Montana scored three times through the air - a pair from Smithwick-Hann to Jordan Harper and Taylor Walcott - a two-yard burst by Trey Van culminating a 48-yard, 7-play drive and the Worst long-range field goal.
Not to diminish the three victories but the price of poker goes up this week with the tough trip to Flagstaff to open league against Northern Arizona (2-1) and a 22-16 victor over South Dakota Saturday.
A double-headed threat mans the offense for Oklahoma Panhandle State but the Aggies also have a potent running back who loads better than 230 lbs. on a 5-foot-10 inch frame.
OPSU moves up a division and travels halfway across the country to challenge the No. 9 Grizzlies who seem intent to send a message every time they come onto the football field.
And if their opener against an FCS team is any indication - a 75-0 pasting at the hands of Lamar - the 1-2 Aggies surely have their hands full.
But in quarterback Caleb Holbrook (6-3, 225), they have a running as well as a passing threat.
He's the team's third leading rusher - 103 yards in three games - and averages just south of 183 yards of total offense per game.
There are just two seniors in the offensive and defensive starting lineup and only a quartet of others on the two-deep but what the offensive line doesn't show in experience they more than make up in size.
They average just under 300 lbs and sophomore right guard Domonique Wyatt totes 347 lbs. on a 6-2 frame.
Even the offensive line backups which includes a trio of redshirt freshman average more than 296 lbs.
While it's difficult to get a complete handle on OPSU, a couple of statistical things immediately jump forward.
The Aggies have converted just 18 percent of third down opportunities while opponents are around 32 percent and in three games they have put the ball on the ground a dozen times while losing eight fumbles when their opponents have lost just two balls.
With four picks against three for three opponents that leaves OPSU at minus-7 in turnover ratio which will leave you wanting in any game.
Holbrook is only connecting on some 48 percent of his pass attempts and the Aggies have been outscored 114-45, with the Lamar game mainly to blame for that.
They run a three-four defense and are good sized at linebacker where they are led in tackles by sophomore Tanner Halliford and junior free safety Domonique Johnson.
Also of note three opponents have thrown for nine TDs while rushing for just five.
This is the only afternoon game of this season's first four contests starting at 1 p.m.
It is not an easy proposition to get a football team from Goodwell, Oklahoma, to Missoula but it's even a more challenging situation when your budget allows just the use of a bus for making the more than 1,200 mile journey.
Let's take a look at the matchup with the Heartland Conference Division-II Aggies, Saturday's opponent of the No. 9 Grizzlies.
Oklahoma Panhandle State University players will board the bus Thursday and head out to Montana on a 1,259-mile approximate full-day trip.
Established in 1909 as a two-year institution, OPSU became a four-year college in 1926, moving from an Agriculture and Mechanical College to University status 48 years later.
According to the school's website, there are no other four-year institutions within 125 miles of the school located in the High Plains of Oklahoma where the population typically is less than five per square mile.
The Aggies were drubbed 75-0 in their opener at Lamar, rebounded in their home opener with a 35-13 verdict over Sterling College then fell 26-10 in Goodwell to Adams State.
Coming off a 4-6 season from a year ago OPSU returns 11 starters.
The Aggies got a much-needed boost against Sterling College when after falling back 6-3, they blocked the PAT and cornerback Jamel Major scooped it up and went 97 yards for a two-point conversion and a three-point swing reducing the deficit to one.
The Aggies dominated in the second half and allowed but 226 yards for the game while quarterback Caleb Holbrock connected on 16-28 for 218 yards and a score.
Sophomore running back Chris McClendon rushed for 88 yards and also hauled in a 59-yard reception and accumulated 175 all-purpose yards as OPSU accumulated 454 yards.
The Aggies "Darkside" defense kept them in the game against Adams State but the offense fumbled in the red zone in the late going and Adams State put the game away to win by 16.
Holbrook was just 19 of 39 for 181 yards but was twice intercepted, while McClendon again accumulate 154 yards.
It could well be an opportunity to rest some starters at some point and a well-timed emotional break between two huge road games and the opening of conference play at Flagstaff.
There are only so many times an athlete gets a chance to competitively take the football field in their life and one never knows when it is the last time.
I was just thinking after Tuesday's Mick Delaney Show how challenging it must be to prepare for a game against a Division-2 team this week in Missoula after emotional highs from wins over Appalachian State and North Dakota.
Now granted they probably will be an outmanned group on a short budget traveling halfway across the country to face the No. 9 team in FBS inside the friendly confines with a nationwide reputation.
But being one of those guys who believes in respecting all opponents and fearing none, I know Oklahoma Panhandle State will have players who will relish the opportunity to compete in such an environment and may well be a stronger opponent than Griz fans expect.
But the clincher for me is every single time you come down that tunnel and run out on that field you'd better have your head on a swivel and be ready to play because that player across from you may well have worked just as hard as you did to get to where he is and would like nothing better than to rain on your parade.
With the focus I have seen in the three weeks of the season, I really don't see this Grizzly team looking past anyone but don't think team members don't realize they are playing down and should be considerably better than the Aggies.
But they also know they have teammates that have seen limited playing time on the field thus far that work on a daily basis as hard as they do and if the game progresses accordingly they can get their opportunity to compete in front of the home faithful.
And there is good reason to knock off any collective dust because you never know when it happens to be the next guy's turn.
Just consider what happened to DeNarius McGhee and waiting in the wings was Jake Bleskin who was immediately prepared to play and do so well which comes as no surprise to any UM coach.
Take my word for it - this Griz team won't take anyone lightly.
There's again a quintet of Big Sky Conference teams in this week's Sports Network poll with the league sporting the listing's two and three spot behind almost unanimous North Dakota State and with Montana's move into the top 10 the circuit list three of the top nine.
Voters continue to pay attention to Montana's rise after three weeks of the season by moving the Grizzlies from league also-ran to contender status.
And while the CAA has the most teams represented (5), there is little doubt the panel of 256 voters also is full well aware of the wide-spread league out here in the west.
Two-time defending national FCS champ North Dakota State received all but two of the first-place votes cast which quite frankly mystifies me as they should be a unanimous poll leader.
Two voters favored Eastern Washington which admittedly didn't embarrass themselves in a loss at Toledo but the 2-0 Bison deserve to be a unanimous selection until someone proves otherwise, which incidentally no one, including Kansas State has.
I moved unbeaten Towson up to the runner-up spot after they dismantled Delaware State and dropped Eastern to the five spot after the Eagles 12-point loss.
Like voters I left Montana State in the third position followed by Sam Houston State then South Dakota State even though the Jacks were just eight points better than 2-1 Southeastern Louisiana.
I have been voting the Grizzlies just out of the top 10 but after the superior performance in Grand Forks I boosted Montana to eighth just a spot ahead of where voters placed Montana.
But notably voters left Montana well back of moving any further considerably trailing both Northern Illinois and Eastern Illinois.
New league member Cal Poly dropped just four spots after being drubbed by Jim McElwain's Rams of Colorado State but Northern Arizona's doubling of UC Davis just left Northern Arizona sitting well back of the field in 25th.
In no surprise Jordan Johnson was named the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week but Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garappolo, rightfully beat him out for national honors after throwing for seven TDs.
He connected on 26 of 41 for 480 yards in a 57-24 decision over No. 18 Illinois State.
Montana just flat dominated an out manned North Dakota squad and not only avenged last year's loss but took another shot across the bow of the Big Sky Conference as an early yet demonstrative indication in case you haven't noticed the Grizzlies are back.
It was a quick charter jaunt home from Grand Forks with a team that cut another notch in its collective belt much to the chagrin of the University of North Dakota.
Quarterback Jordie Johnson not only laid claim to one of the quickest signal calling starts in Griz football history but set the Big Sky Conference mark for single-game proficiency.
In completing 15-of-19 passes for 354 yards (also a career high) and five scores, the junior established a pass efficiency mark of 322.3, breaking the league standard held by Eastern Washington Mark Tennison since 1992.
Unlike a week ago when the junior completed his first dozen attempts, his first attempt was dropped but he completed three TD tosses in the first quarter alone and led the Grizzlies on scoring drives the first eight times they had the football.
UND scored first but the powerful Griz offense responded with TD passing scores of 70, 52 and 35 to jump to a 13 point advantage in this non-conference tilt.
With 34 completions in two games on 42 attempts for 605 yards, Johnson is connecting at an 81 percent clip but maybe more importantly has not been intercepted and the Grizzlies are plus- three in that ever important category.
And after utilizing 10 receivers in the opening win over Appalachian State, Johnson found nine different players in the North Dakota win with Ellis Henderson surfacing as a go-to guy eclipsing the century mark for the first time and catching three scoring tosses.
But the Grizzlies are not solely a passing attack-far from it-as one of the team's other Jordan's (Jordan Canada) went over the Century mark in rushing for the second consecutive week and for the fourth time in his career.
Incidentally the 38-point loss is the widest since UND started playing in the Alerus Center 12 years ago losing there for just the 13th time.
What a dominating effort and all-important inaugural road win.
Revenge generally doesn't figure into pre-game preparation or serve as a motivator. That is what is said when such a question arises.
But don't think not just the loss but also the yardage racked up against Montana's secondary by North Dakota last year hasn't been mentioned - I'll bet the pass yardage total even is easily repeated by team members - and returning the favor certainly is on the mind and for that matter the lips of a visiting Grizzly team that hits the airways for a 1000-mile trip to North Dakota.
The 40-34 loss was one of those could of, should of, games that characterized Montana's disappointing 5-6 2012 season.
The Grizzlies came charging back to rebound from a 31-17 halftime deficit with 17 third-quarter points to take a three-point lead but couldn't close the deal to fall to 3 and 5.
Now take this one to the bank - no opponent will score 31 points in the first half against Montana this season nor will they rack up 40.
Saturday will have motivating factors for North Dakota. It is their Hall of Fame game, the second of a quartet of home games to open the season and after a tough loss to highly regarded South Dakota State in the Potato Bowl you can bet with Montana State next on their schedule, they'll have added resolve to send the Big Sky Conference the message that they belong.
Of course their receiving corps paced by All American Greg Hardin is the first key that jumps off the prep board but so to should the height of sophomore receivers Kenny Golladay and Jamer Jackson.
Sixth-year head man Chris Mussman hasn't decided which redshirt freshman is his guy at quarterback and Mick Delaney anticipates he'll platoon until someone separates himself from the other. Joe Molberg's a little broader but both he and Ryan Bartels have good size and to this point at least are about equal in proficiency.
North Dakota has to establish the run and while Jake Miller averages 5.6 yards per tote the impressive Montana defense will dominate the point of attack and force the ball to come out of either quarterback's hand earlier than they'd like.
My other keys are field position and turnovers.
Mitch Meindel is a true freshman punter for UND and not only will Montana dominate in flipping the field with talented punter Stephen Shaw, they also will dominate time of possession and force a turnover or two or three.
Make no mistake Hardin also is quite the threat in the kickoff return game as is Golladay who handles punts.
Special teams are one of this year's priorities and how Montana performs in those instances and in the battle-ready secondary will have quite the impact on the game's outcome.
My forecast missed by a field goal in the opener but given the explosiveness of North Dakota, they'll punch in a counter - they are 10 for 10 in the red zone thus far - but Montana is a couple of TDs stronger to the tune of 24-7.
Like Sacramento State we're high on the roof at North Dakota in the best seat in the house.
This non-conference tilt is the second of three night games for Montana this season with kickoff from the Alerus Center set for 5 p.m. MDT.
One of the things about writing hours ahead of when the piece appears - I guess after all these years I should be used to that - is if you are not mindful of timing you let a memorable occurrence slip by without sharing your thoughts about it.
That is surely the case about the Sept. 11 anniversary but it is too important in my mind's eye to let the day's observance and its relationship with Grizzly football pass without belated thoughts.
Here a day past this twelfth anniversary of that terrible day in New York and Pennsylvania just a note or two.
Griz football was spending Saturday on Maui where they were defeated by future pro receiver Ashley Lelie's Rainbow Warriors 30-12.
Because the Grizzlies played the previous week in San Luis Obispo, Ca. and the game was on the Islands, there was a horde of Montana fans, including a part of the broadcast crew, who coupled a vacation around Griz football.
After the beat-down, which incidentally was the last time Montana would lose in 2001 reeling off 14 straight to claim the National Championship, the team's charter flew non-stop to Missoula, reportedly the first time that had been done.
But while the team arrived safely home early Sunday morning, fans either were still on Maui or en-route over the Pacific that fateful Tuesday morning.
I'm sure everyone knows exactly what they were doing as things transpired and the day for me on a quite different and personal scale resembled the eruption of Mt St. Helens and the Kennedy assassination.
But the role sports in general and Grizzly football in particular played in returning our lives to any sort of normalcy, if we can indeed call it that is important.
All of the week's games of course were immediately cancelled but as sports contests began to return - in Montana's case with a game against Western Washington - it served as a symbol to yes the world that even in suffering a homeland attack the United States had monetarily been wounded but much like Pearl Harbor 70 years before never would we forget.
But our resiliency and resolve to grasp normalcy in large part through sports surely served as an indication that nothing would keep this country from bouncing back.
In my other newspaper life, after watching the second plane hit the World Trade Center I scrambled to the Missoulian to help with two special editions that hit the street in the midst of that frantic time.
There were incredible games remaining on the way to beating Furman in the December chipper of 2001 in the midst of a 24-game winning streak that finally ended at the hands of Eastern Washington.
The Grizzlies were 39-6 under Joe Glenn in that three-year span that included 2001 and the year after that memorable day, the team visited Ground Zero while playing at Hofstra University.
The somber silence on the bus in the return trip to Hempstead, N.Y. spoke volumes to the team's recognition and respect for what they had seen.
Like us all those teams never will forget, yet so quickly the years have passed. As a microcosm of life in times of strife sports so serves as a diversion then unification and provides an unbreakable lifetime bond.
There will be plenty of intriguing matchups when Montana visits the University of North Dakota in non-conference action early Saturday evening in Grand Forks.
First of all it is odd that the Grizzlies visit Grand Forks in three consecutive years and that Saturday's game does not count in the Big Sky Conference standings.
That comes about because of the declining number of FCS opponents especially in the west and thus while the league schedules eight league games, they allow circuit teams to face each other in non-conference encounters. There are four such matchups this season
The first matchup of note to me is the punting of Montana's Stephen Shaw who is averaging 51 yards per boot and would lead the nation in that category if he had enough punts.
That sets up quite a battle with UND's Kenny Golladay who leads the league and is fifth in the nation in punt returns at 21 yards per attempt.
Then there's scoring offense led by UND at 48.5 in two games versus Montana's circuit pacing scoring D which at six points stands third in the country.
The Griz rushed for 246 yards in the win over Appalachian State while North Dakota stands ahead of only three league teams in rush D allowing more than 189 yards per game.
The two teams stand 4-5 in total offense and 3-4 in total D while UND ranks third in the league in pass offense, second in pass defense and third in passing efficiency.
The Griz trail North Dakota by about 100 yards in pass offense, sixth in the Big Sky, fifth in pass defense allowing 205 yards and second in pass efficiency.
Montana leads the league in third down proficiency while UND is third making better than 52 percent against the Grizzlies 60 percent.
And when North Dakota gets in the red zone they make opponents pay having converted all 10 of their opportunities.
Of course the aforementioned senior wide receiver Greg Hardin leads the world in receiving and all-purpose yardage while the Griz feature a far more balanced attack as 10 receivers caught passes in the first week from quarterback Jordie Johnson who is fourth in passing and trailing only Eastern Washington's Vernon Adams in efficiency.
This one, which starts at 5 p.m. Mountain, shapes up as a barn burner.
Pencil in that number to 11 as with a trio more victories over the weekend that is how many victories FCS teams have registered over FBS opponents.
Just in case you missed it.
Chattanooga, which started the season in The Sports Network top 25 but now the Mocs are listed as an also ran handled Georgia State, Maine jumped on former Colonial League rival Massachusetts and former powerhouse Nichols edged Western Michigan.
Now granted those aren't the name upsets like Appalachian State winning in the "Big House," but they continue to provide an indication that teams that transition to FBS are not necessarily odds better than their FCS opponents.
Also noteworthy before we examine the new poll is the performance of Sam Houston State's Timothy Flanders. Griz fans certainly remember the now senior running back who merely gained 287 yards in the Bearkats three-point semi-final victory over Montana in Huntsville, Texas in 2011.
While his team was ripped by No. 7 Texas A & M 65-28, Flanders rushed for 170 yards in addition to catching a TD pass as the loss dropped Sam Houston just a spot in the latest poll to No. 5. Watch out for the Bearkats in December.
North Dakota State remains the overwhelming choice of 152 voters and claimed all but a half dozen first-place votes, the remainder of which went to Eastern Washington.
After an ever-so-slim one point loss to SMU, Montana State retained its No. 3 position while Towson rolled Holy Cross and switched places with Sam Houston to stand fourth.
The Missouri Valley Conference sports three of the top seven teams with South Dakota State in sixth followed by Northern Iowa.
Central Arkansas, Eastern Illinois and Georgia Southern round out the top 10.
Off a bye week, Montana jumped two spots to No. 11, Cal Poly dropped a pair of spots to No. 14 and Northern Arizona fell three places to No. 25.
Appalachian State, coming off a no-doubt emotional rout in Missoula, dropped out of the poll for the first time in 108 straight weeks after losing at home to North Carolina A&T.
We'll talk about that and what certainly could prove to be a fortuitous bye week on the Mick Delaney Show tonight at Dickie's Barbecue at 6 p.m.
If you are thinking the University of North Dakota took a step back from its passing game with the departure of quarterback Braden Hanson just take a look at the stats even though UND lost its home opener to 7th ranked South Dakota State.
I just elevated SDSU to No. 5 in my poll for The Sports Network after they survived a frantic comeback in Grand Forks to prevail by a touchdown in the 48th Annual Potato Bowl.
It was a game of contrasting styles - South Dakota State's run game featuring All-American Zach Zenner vs. UND's prolific pass offense which netted 437 yards the majority of which from Greg Hardin who caught seven balls for 207 yards.
SDSU, which had not played at North Dakota since 2001, answered an opening scoring drive by North Dakota with four unanswered scores to take a 21-7 halftime lead scoring early in the penultimate quarter and you might have thought this one was over.
But enter another redshirt freshman Ryan Bartels at the UND helm, even though Joe Mollberg had thrown for 259 first-half yards and a pair of scores, and the home team came charging back pulling within seven points with five-and-a-half to play but they could not complete the deal losing 35-28.
South Dakota State's Zenner was seemingly unstoppable carrying the rock for 143 first-half yards and eventually 37 times for a career-best 295 yards and three tallies.
That might bode well for an impressive Montana run game.
Not only did SDSU control the ball 11 more minutes, they won the turnover battle by intercepting both UND quarterbacks once and grabbing a fumble while not turning over the ball themselves.
UND signal-callers were 28 of 45 for 458 yards with Hardin eclipsing the 200-yard mark for the seventh time and Kenny Golladay snaring eight catches for his inaugural 100-yard game.
With a pair of TD receptions, Hardin now has 32 total (29 receiving) and in the first two games this season now has a dozen receptions for 370 yards.
You'll remember Hardin broke a league standing with 333 yards against Montana in Grand Forks last season.
But UND virtually had no rush attack, toting the ground rock just 17 times for a net 21 yards.
It's another night game Saturday, the first of two this month, with kickoff at the Alerus Center slated for 5 p.m. MDT.
While I have maintained before, revenge usually is not a healthy or advantageous motivator but let's face it fans after what North Dakota did to the Montana secondary last year, don't think seeking a taste of retribution isn't on the minds of the Grizzly defenders.
After a breather the Grizzlies are focused on that plane trip to Grand Forks on Friday for that late Saturday afternoon matchup (5 p.m.) with the University of North Dakota.
Now just to refresh you collective memory, North Dakota rang up 660 yards of passing offense against Montana while shutting out the Grizzlies in the final stanza to cling to a six-point verdict.
What was most disturbing was Montana rebounded from a 31-17 halftime deficit to score 17 third quarter points to take a three-point advantage but couldn't close the deal. How many times have we heard that one from a year ago?
All-American Greg Hardin, who by the way is back for his senior season, won national recognition with a dozen receptions for a Big Sky Conference record 333 yards but fortunately quarterback Braden Hanson who connected on 42 of 61 attempts and the league yardage standard is gone.
But besides the diminutive Hardin, also back at receiver is Jerry Rice Award finalist Jameer Jackson, who caught 8 for 124 yards, and Kenny Golladay, both tall sophomores.
Mainstay running back Jake Miller also returns for North Dakota which is huge across the offensive front.
It was indeed a slugfest last year as Shay Smithwick-Hann tossed for a career best 306 connecting on 26 of 39 for three TDs, while Montana racked up as many plays (86 to UND's 85) and some 521 yards themselves.
Time of possession was just six seconds apart, penalties were equal as were third-down proficiency, but oh those passing yards.
"Chief" Goodwin put last year in perspective on this week's Mick Delaney show commenting the (defensive backs) remember a yaer ago inside the Alerus Center and with the help of Coach Aric Williams are focused and more than ready.
Months working on technique under the Williams' tutelage, recognizing also that he played the position at a high level both as a first team All Pac-10 defender but in a post-collegiate career in the NFL, NFL Europe, and the Arena League.
Make no mistake Williams has the attention of Goodwin and Nate Harris who combined for eight of the secondary tackles a year ago with Chief also grabbing one of Montana's three interceptions.
Of course the tackles of Sean Murray (11), Bo Tully (7) and Matt Hermanson (7) also are an indication that with 42 completions there were plenty of tackling opportunities in the secondary.
Every game is big but a first road win sure would be beneficial in so many ways.
It doesn't take long for this grey-bearded scribe to realize when I return to the airways how fortunate I happen to be doing something for such a long period of time that I should be paying my employer for instead of vice versa.
Each weekly coach's show features a live interview with a player and often in football the segment, just because of the sheer volume of student athletes, is with someone I haven't met let alone talked with.
Now given that was not unusual during my newspaper career when the majority of time a feature story brought this reporter into someone's living room often when I was just lucky enough to get them to talk to me leaving it to my expertise to break down the initial barrier and develop an informative and sometimes entertaining relationship.
Athletes can be a different and challenging breed when it comes to interviews especially in a setting they are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with but it is a part of my job that never ceases to make me smile.
And this week Anthony "Chief" Goodwin, who had no idea there was such a show, did just what the majority of University of Montana student athletes do, he leaned in, made immediate eye contact and effectively handled every missive.
A senior cornerback from Temecula, Ca., Chiefie, who was nicknamed by his Mom because his Dad also was an Anthony, was influenced to transfer from Mount San Antonio Junior College (Walnut, Ca.) because of All-American receiver and return specialist Jabin Sambrano, who went to the same Great Oaks High School.
But what Goodwin said next, prompted by my question, might be Montana's greatest recruiting tool and one I have heard often from out-of-state athletes.
Jabin, a four-year Grizzly who is in the top 20 of all-time Griz receivers, told him Montana isn't what you think it is.
It's not the rural vista you anticipate with cows on the street, although that is not entirely impossible to occur, and the people are welcoming and friendly.
And Chief a psychology major who would like to open up a bakery for his Mom after graduation - we immediately decided it should be called Chiefie's and I should receive copyright royalties - agreed Montana is what Jabin described.
It's not the first time I have heard that from a player after they have been at UM and I hope it won't be the last.
Oh by the way about that part of doing this job for nothing or paying my employer...well you know.
I don't see the bye week as coming at an advantageous time, but don't think a week without games is a week off for the Grizzlies.
The Griz were off Tuesday but it's back at it as Montana joined eight other Big Sky Conference teams to win their opener with of course Eastern Washington and Southern Utah picking up counters against an FBS opponent.
While several league teams picked up blowout wins over lower division opponents, notable to me was Weber State's decision over Stephen F. Austin and Cal Poly's blasting of the University of San Diego.
It probably is no surprise that San Jose State drubbed visiting Sacramento State or that Arizona shut out in-state rival Northern Arizona.
Joe Glenn's South Dakota entity came back into the league and edged UC Davis by a field goal and it just might not be any easier for the Aggies this week as they travel to Nevada.
Just Northern Arizona joins the Grizzlies with a bye in this second week of action and other league teams, including next week's Griz opponent North Dakota, face challenging opponents.
Now losers of three straight over two years the Hornets head to Tempe to challenge Arizona State while Mike Kramer looks to break a nine-game losing streak welcoming Dixie State to Pocatello and with a victory would move into sole possession of fourth place on the league's all-time win list.
Fresh off that victory over SFA Weber makes the short trek south to Salt Lake City to challenge Utah, Portland State challenges Pac-12 California in Berkeley, Cal Poly visits Fresno State while Montana State makes the long trip to Texas to cash a bonus check against SMU.
With the league's longest winning streak of four games, Northern Colorado hosts Colorado State-Pueblo while former Idaho coach John L. Smith brings his Fort Lewis (Co.) team to Cedar City to challenge Southern Utah.
Eastern Washington gets a break hosting Western Oregon while South Dakota State continues its long rivalry (1906) with North Dakota in Grand Forks where they haven't won since 1989.
More than 47,000 fans (47,300 if you're counting) watched the state's premier football programs this week in the state as record crowds attended games in Bozeman and Missoula.
Five league teams are ranked in the top 25 but it's unfortunate when teams don't play each other every year that league leaders may feature teams who faced a favorable schedule by not meeting the pacesetters.
But unless you split into divisions and have a playoff, I really don't see any other way it can be done.
I'd be interested in your thoughts.
Results of Montana's impressive 30-6 victory over then highly regarded Appalachian State basically caused the two powerhouse programs to switch places in The Sports Network Top 25 poll.
The formerly 20th ranked Grizzlies jumped to 13th while the Mountaineers dropped to the 20th position.
And also with an impressive victory Eastern Washington displaced the Cats in the runner-up spot behind North Dakota State and Cal Poly jumped to the 12 spot leaving four Big Sky Conference teams in the poll's top 13.
Voters rewarded the Eagle road victory over Oregon State with seven first-place votes to allow Eastern Washington to sneak past Montana State.
Eight FCS teams played up and picked up victories and six of the group are ranked and four reached or maintained a spot in the Top 10.
Northern Iowa made a huge jump of eight spots to No. 9 after enhancing their statewide reputation by beating Iowa State while Towson, now No,. 5 moved a half dozen spots after a convincing 33-18 decision over Connecticut.
Meanwhile McNeese State easily made my listing and jumped from the unranked ranks to No. 18 after hammering South Florida 53-21 and Eastern Illinois jumped seven spots to No. 41 after a three TD drubbing of San Diego State.
And Southern Utah just missed garnering a poll spot after a season-opening one-point victory with a walk-off field goal over South Alabama while Northern Arizona, after a drubbing by Arizona, occupied the No 22 position.
While there was plenty of shuffling, only Chattanooga dropped out of the poll after losing to UT-Martin while McNeese State is the only new team in the rankings.
The Grizzlies were just 15 points from moving past Cal Poly for that No. 12 spot while six members of the Big Sky Conference, one short of half the league, occupy the top 30.
Twenty of the 152 media and sports administration members who voted in this week's poll represent programs in the league.
Remember please the Mick Delaney Show Tuesday night at Dickey's Barbecue in downtown Missoula and on most network stations. If your local affiliate isn't already carrying the program let them know you would like them to participate.
The light standards at Washington Grizzly Stadium darkened well in advance of Jack Cross' fireworks display and maybe it was fitting that Appalachian State's final trip to Missoula as an FCS powerhouse left the Mountaineers scurrying about the field in a darkened daze after basically being dismantled in every phase of the game Saturday night.
The shadow from the west stands which draped entirely across the field early on cast a pall over the No. 12 Mountaineers and a record cheering throng of Griz fans, like their team, barely took the pedal off the metal as after a 30-6 dismantling indeed Montana football is back.
Junior quarterback Jordie Johnson barely miss-stepped as he completed his first dozen passes and alternating between the Shotgun and over-center worked the excellent offensive game plan to perfection with just a fumble when he stepped on an offensive lineman just a nitch in a perfect performance.
He sprinkled his offerings to 10 different receivers, four of whom caught their first pass as a Grizzly, and with twice as many rushes as passes both Trey Van and Jordan Canada eclipsed the Century mark in this inaugural regular season game under the lights which drew 26,293, no doubt the largest crowd to attend a sporting event in the state's history.
Appalachian's fabled hurry-up, no-huddle hardly got on track and while they seemed to have renewed resolve in the third quarter when Kameron Bryant replaced an injured Jamal Londry-Jackson but all they could come away with was a field goal (23-3) and with Jordan Harper's 11-yard TD reception left the game's final nine minutes uneventful.
A pair of D-1 transfers, Van from Marshall where they didn't see him as a running back and Jamaal Jones from the University of Washington, paced the rout which will elevate the Grizzlies toward the Top 10 in this week Sports Network poll.
Nine of 15 third-down conversions and six-plus minutes in time of possession all an indication of how dominant this season opening performance was.
It's just one game but quite an indication tht there is a different resolve around Montana football.
It's on - The days of anticipation for the return of Grizzly football are no more as the 2013 college football season has begun.
So just what is going to make the difference to bring either the Mountaineers or the Grizzlies to a season opening victory tonight?
Will the sellout Washington-Grizzly crowd play a factor and build to a fever pitch and keep it there to provide playoff atmosphere as the two teams meet in Missoula in the regular season for the first time?
It is always interesting to hear opposing teams say they have made plans for a loud crowd and have been exposed to such thing in previous games and granted in some cases they are able to communicate and seemed little concerned with the environment.
Let's face it - Any student-athlete who does not relish playing in front of such a raucous situation probably isn't much of a competitor.
There will be an incredible amount of anticipation for both teams until that first hit and while the Mountaineers, who came to Missoula Thursday after practice, maintain they won't be surprised with Washington-Grizzly I'm telling you if the crowd is on task there will be crucial times in the game when they will be a factor.
Appalachian State will push tempo with their no-huddle offensive format and how the Grizzlies are able to adjust to their speed will drive what occurs especially early on.
But this is a quite experienced Grizzly defensive unit who are quite familiar with this kind of offense but need to get pressure on quarterback Jamal Londry-Jackson not allowing him to get comfortable in the pocket looking for senior receivers Andrew Peacock or Tony Washington.
My key is probably yours.
I look for quarterback Jordie Johnson to control the ball with long drives resulting in Grizzly scores and for the defense to force Mountaineer mistakes resulting in winning the battle of turnovers.
Make no mistake: The Griz can't wait for the opportunity to show the country they're back and later tonight when the score clears the wires, pollsters will realize the work this team has put in paid dividends.
Take that to the bank!
It will be healthy teams who line up across from each other in the season opener for Appalachian State and Montana in Missoula.
While both SoCon Appalachian State and the University of Montana of the Big Sky have fought through the usual list of Fall camp injuries there are few players who won't be available Saturday night.
Junior receiver Mitch Saylor still is rehabbing off-season surgery and could make it to the field in September and senior center Kjelby Oiland is nursing a nagging hamstring but outside of that it's mostly full speed ahead for a Montana team that draws a bye next week before the league opener at North Dakota.
The Mountaineers also are healthy and in the first of two transition years to FBS. Appalachian State is funding some 73-74 scholarships as they make their way to the full compliment when they move into the Sun Belt Conference next season, according to radio voice David Jackson.
But make no mistake that the Mountaineers will miss record-setting receiver Sean Price who is suspended for the Montana game.
He might be better than one of their former premier receivers Brian Quick (now with St Louis), said Jackson, and given the Mountaineer youth the lack of his experience could prove paramount.
Price was named to The Sports Network and Phil Steele pre-season All American first team and eclipsed the century mark against the Grizzlies last season.
Appalachian State sports just 11 seniors and just 30 rostered players are upperclassman with some 34 underclassman, including nine true freshmen, listed on the two-deep.
But one of those seniors is of prime concern to second-year head coach Mick Delaney.
Jamal Londry-Jackson is the SoCon pre-season MVP and will start his 20th game at Montana.
A 3,000 yard passer last season, the 6-foot-3 inch product connected on 24 of 34 for 260 yards and a couple of scores and also got loose on the ground 16 times for an additional 65 yards in the Mountaineers 35-27 decision over the Grizzlies in Boone last season.
There will be plenty of eyes on this one Saturday night.
I'm thinking you are wondering why powerhouses Appalachian State and Georgia Southern aren't listed in some of the nation's top 25 polls but were recognized by the Sports Network which is supposedly considered by the NCAA FCS post season playoff committee.
Even though both the Mountaineers and the Eagles are ineligible for the SoCon league title and subsequent post season berth because they opted to move to FBS where they will join the Sun Belt Conference next season, the Sports Network advised voters to consider the two schools on their ballots.
Games involving the two schools will count in the league standing but both will play above the 63 scholarship limit thus keeping them from playoff consideration and just possibly sending a team other than the top finisher to the automatic bid.
The Mountaineers finished last season as the nation's No. 9 team with one of their eight wins in a dozen games of course over the Grizzlies in Boone, N.C.
They return 10 offensive starters including quarterback Jamal Londry-Jackson , a Payton candidate who is coming off an ACL injury but threw for nearly 3,300 yards and 21 TDs against eight picks and also scored six rushing touchdowns.
The Mountaineers averaged 33 points-per-game - they scored 35 in an eight-point victory over Montana - but lost a home playoff game for the third straight season last year.
The offensive line returns intact but star running back Steven Miller, who accounted for nearly 1,400 rushing yards, is gone and leading receiver Sean Price , third in the Jerry Rice Award voting is suspended as is backup quarterback Kalik Barnes.
Ricky Ferguson, an undersized sophomore, gets the call at running back.
But there's plenty of targets for Londry-Jackson headed by senior Andrew Peacock who hauled in 79 receptions for 795 yards, and Tony Washington and Malachi Jones who combined for an additional 70-some catches.
Defensively in Scott Satterfield's initial season replacing the legendary Jerry Moore, the Mountaineers reportedly will switch to a 3-4 defense.
A half-dozen defensive starters return but five of the listed starters, including both safeties, are underclassman.
Tony Washington also was one of the nation's top returners last season taking a kickoff to the house from 99 yards against Wofford and averaging better than 27 yards a kickoff return and nine yards per punt.
Both of these teams have plenty to prove in the opener.
There is one thing for certain about this 2013 edition of Grizzly football - While there surely are uncertainties, one thing is for certain with 10 defensive starters returning there will be a wealth of experience.
Here it is already approaching mid-week of the season opener Saturday night as the Grizzlies look to upend the bandwagon of the Mountaineers of Appalachian State.
Now make no mistake about it fans, I'm as big a fan of the offense as the next guy and look for that side of the football to be explosive and unpredictable this season but let's face it, if the opponents have a goose egg on the scoreboard the defense has probably performed quite up to par, usually meaning victory.
And as far as I'm concerned this defensive unit shapes up to be one of Montana's finest in a while.
Gone from the unit of a year ago is only end Josh Harris but Tyrone Holmes, who picked up five sacks in relief last year, is set to step in with Josh Wagenmann, fourth in the country in sacks last year, manning the other pivot.
Add to the front four senior Alex Bienemann and bulky junior Tonga Takai, both honorable mention all-league, as well as a host of youngsters all of whom probably will see time and you quickly see why opponents will be hard pressed to run the football.
But of course it's the linebacking corps led by Buchanan candidate Jordan Tripp who received most of the pre-season accolades.
Along with Brock Coyle and John Kanongata'a, linebackers accounted for the bulk of the tackles last season and may well be the quickest trio man-for-man in some time.
But there's also plenty of depth in the front seven meaning fresh bodies will still be making big plays in the pivotal fourth quarter to get the offense back on the field.
And with upperclassman Anthony Goodwin, Matt Hermanson and Bo Tully holding down the secondary and plenty of depth epitomized by Sean Murray , who was honorable mention all-league at corner after starting double-digit games I would be more than surprised if opponents seldom scored in double digits.
Wouldn't that be a return to times-of-old which no doubt would bring the Grizzlies to double-digit wins?
While it doesn't even seem possible, summer has crashed to a close and here it is the last week of August and time for the opener of the 2013 football season.
And maybe it's been a while since I have seen so much enthusiasm and anticipation for the Grizzly home opener featuring a pair of powerhouse programs.
Now it could be argued that few of today's expanded fan base was in the stands in Appalachian's inaugural visit to Missoula in the semi-final round of the 2001 playoffs when the Grizzlies made the most of what turned out to be the game's final overtime possession by besting the Mountaineers successful field goal with Jimmy Farris hauling down a Drew Miller offering in the northeast corner of the end zone for a 19-16 victory and a third trip to the then 1-AA title tilt in Chattanooga where they eventually fell to Georgia Southern.
I only make that observation because with Montana's successes and the expansion of Washington Grizzly Stadium the fan base has burgeoned to such a point that leading the division in attendance has become commonplace.
It was simply a classic that Saturday afternoon with a torrid snowstorm cavalcading out of Hellgate Canyon at halftime and because of the game time in the Mountain time zone and the extra period viewers in the east tuned into the game on the Worldwide Leader and reportedly made the game one of the most viewed of the season.
The Mountaineers fell again to Montana in Missoula by a TD in the semis in 2009 but got the measure last season prevailing 24-17 in Montana's first visit to Brewer Kidd Stadium in Boone, N.C.
But that was a Grizzly team embroiled in challenge, losing three of its first five games on their way to a losing season for the first time in 28 years and you can bet there isn't a team in the country more anxious not just to return to the winning ways but to send a message to the remainder of the division in general and the Big Sky Conference in particular that the season was an aberration and the Grizzlies indeed are back.
And with a first-ever regular season game under the lights with a capacity crowd more than ready to kick off a long-awaited season, there will be plenty of story lines as game-day approaches.
Revenge is by no means usually an effective motivator but this team has plenty to prove and it all starts Saturday night.
It's game day for the Grizzlies although since they're the fourth and last game of the session, it's a waiting game.
The 13th seed Grizzlies go looking for respect on the national stage with a date against 19th ranked Syracuse.
And such respect won't come easily as the Orange of course will be seen to have the upper hand and expected to move into the tournament's third round against either Mike Mongomery's Cal Bears or UNLV.
It will take a superior performance for Montana to be hanging around at the night's culmination but even though they lost to three NCAA qualifiers, Colorado State, then South Dakota State and Davidson in overtime, Will Cherry's absence in part or all of three contests figured into the failing outcomes.
And since BracketBuster, Montana has played with even a higher level of confidence in disposing of every opponent and now have won 21 of the last 23 outings.
Rebounding of course has not exactly been a Griz forte and Syracuse crashes the boards hard especially on the offensive end where Montana has proven especially deficient.
While the Orange ignited in the Big East tournament to play their way into the title game before flaming out against Louisville, they have struggled late in the season after a 19-1 start, losing seven of their last 15 games and five of their last eight.
But four of the losses were to Georgetown and Louisville, with Marquette and Connecticut thrown in for good measure.
And except for victories over Seton Hall and Pitt they have struggled recently from three-point range making eight of 29 against the Hoyas in a pair of games and but two of 18 versus DePaul.
Now while Jim Boeheim is a Hall of Fame coach who has been at the helm at Syracuse for 35 years, 30 of which have resulted in NCAA appearances, the Orange has a bit of a history of vulnerability in first-round games against double-digit seeds.
And while the Grizzlies are a decided underdog you know how that the crowd in San Jose will react if they smell Montana can compete.
And don't anybody tell the dynamic Cherry-Jamar duo they aren't capable of playing at this level.
It is media responsibility day at the NCAA Tournament here in San Jose where the Grizzlies close out the nightcap with a 13-4 matchup against the powerful Orange of Syracuse.
We're right in the middle of Montana's tenth appearance at the national tournament.
This is my seventh trip to the Big Dance since 1997 and I fondly remember the last game in San Jose when Montana gave Steve Alford's New Mexico team all they wanted, even leading at halftime, before falling by five.
Montana was a 14-seed in 2010 and Brian Qvale cherished the national stage powering in 26 points and pulling down a Baker's Dozen caroms.
That was four years after that magical performance as a 12-seed when an Andrew Strait led team defeated Nevada in the first round in Salt Lake City before running into a buzz saw in falling to Boston College.
This certainly is a season of parity in college basketball and prognosticators have been quick to predict upsets will occur in the ranks of seeds 12, 13 and 14.
And playing in the west with a short hop here to California and in the nightcap which will tip off around 11 p.m. for the Easterners from new York.
But remember Syracuse is playing at a high level after a less than spectacular regular season (10-7).
They were kicking Louisville around in the Big East Championship game last week at Madison Square garden before the Cardinals put together an amazing second-half run to claim the tournament title and eventual No 1 overall seed.
Six days after being blitzed by Georgetown 61-39, the Orange shot just 36 percent but upended the Hoyas 58-55 in overtime in the Big East semis.
That was after beating Pitt, a team they lost to by 10 in the regular season, by connecting on 12 of 19 treys.
The Orange are dominant on the boards (plus 4), force a bevy of turnovers and are ball-hawkers who are certainly accustomed to the big stage and are of course led by a Hall of Fame Jim Boeheim.
Syracuse starts a single senior and can feature as many as three underclassmen in the starting five.
Is there an Achilles?
Now after the speculation, joy and enthusiasm that surrounds the NCAA Selection Show, it's on the road once again for a Montana team that stopped just long enough in Missoula to run the league table with a pair of regular-season victories, then verified their season-long effort by claiming the circuit tournament for a second consecutive season.
It was 27 days between home games for this team, but Montana made the most of the Big Sky season's home close by focusing on that singular number of one.
While Syracuse of course represents the challenge of the season, I want to take the time as we wing via charter toward San Jose - do you know the way - to celebrate what has been in my mind during a monstrous repeat season.
Talk about making their way through a season of impediments and the challenge of a non-conference schedule that opened with an eventual NCAA team in Colorado State.
I vividly remember when during a football halftime show Wayne Tinkle told me that first team all conference guard Will Cherry had broken his foot and the player expected to contend for the starting center role had been ruled ineligible.
While I always remain confident of the team's fortunes, I have to admit when I went to the roster to see who might fill those roles; I anticipated a rough go especially against the level of non-conference competition.
And then of course the rigors of the expanded Big Sky Conference with unpredictable road trips and quality competition from new entrants North Dakota and Southern Utah let alone the usual league contending suspects.
But somebody forgot to tell our young players parlaying their efforts with the Griz juniors, all-everything Kareem Jamar and post Eric Hutchisson, that there was anyone in the circuit that could hang with the defending champs.
And what a roll they are on - Interrupted only by a Valentine Day hiccup at Weber State and a squeaker in overtime at Davidson, these Grizzlies have been unbeatable to claim a third NCAA berth in the last four seasons.
Wayne Tinkle not only is the only coach to win 20 games in four straight years but also becomes the first mentor to take a team to three NCAA Championships.
Let's face it. It just can't get any better than this.
There certainly was not much of an opportunity for the Grizzlies to relish their superb Big Sky Conference Tournament Championship before they were welcomed to the land of big-time basketball with the NCAA Championship announcements some 19 hours after confetti rained from the ceiling to celebrate a second straight berth to the Dance.
Pleased were the Grizzlies when they learned they are a 13-seed to the Show and staying west to San Jose, California, but maybe not so ecstatic when they filled the line below the Orange of Syracuse in the East region.
The fabled Cuse program makes a 30th trip to the National event after falling 78-61 to overall No 1 seed Louisville in the Big East finale, no really the real finale, at Madison Square Garden.
Legendary veteran Jim Boeheim's group is extremely stingy on defense allowing less than 38 percent from the field and a percentage more than 60 points-per-game.
Syracuse is 26-9 and finished but 10-7 in the powerful Big East before playing their way through the tournament to the title game.
In the tournament the Orange defeated Seton Hall, then slipped past powerful Pittsburg by three and won an overtime thriller 58-55 over Georgetown to move into the title game.
But they've lost five of their last nine to slip to a No. 4 seed.
They have a quartet of players averaging in double figures led by C.J. Fair (6-8) who averages 14.4 and better than seven rebounds while also shooting close to 50 percent from three-point range.
Guards Brandon Triche (6-4) and Michael Carter-Williams (6-6) also are both scoring in doubles and have shot a horde of treys.
They play without a true post but with more than ample size on the wings.
But of course Montana players are excited at the prospect and broke into a prolonged robust cheer when the pairings appeared on television screens through the Press Box where the travel group watched Sunday's festivities.
The Grizzlies, who will play the late game from San Jose on Thursday, will leave Missoula Tuesday with team member and coach's interviews scheduled for Wednesday along with a one-hour public practice session which is required of all participating teams.
It's the third time to the NCAAs in the last four years for this Wayne Tinkle led group (25-6) which qualifies for a 10th NCAA Tournament.
Big Sky Conference runner-up Weber State played its way into the first league semi-final Thursday by running away from Northern Arizona with 48 second half points while shooting 57 percent.
In a battle of new league entrants three-seed North Dakota also utilized a sound second half hitting all but eight of 23 shots in disposing of Southern Utah.
That sets up the first semi-final Friday night with the "No Niks" taking their 16-15 record against 15th ranked Weber State, winners of 12 straight and having posted a 25-5 mark.
The Wildcats have advanced to at least the semi-finals in all seven of Randy Rahe's seasons and have not suffered defeat since Montana turned the trick by two points in Missoula in late January.
Meanwhile the Grizzlies have qualified for the post-season league event for 12 consecutive years and faces off with Northern Colorado.
The now 13-17 Bears decisioned Montana State 69-56 dominating the second stanza by shooting almost 59 percent after taking just a two-point advantage to the Intermission.
In capturing a fourth straight game the Bears beat MSU at the foul line hitting 14 more throws as the Cats were signaled for 10 more personals.
The guard tandem of Tate Unruh and Tevin Svihovec paced the Bears with 23, or a third of their points, while they pounded the glass by committee with a trio of players with more than seven boards and winning the defensive glass by a dozen.
While Montana holds a pair of victories over UNC it certainly hasn't occurred easily with an 8 point decision in Greeley and a 10-pointer in Missoula in a game that the lead changed hands seven times.
Derrick Barden was the huge difference in Greeley with 21 points and an amazing 15 caroms with Unruh and Svihovec combining for 38.
But that was countered by games of 26 and 21 for Kareem Jamar and Will Cherry as the Grizzlies enjoyed their second highest scoring conference game of the season in netting 85 points.
Not only did they shoot 56 percent for the game but they connected on a dozen treys with the Jamar-Cherry duo combining for seven.
In Missoula Jamar led three Griz in doubles with 18 to go along with eight rebounds, three steals, three blocks and seven assists.
Montana versus Northern Colorado at 8 p.m. Friday night. See you there.
The pairings for two Big Sky Conference semi-final games will be set in Missoula today and for the life of me I can't pick out who might advance to face regular season league champion Montana.
With the new league format six teams are in action in Missoula to open the three-day tournament event to determine which team advances to the "Big Dance.'
You might think No. 7 seed Northern Arizona is in tough against league runner-up Weber State in the opener but consider that the Wildcats just snuck out of Flagstaff with a two-point decision earlier this month and we all know about Gabe Rogers, who has scored in double figures in 16 straight games and leads the circuit in scoring.
But the Wildcats sport the nation's 11th-longest win streak at 11 and rank first nationally in three categories.
It seems as if the No. 3 seed North Dakota and No 6 seed Southern Utah, both new league members who made the field, are teams headed in opposite directions.
The "No Niks" won their last four league games by a total of 21 points to finish with a respectable 12-8 record while the Thunderbirds are on a four-game slide including a loss by seven at North Dakota.
The nightcap features a pair of 10-10 teams in Northern Colorado and Montana State.
The Bobcats have won their last two but come into the tournament without double-figure scorer Xavier Blount, while the Bears ran the table in their final three games but with wins over non-qualifiers Eastern Washington and Portland State and at home over Southern Utah.
Before that Northern Colorado lost a one-pointer in BracketBuster at UC Davis and a two pointer at home to North Dakota.
Looking at comparable scores UND and Southern Utah split home-and-home, as did Montana State and Northern Colorado.
All this seems to indicate that the Grizzlies, scheduled to face the lowest remaining seed, should play the winner of the Bobcat-Bear matchup.
With the pair of home victories to cap the regular season and as of Monday, Montana moved past Weber State in the RPI by five points.
That could be bolstered somewhat though with both Davidson and South Dakota State winning conference tournaments and advancing to the NCAA.
Enjoy it. It's tournament time
The Grizzly basketball team just could not have received much more recognition than the All-Conference selections announced this week.
The basketball marathon in title town starts Wednesday with a trio of women's Big Sky Conference tournament games.
Of course the men and the women, as number one seeds and regular season champions, have to wait until Thursday to see who they match up with Friday in the second of two semi-final games.
But back to the men's accolades.
Montana guard Will Cherry caps his regular season with an amazing third straight selection to the first team and additional selection, even with the games missed, as the two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
And for the second straight year junior Kareem Jamar is accorded first-team laurels and is one of two unanimous selections and also was recognized as the league's top player - can you say MVP?
Jamar is one of four juniors on the first team and joins North Dakota's Troy Huff as unanimous selections.
League runner-up Weber State also placed a pair of players on the first team as senior Scott Bamforth made it for the second straight year and was joined by JC transfer Davion Berry, who also was recognized as the Newcomer of the Year.
Steady Eddy Montana senior Mathias Ward, who led the Grizzlies in scoring and stands some fifth in the circuit in that regard, also could well have made the first team but received second unit recognition, joining two Southern Utah players and athletes from North Dakota, Northern Colorado and Weber post Kyle Tresnak.
Ten players were accorded honorable mention status including Montana super soph Jordan Gregory, who was joined by Venky Jois of Eastern Washington, the league's top rebounder, who also was named the league's Freshman of the Year.
With senior forward Frank Otis also being accorded honorable mention honors, Montana and Weber State had eight of the 23 players so honored.
All 11 league teams were represented on the three elite lists which included just 10 seniors.
Nine of the league's schools were represented by players with remaining eligibility with Montana, Weber state, Northern Dakota and Northern Colorado leading the way with two each.
It is certainly hard in the midst of it all to put in perspective what Wayne Tinkle, his staff, and players have accomplished during this record-setting hoop season.
But suffice it to say, it's tournament time in title town and this is for sure a week to behold.
The Montana basketball radio shows are tonight on your local affiliate starting at 6 p.m.
And what a pleasant night it would be if the entire hour was spent with you calling in and asking all the questions and passing along your congratulations on this amazing season for both programs.
Toll free at 877-401-9151.
Yesterday afternoon came the great news that Kareem Jamar was named Big Sky Conference Player of the Year, just a few hours after receiving Big Sky Conference Player of the Week honors.
And what a week "Reem" had in helping Montana to three straight wins to cap off a remarkable 19-1 conference season.
In victories over Montana State, Sacramento State and Northern Arizona, Kareem seldom saw the pine and scored 50 points, corralled 11 rebounds, dropped 13 dimes, and just for good measure blocked a shot and picked up a couple of thefts.
In 20 league games Jamar has played just short of an average of 35 of the games' 40 minutes while shooting 50 percent and averaging 13.2 points and 5.4 rebounds.
And with 411 points this year, he now sports 1,064 placing him just six points from the program's top 20.
And now with 227 dimes, it won't be long until he breaks onto the top 10 career list for assists and he's also pulled down close to 500 rebounds.
And with 20 blocks and 27 steals, well you get the picture right?
With the 10-game absence of Defensive Player of the Year Will Cherry and the loss of Mathias Ward after 24 games this season, Jamar's contribution has simply been invaluable in winning 19 of their last 21 games and posting thus far a 23-6 record.
But as the Grizzlies await their Friday opponent in the second of the tournament's two semi-final games, there's no looking in the rearview mirror but just ahead to grabbing the gold at the end of the rainbow.
Crown the once-beaten Montana Grizzlies undisputed Big Sky Conference regular season champions for the second consecutive season.
The season's best crowd of better than 6,000 rocked the Dahlberg Arena rafters when the Grizzlies, after an uninspired first half, pounded Northern Arizona to claim a 19th victory in the last 21 games and again bring the circuit tournament back to Missoula.
Wayne Tinkle becomes the first head coach in a fabled Montana basketball history to win back-to-back titles and host the tournament.
The Grizzlies last hosted back-to-back championships in 1990-91 and 1991-92 but under two different coaches, Stew Morrill and Blaine Taylor.
Boding well for Montana is in both of those seasons they ran the tournament table and moved on to the Big Dance.
Now the tournament's seventh seed at 8-12, the Lumberjacks will play Weber State (18-2) in the event opener Thursday afternoon.
After trailing by as many as 11 points in the first half and down by eight at the intermission, the Grizzlies exploded out of the locker room much to the delight of a raucous crowd who with the Bobcat win already realized both tournaments were headed to the Garden City.
The defense mostly shut out post Max Jacobson, who had his way in the first half, and held the Lumberjacks to but six field goals and 18 points.
While Spencer Coleman didn't lead the team in scoring - those honors went to Will Cherry - he performed admirably at both ends with nine points, a near-career high eight rebounds, three blocks and a pair of assists against a single turnover.
That has been the Modus Operandi for this group which seems able to pick each other up and continuously finds a spark to lead to success.
Kareem Jamar and Mike Weisner joined Cherry in double figures as Montana scored 39 second-half points while connecting on more than half their field goal attempts.
While this four-year group now has won 91 games, the second season kicks off for Montana Friday night as they host the tournament's lowest remaining seed in the 8 p.m. nightcap.
While anything but a season of league parity, it's still difficult to predict who that might be but a rematch with the Bobcats could well be on the horizon.
But for now some time of much needed rest for a well-deserved league champion.
The long road to hosting the Big Sky Conference men's basketball tournament continues Thursday with the first of two home games to cap off the regular season.
It's the Hornets of Sacramento State first on the agenda on the closing week of league play to determine not just a league titlist but the host for the seven-team post season.
Now 13th ranked in the Mid Major poll and the winningest four-year team in history, the Grizzlies also sport a 24-game regular season winning streak against conference opponents and have defeated 27 straight league teams in Missoula..
And with 21 wins and four straight 20-win seasons intact and becoming the first league team ever to win 17 games, the records just keep piling up.
But that means little on Thursday as Montana tries to take one more step to hosting the league tournament for the second straight season, something that hasn't been accomplished since the early nineties.
But they face that task without leading scorer Mathias Ward who had surgery this week to put a pin in his foot and will be lost for the season.
The condition of Defensive Player of the Year Will Cherry has improved to such an extent that there is a chance he could return to limited action this week and approach full strength by the circuit tournament starting next week.
The win at Cedar City completes a road season that matches last year's phenomenal run with a single road loss as the Grizzlies also became the first league team to win nine road games.
Of course some of those records are influenced by the league expanding to 11 teams this season.
The Grizzlies initially faced Sacramento State way back in December on the opening weekend of league play slipping past the Hornets 61-60.
The Hornets crashed the boards hard in that one, outrebounding Montana by double digits, and hauled down 10 more off the offensive glass.
But hot shooting (58 percent) by the Griz in the second half preserved a half-time lead and eventually clinched the narrow victory.
All but eight of the Hornets games this year have been decided by single digits and a half dozen were one pointers.
After opening with wins at Utah and Central Arkansas, Sacramento State has lost nine straight road games and are in a four-way tie for the league's fifth spot.
Five league teams have 10 losses and one of them will fail to make the league tournament.
In his seven year tenure at the helm of the Grizzlies, Wayne Tinkle has had his way with the cross-state rival winning 10 of 14 matchups.
But make no mistake about the Cats, who are struggling to be a part of the seven-team league post-season tournament, they'll be huntin' Grizzly Saturday night in Bozeman.
Saturday matches teams that headed in different directions after the last time they met in Missoula in mid-January.
That first meeting certainly was a barn burner with the score being tied a half dozen times and an equal number of lead changes.
Marcus Colbert had a chance to close out Montana but missed a second free throw with 27 seconds to go in regulation that would have secured a four-point, two possession MSU lead.
Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar missed trey attempts but Montana claimed the offensive board and after Spencer Coleman's tap-out off Cherry's miss, and a Tinks time out, Mike Weisner drilled a trey with three seconds to go to send the game to an extra five minutes.
Montana never trailed in overtime, building as much as a seven-point advantage and eventually sealed the outcome with Jordan Gregory and Cherry's pair of free throws.
The Grizzlies remained unbeaten after eight and the Cats dropped to three and 4.
But while Montana has won seven of nine since then, the Cats have struggled, losing more games than they've won and stand perilously close to failing to qualify for the league's seven-team post season event.
But the Bobcats can score it and have a quartet of players, including Antonio Biglow off the bench, that average in double figures.
Montana got after the offensive boards the first time around and they did it mostly by keeping the ball alive with seven offensive team rebounds resulting in 12 second-chance points.
Montana made six of its nine three pointers in the first half to take just a one-point advantage to the locker room but their defense was less than adequate and in regulation MSU shot 51 percent from the field.
But the Grizzlies scored off transition four times and netted 17 off a dozen Cat turnovers.
Christian Moon hurt Montana the first time around and is shooting better than 50 percent while averaging 13.
Prepare for yet another knuckle buster.
A basketball season is replete with challenges and how a team deals with adversity provides a large indication on just how a season transpires.
The Grizzlies, as I'm sure you know by now, are just a game short of a fourth consecutive 20-win season.
But while that's all exceptional what is most concerning is facing Saturday night's game at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse without the team's two senior starters representing more than a third of the team's offensive output.
Post Mathias Ward and guard Will Cherry will make the bus trip to Bozeman but apparently won't be in uniform for the 287th matchup between the cross-state rivals.
And that probably means they'll also not be available for Monday's game at Southern Utah.
There are three games in six days next week to end the Big Sky Conference season and counting the Bobcat clash the Grizzlies will close with a quartet of games in eight days.
That's a tall order given any scenario but of course proving even more difficult with the expected loss of two-fifths of their starting lineup.
But don't expect to hear any whining from this group, which until injuries struck, boasted the best depth in the league.
Sophomore Jordan Gregory has started 14 games and played 36 minutes contributing 12 points and five rebounds against Davidson and Keron DeShields added nine in playing a bit more than half the game and also has started six games.
Spencer Coleman has blossomed in a starting role and is shooting 57 percent in league while averaging seven points and Mike Weisner is a make short of 50 percent from three-point range off the bench.
And of course Kareem Jamar, who just made the 1,000-point club with 28 points in the BracketBuster game, sometimes, like Will, is just undefendable.
Add to the mix Hutch (Eric Hutcison) and Andy (Martin) along with Kevin Henderson and I for one remain confident this team can run the proverbial table to a second consecutive Big Sky crown.
But the Bobcats are tough in Bozeman and only lost in overtime in Missoula after Weisner's try to it to an extra period.
Ward and Cherry contributed 23 points the first time around but the Cat's three-guard alignment will help Montana and remember Jamar was within three caroms on a triple-double in the first meeting.
It's getting to be crunch time
There is little doubt that teams with losing conference records will be included in the seven team Big Sky Conference Tournament.
The real question will be just how many sub-standard marks will be part of the field.
The season is winding to completion with just 21 games remaining.
Of course the number-one seed and post-season tournament host has yet to be determined with Montana and Weber State just a game apart and each with two homes games and a pair of road games remaining.
Ironically both teams have Northern Arizona and Sacramento State remaining on their agenda with the Wildcats meeting the duo on the road Thursday and Saturday of this week and the Grizzlies facing them next week at Dahlberg Arena.
Montana also is on the road this week and Monday for games in Bozeman and Cedar City, teams that have impressive home records.
The Bobcats (7-9) have won five of seven at Brick Breeden Field House while Southern Utah (8-8) , a half game out of third place, have lost just twice in eight outings at home.
Sacramento State also has been impressive at home in posting a 7 and 9 overall league mark. The Hornets also have lost just twice in eight outings while Northern Arizona (7-9) is just four and four in the Skydome.
While Idaho State literally is out of the field with four wins against a dozen losses, five-win Portland State could virtually climb the ladder with wins this week over visiting North Dakota and Northern Colorado.
The No Nicks with a tenth or 11th win with just one or two remaining would virtually clinch a spot.
The Bobcats, losers of five straight, face a rare road trip to Southern Utah Thursday before facing the Grizzlies Saturday while Montana returns the favor by heading out of Bozeman to go to Cedar City for a Monday game.
It's no surprise that although the Grizzlies remain ahead of Weber in the Mid-Major poll, with the win at Oral Roberts the Wildcats moved slightly past the Grizzlies in RPI by two spots.
That will only figure into the equation if the two teams tie for the league lead with the Grizzlies falling to MSU.
Home from a 5000-mile roundtrip journey south for BracketBusters, it's back to the league wars as the Big Sky Conference regular season winds to a close.
The culmination of the league season is less than two weeks away with plenty of uncertainty but everything on the table for the Grizzlies.
A win shy of the coveted 20-win mark for the fourth consecutive season, Montana faces the possibility of games Saturday against Montana State and Monday at Southern Utah with two-fifths of its starting lineup unavailable.
And it's not lost on me that injuries to Mathias Ward and Will Cherry, named this week a finalist for the Lou Henson Award for the sport's best mid-major player, also sideline the program's sole seniors at a pivotal time in what remains a promising season.
While the X-rays on Cherry's ankle injured against Davidson Saturday afternoon fortunately proved negative and Mathias Ward's arch injury is coming along, there sure remains the possibility that neither or one of the two will be available for the team's final two road games of the regular season.
And while the loss of their floor contribution is worrisome in itself, so also is their leadership since both players have been on the floor in more than 100 games in their four and five-year career.
At the end of regulation and through most of Saturday's overtime BracketBuster loss, the Grizzlies fielded a team with Kareem Jamar the sole upperclassmen joined by four sophomores.
And while that certainly bodes well for the future and they performed admirably given the circumstances, any team losing a pair of starters at this point in the season surly is a concern.
Add to the mix facing your cross-state rival on their floor, then leaving the following day for a rare Monday matchup in Utah and - well you get the idea.
But depth has been crucial for this Montana team's success all season and it easily could be argued after the arduous experience gained over some 25 games, there isn't any underclassman on the roster.
But let's not look past Saturday night.
With a 76-71 victory in Missoula, Tinks is 10 and 4 against the Cats whom admittedly at 7-9 are not yet by any means assured a playoff spot.
The Cats lead the series in Bozeman-We'll just see.
To say that Saturday's Griz BracketBuster opponent is on a roll - well that's just an understatement.
Jetting to Charlotte, North Carolina, the hotbed of college basketball, then a short jaunt up the road to Davidson.
Picked to finish first in the South Division of the Southern League, the Wildcats have been anything but disappointing and it is anything but unusual for the program headed by Bob McKillop for the last 24 seasons.
He's the SoCon's winningest coach (445-278) and in each of six of the last 10 seasons, the Wildcats have won 20 games or more.
But it's not just hoop at Davidson.
All 78 of the seniors that McKillop has coached have graduated and since 2003 all his teams have perfect APR scores of 1,000 which simply is remarkable.
And it's a family affair.
All three of his children attended the school and his son, Matt, who played there, has been an assistant since 2008. Son Brendan played four years for his Dad while one daughter helps with summer camp.
And Davidson certainly doesn't shy away from competition. Montana will be the fifth team that participated in last year's NCAA Tournament that the Wildcats play this season.
Last year's non conference schedule was ranked as the nation's fifth toughest.
During their 10-game winning streak they've outscored opponents by nearly 19 a game and drubbed some league competition by scores of 70-38 (The Citadel), and 87-52 (Appalachian State).
More than anything the Wildcats are well rounded.
While 6-foot 10 Jake Cohen plays effectively inside, he also goes to the perimeter and is connecting on better than 40 percent from three-range.
DeMon Brooks and Nik Cochran also are in doubles but Swede Chris Czerapowicz, JP Kuhlman, Tyler Lakinoski and Clint Mann all contribute more than seven a game.
The Wildcats take 38 percent of their shots from outside the arc and connect on 37 percent, totaling 31 percent of their offense from long range.
They score an average of 73 yet allow just 63, but in league play they're a bit better than that and allow just 58 an outing.
And while the Big Sky Conference will furnish the referees for the game, you can't let Davidson get to the stripe where they lead the nation making 17 a game and a robust 81 percent.
Pre-game at 12:30 from North Carolina on Saturday
The road never is an easy proposition but early flights in a crackerjack box aircraft for a hop across the country for a game that doesn't count in the overall league scheme of things - Well you know the deal.
The final round of the BracketBuster format is on for Saturday.
And with the Grizzlies dominating the Big Sky Conference and in the midst of a long winning streak, the nation's second-longest at the time of the selection process, and on the rotation to be a BracketBuster road team, Montana was sent packing a couple of time zones away for a prime-time matchup with one of the Mid-Major's top teams.
Riding an 11-game winning streak, Davidson already has clinched the Southern Conference Division title for the ninth time in the last dozen years.
With losses in three of their first seven games, the Wildcats now have won 16 of their last 20 games.
At the Old Spice Classic in December they defeated Vanderbilt and West Virginia before falling to then 17-ranked Gonzaga and lost two of four in January, first to Duke then at Furman.
During the current win streak they simply have dominated opponents.
Davidson is outscoring opponents by 18 per game, making almost half their field goal attempts and continue to be the top free throw shooting team in the country at some 83 percent.
Canadian guard Nick Cochran has missed five of 100 attempts to also pace the nation from the charity stripe. Dating to last season, the British Columbia product is 111 of 117 from the stripe.
Returning five starters, the Wildcats now have four players on the floor who have scored more than 1,000 points.
The late season surge is nothing unusual for the North Carolina program.
Since 2003-04 they've played their best hoop in the season's dog days losing just 12 times in 74 games in February.
And they seldom lose at Belk Arena.
In 10 years they've lost 18 times at home, including just six times in the last three seasons.
Forward DeMon Brooks , the league's player of the year and an honorable mention All-American a year ago is averaging 13 plus and 6-10 Jake Cohen is pacing the Wildcats at better than 14 an outing.
But in conference games, Davidson has seven players contributing more than seven a game.
Quite a challenge for Montana.
The loss at Weber State affected little Montana's RPI or the team's rating in the Mid major poll.
The Grizzlies dropped just a single spot in the national poll and stand as the Nation's 13th team down just one position from a week ago.
Montana's Saturday BracketBuster opponent, 19-win Davidson, is ranked 11th and in the midst of a 10 game winning streak.
BYU, which defeated the 19-win Grizzlies, is 14th while with the defeat of Montana, Weber State climbed back into the poll at No 22.
South Dakota State, with 21 wins and an overtime victor over the Grizzlies, stands 17th on the list which is dominated unanimously by Gonzaga which stands third in the Major Poll.
With an overtime win over third-place North Dakota, Northern Arizona climbed into a fourth place tie in the Big Sky with Sacramento State, Montana State, and Northern Colorado, all at 7 and 9.
It's been all about the also-rans beating up on each other that has muddled the approaching post season.
Sacramento State and Southern Utah were the weekend's losers.
The Hornets dropped games to both North Dakota and Northern Colorado and fell from .500 and a possible third-spot berth into the quagmire of teams battling even to get in.
And the thunderbirds fell to .500 with losses in Portland and Cheney.
Meanwhile, Northern Colorado got well with home wins over NAU and Sacramento State to crawl from also-ran into the possible playoff mix at 7 and 9.
Portland State, an upset 31-point home winner over third-place Southern Utah and Idaho State appear out of the tournament mix although if they won out with four left stand an outside chance of qualifying.
On Monday the Vikings kept Eastern from moving into a fifth place tie by beating the Eagles for their fifth win against 11 defeats.
Northern Colorado, a game back of third, entertains North Dakota, one of a pair of third place teams, on Wednesday before the entire league participates in the last round of BracketBuster games.
The league really comes down to being able to win road games.
Only Montana and Weber have winning road records between them winning 13 times against a trio of losses.
The remainder of the nine teams has won just 15 of 71 outings.
With a chance to catch their breath, the back-on-the-winning track Grizzlies take a respite from Big Sky Conference play but face the daunting task of traveling across the country to face BracketBuster foe Davidson.
It's the first time the Wildcats are on the Montana agenda.
The game comes really at an inopportune time with a quartet of games left in the league season to determine the host spot for the tournament as after seeing their record-setting league winning streak stopped at the hands of Weber State, the Grizzlies sport just a one game lead over those other Wildcats.
And Montana faces the daunting task of hitting the road for another two games against first Montana State, then Southern Utah before returning to the friendly confines where they still sport a 24-game league winning streak,
That also sets a new circuit mark breaking the standard established by Idaho from 1980-83.
Both the Bobcats and Southern Utah are fighting for playoff seeding with the Thunderbirds virtually assured of a post-season spot while after being swept last week with nine losses MSU has to take care of some business to assure a playoff position.
The home opponents awaiting Montana, Northern Arizona and Sacramento State, also appear to be playoff teams battling for seeding in the new seven-team format.
Remember every team except the league champion plays the first night with winners advancing and it really appears teams with losing league records may qualify for the league post season.
Weber State also faces a long trip traveling to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to meet Oral Roberts and both Montana and Weber could benefit greatly in the RPI and the post-season thoughts of the selection committee if they won the league tournament and were looking for seeding help.
You'll remember it could be argued that Montana's win in BracketBuster over Oral Roberts in 2005 boasted their notoriety and resulted in a 12-seed.
The Grizzlies then upended Nevada to move into the second round where they lost to Boston College.
And with their next victory Montana also will move into hallowed ground as Wayne Tinkle will become just the second Griz coach to claim four straight 20-win seasons matching Mike Montgomery from 1982-86.
But first up the 2,500 mile trip to North Carolina for Saturday afternoon's 1 p.m. tipoff.
There are always a couple of games that are circled on the calendar before a season begins.
There's the cross-state matchups and maybe an alleged rival here and there but the game Thursday in Ogden always shaped up to be of prime importance no matter how the season transpired leading up to the matchup between the Big Sky Conference men's basketball super-powers.
High flying, league leading and 12th ranked Montana travels to Dee Events Center where they have not defeated Weber State in a regular season game since 2004.
But that night was a memorable occasion for now seventh year head coach Wayne Tinkle since then head guy Pat Kennedy was suspended by the league for the game and young assistant Tinkle handed the reins of a Griz team was on a 7 game losing streak.
And while he didn't get credit for the game, the 58-55 winning decision over the Wildcats which started Montana on a five-game league winning streak certainly was a sign of things to come.
Now win or lose of course for Montana this is not a game to determine league superiority since the Grizzlies have a two-game lead in the conference race but a Montana win would virtually assure the title and host spot with four games to play.
The two teams are very close in RPI, which is used in the tie breaker formula if head-to-head and record against teams in descending order is even, and because Montana is 12th ranked a Wildcat win would be quite beneficial to their situation.
In the midst of four games in eight days, after Thursday Weber has three of their last six at home,
It shapes up as a battle between not just of the best records in the league but the top teams in a lot of categories.
They are one-two in scoring offense, scoring defense, scoring margin and field goal percentage while Weber defends field goals a bit better.
The Wildcats are a torrid three point team with loads of weapons and the two rivals are one-two in three-point defense.
In order to prevail Montana has to get Weber's big bodies off the glass, get to the three-point shooters and somehow limit transition.
But conversely the Wildcats, because of the Montana balance, are trying to figure out who to key on.
I have a hunch this won't be the last time these two teams see each other and because of their home records that puts even more importance on Thursday night.
Tipoff at 7:05 p.m. with the pre-game show at 6:30 p.m.
There won't be any home cooking in the latter part of the next three weeks as the Grizzlies face the challenge of continuing a record winning streak, establishing yet another and virtually clinching the regular season league crown with the bus trip this week to Utah and Southern Idaho.
It's been over a year (Jan. 14, 2012) since Weber State claimed a decisive league victory over Montana, the only loss the Grizzlies would sustain through last year and to this point in 2013.
But it is a tall order at Dee Events Center where the Grizzlies haven't won a regular season game since 2004 but claimed the tournament championship there over the Wildcats in 2010.
With a pair of road victories, Montana also would tie the league road mark for consecutive wins with 13 set ironically by Weber from 1967-70.
This is the 12th straight trip to the league post season for the Grizzlies who at 18-4 also stand on the cusp of a fourth straight 20-win season.
By beating Idaho State Monday night, Weber State clinched a seventh straight tournament appearance and won a 14th consecutive regular season t game.
And league home teams have been in command winning 55 of 77 games thus far.
But the now 12th ranked Grizzlies have ended the Wildcat's national post season hopes the last three seasons in the league tournament.
The Wildcats are another of those three-point phenom teams.
At 42.5 they stand second in the nation in proficiency and third in field goal defense allowing less than 27 percent.
They make seven a game against Montana's 7.2 per outing.
The Wildcats outshoot Montana by three percentage points from the field about the same differential in three point percentage.
With a pair of wins last week Weber moved up seven spots in RPI to 136 while the Grizzlies two wins just left them stagnant at 118th.
There remain eight Division 1 teams with unbeaten marks but no team has as many victories as Montana (14) which stands tied with Memphis and trailing only Akron in consecutive wins.
With his next steal Will Cherry will move into a tie for second on the league's all-time theft list with Nevada's Kevin Soares at 255. With a minimum of seven games to go that is well back of the league record held by Sacramento State's DeShawn Freeman at 283.
One more step to back-to-back titles and the host spot for the 2013 Big Sky Conference Tournament, Montana is on the verge of the first of three straight road trips before the league finale in Missoula in early March.
It was an amazing weekend with two wins in Missoula over Northern Colorado and North Dakota and the Adams center had the feeling of days of old as close to 10,000 fans were on hand for games of record-setting proportion.
The Grizzlies tied records Thursday then engraved their name by breaking a pair of long-standing league records by a dominating performance over the "No Nicks."
If 27 straight home victories over league opponents isn't impressive enough since no team had ever done that, now with 25 straight in the regular season and 24 straight at home and at 14-0 Montana certainly already has made this a season to remember.
But there's plenty left on the table starting with Thursday night in Ogden when the Grizzlies look to win their 12th straight conference game and none more important than the Wildcats, the last team to beat Montana on the road in January last season.
The Griz also sport the nation's second longest win streak trailing only Akron by one game and matching Memphis.
And while several teams are unbeaten and stand atop their conference, Montana has more wins at the top of a circuit than any team in the country.
The fact that the Grizzlies have ended Weber's season in the last three post-season tournaments, twice eliminating any chance the Wildcats had to make it to the Big Dance adds even more intrigue to Thursday's matchup.
The Wildcats are dominating the league's offense as the top scoring (76.6) and shooting (51 percent) unit while Montana holds league opponents to 62.8 points and paces the league in both free throw percentage (.775) and assist-to-turnover margin (1.3).
A look at the stats from the entire season shows Weber State leading in seven categories while Montana paces in just free throws and assist to turnover ratio.
The telling and possibly most concerning statistic is rebounding where Weber State outrebounds league opponents by almost six a game.
The Wildcats lead the league averaging better than 6,100 fans and drew nearly 8,700 for the BYU game.
I hope the evening lives up to hype that is bound to fill the week.
I'd be the last one to place more importance in one game before another and seldom have been in win-or-else position until the post season but let's face it, Thursday's game in Missoula has its own share of importance.
That other Big Sky Conference Bear, you know the one from Northern Colorado, ventures to Dahlberg Arena tonight.
And with a victory over UNC to complete the season sweep, Montana not only equals a few records but sets the stage for establishing all-time league marks and equaling last year's amazing win streak.
With a dozen straight victories the Grizzlies trail only Akron by one in win streak and with 23 straight conference wins the Grizzlies are one away from tying the league mark established by Weber State almost four decades ago.
A victory over the Bears and the Grizzlies move a game from equaling the 14-game school-record winning streak they set during last year's amazing championship season.
But of course even more important is a given - a victory Thursday makes the Grizzlies the first team to clinch a spot in the league tournament amazingly with seven games to play.
But there's no room for error in the remainder of this league race and there certainly will be no looking past NorthernColorado on this night even though the Griz claimed an eight-point victory in Greeley.
The Bears feature a rebounding machine in Derrick Barden who leads the circuit in league games at better than 10 caroms an outing while averaging almost 13 ponts an outing.
He scored 21 points and added 15 rebounds the first time around and mark my words the junior from Detroit is a beast on the offensive glass.
Sophomore Tevin Svihovek had 19 in the last meeting between the two teams while Tate Unruh shoots better than 50 percent from outside the arc in conference games and is averaging almost 14 points.
But the difference this time around will be junior Paul Garnica who is 24 of 42 from three-point-range in conference games and is a deadly 90 percent from the charity stripe.
He was not a factor in Greeley but is now playing his best.
They lead the league in made treys and shoot 45 from outside the arc while the Griz are stingy in that regard.
A battle of wills and I'll take Montana's Will in this one.
The Grizzlies continue to receive accolades as they reach double figures in league wins for the fifth straight season under Wayne Tinkle.
Montana now stands 14th in the latest Mid Major poll as while 10-2 Weber State continues to excel with a pair of double-digit wins but fell out of the top 25.
Now with 10 wins the Wildcats mark the first time in Big Sky Conference history a team has reached double-figure wins in seven straight seasons.
The now 12-0 Grizzlies jumped past South Dakota State, one of four teams to beat Montana this season while BYU, another team to get past the Grizzlies in the non-conference schedule jumped to No. 8 while Montana BracketBuster opponent Davidson stands No. 19.
Montana continues to pace the circuit in RPI moving up a few spots to 118, some 18 spots ahead of Weber State but Montana's strength of schedule lags behind six other league teams led by Northern Arizona.
The Big Sky Conference continues to languish on the list of 33 D-1 leagues standing 28 out of 33 including Independents.
They stand only ahead of the Mid-Eastern, Big South, SWAC, and the Great West.
And while a Griz win over Davidson in a BracketBuster matchup could have an impact on post-season seeding, it is interesting to note that the Southern League in which the Wildcats compete is ranked just ahead of the Big Sky in RPI.
There are plenty of streaks the Grizzlies stand to impact with home wins against Northern Colorado and North Dakota.
The Grizzlies, one of 13 D-1 schools without a conference loss, not only can break the league mark for consecutive circuit wins but they also are just a game short of tying the regular season home win record set by Idaho from 1980-83.
And with a win Thursday night Montana would become the first league team to clinch a spot in the post-season tournament.
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