Recently in GrizTrax by Mick Holien Category
is nothing left for the Montana Grizzlies to do but win because the alternative
of course is the completion of the 2013-14 campaign.
is indeed conference tournament time and in leagues around the country teams
are vying to win and move to the next round with the allure of an NCAA berth
hanging in the balance.
the Grizzlies know more than their share about tournament action especially in
the last two years as they waltzed to the Big Dance.
it is quite a different scenario this season here in Ogden as Montana fell from
vying to repeat by claiming a share of the league title won by Weber State all
the way to the No 4 seed where Thursday they face No. five seed Portland State.
vital parts of this group have NCAA experience and know the taste of Selection
Sunday just three days away and the thrill and excitement of competing on the
it will be anything but an easy proposition against the Vikings who jumped up
and bit league titlist Weber State in the next to last game to enhance their
tournament chances to face the Grizzlies for the first time in the tournament.
Viks have won five of their last six games as have the Grizzlies but Portland
State is in the midist of a three-game winning streak and riding high.
both teams have claimed a tournament title here at Dee Event Center with
Montana claiming the 2010 championship and Portland State winning in 2009.
fact Portland State and Montana have teamed to win five of the last six
Jamar is the two-time defending tournament MVP while the Vikings are led in
scoring by DaShaun Wiggins, the league's top reserve, who started only 6 games
but led PSU in scoring at close to 13 an outing.
Viks won in Portland by a trey in triple OT in a game Montana felt they let get
away in regulation while Montana prevailed in single OT by a half dozen
head coach Tyler Geving was an assistant when they last won the crown while
Wayne tinkle is 9-4 in the tourney with three titles.
promises to be a thriller.
If history is any indication, Thursday night's Big Sky
Tournament first-day finale should be a doozy.
We are just a day away from the three-day run to
determine who will represent the Big Sky Conference in the "Dance."
What is that they say?
You are the champion until someone proves otherwise and
while Weber State claimed the regular season crown it is the Grizzlies who are
the two-time defending league tournament champions.
And don't think for a minute they are about to surrender
the title easily.
But in the opener against Portland State, well since it
took four extra five-minute sessions in two overtimes for the two teams to
split a pair of games, it promises to be a knuckle buster.
It was a three overtime affair in the Rose City and most
recently, on Feb 8, an additional five minute period brought the Grizzlies to a
So in this win and move-on scenario, look for
back-and-forth action with an unpredictable outcome.
Weber State will play the lowest remaining seed which if
North Dakota and Northern Arizona hold court would be Montana, if that is, the
Griz can dispose of the Vikings.
The last time out, overtime was dominated by Keron
DeShields, who scored all but two of Montana's 13 extra-session points and
matched Kareem Jamar with 19.
But forward Kyle Richardson got loose for 25 on 10-of-15
from the field and registered a double-double with a dozen, or just about
one-third, of the Viking rebounds.
Much like Montana, Portland State plays small-ball with
no big force in the low post and while they dominated the Griz on the offensive
board last time, for the season rebounding has been a liability.
But while they come off the bench with the big presence
of 6 foot 10 Brandon Cataldo, their reserves have been deficient, although
backup guard DaShaun Wiggins netted 11 last time around.
The Vikings tend to give up a lot of points and surrender
a high shooting percentage both inside and outside the arc making it incumbent
for the Grizzlies to take some advantage of second-side opportunities.
Mike Weisner had 16 on six of seven and three for three
from trey-land last time and his emergence was key in Montana's five-game
winning streak which ended Saturday in Flagstaff.
Let's see if we can get that slipper to fit.
There is little doubt that when you win the league you
are going to get added recognition from the league's coaches.
Big Sky regular season champ Weber State claimed three of
the six league individual awards in voting released Monday.
Swing-guard Davion Berry became the eighth Wildcat player
and the first since Damien Lillard to claim the circuit's Most Valuable Player
And while there certainly is an argument for Montana's
Kareem Jamar to three-repeat, the senior still reigns as a two-time tournament
MVP and that's all still on the table.
And Jamar is just the 22nd player in league
history to be accorded first-team honors three times.
Berry scored .4 points more per game than "Ream" but
Kareem out-rebounded the senior by more than a carom a game and equaled him
with four assists an outing.
But you know it's long been known "to the victor goes the
The difference is Berry's Wildcats claimed two more
victories, the league title and No 1 seed and host spot into the post-season
Jeremy Senglin is the freshman of the year after hitting
40 percent from three and averaging 11.3 points a game and Weber sophomore Joel
Bolomboy, who led Weber State to the best defensive stats in the league, was
the conference's best defender.
Bolomboy is fifth in the nation in rebounding at just
short of 11.
Eastern Washington's Tyler Harvey, North Dakota's Troy
Huff, Northern Arizona's Quinton Upshur, the league's newcomer, and Mikh
McKinney of Sacramento State rounded out the first team.
Jamar, Huff, Berry and McKinney were unanimous
But in my opinion the starkest oversight, and no doubt
because of the fourth-seed, was the relegation of Jordan Gregory to honorable
Basically the first squad was made up entirely of guards
in a league that certainly was guard laden as Weber's Kyle Tresnak was the only
true center honored and he was second team.
But Gregory's contribution certainly deserved more accord
than honorable mention which he shared with Keron DeShields.
He stood 10th in scoring, just short of 14 per-game, was
second from the free-throw line at 87 percent, shot 44 percent overall and 38
percent from three, was eighth in minutes played and had a 53-38
Inconsistencies that have plagued the Grizzlies often
this season proved to be their undoing in the season finale and the resulting
defeat to Northern Arizona not only cost them two pairing positions but also
put them quite possibly on the champion Weber State side of the tournament
Here it is on the eve of a bus trip to Ogden, Utah, for
the seven-team Big Sky Conference Tournament where Montana will try to
But in quite a different scenario this season as Montana
enters the tournament on a foreign court and dropping to the number-four seed
after seeing a five game winning streak come stumbling to an end in Flagstaff.
The result leaves the Grizzlies to face five-seed
Portland State in the first round nightcap and unless there is an upset in one
of the first two games if they win would be destined to face the Wildcats in
the semi-final round Friday night.
And while the Vikings and Grizzlies have split games they
have played an extra 20 minutes against each other since both games were
decided in overtime sessions.
While both teams came out slow Saturday afternoon, the
Grizzlies trailed by but five points even after connecting on just five field
And in a game Montana never led they scratched and clawed
to a tie at 30 with about 16 to play.
But the Lumberjacks went on a 14-3 run and while the
Grizzlies cut the lead to one at the halfway mark, they could never get over
the hump in losing by 20 and only scoring 47 points.
They suffered their worst shooting game of the season
(28.9 percent) and were completely dominated on both boards (40-21) as the
Jacks won for the fourth consecutive game.
The Griz bench was outscored 32-9 with no reserve scoring
more than three while Kareem Jamar led Montana scoring with 15, the only
Montana player in double figures.
NAU snatched 15 offensive rebounds with put-backs and
second opportunities contributing to their 50 percent shooting from the field
Upshur paced three Lumberjacks in double figures as they match Montana's 12-8
league mark but along with North Dakota both have the tie breaker over Montana
to claim the two and three seed.
Last time around the Grizzlies survived a hot shooting
Sacramento State team with a torrid offensive performance of their own in
recording a 12-point victory.
Montana completes the regular season with road contests
at Sacramento and Flagstaff.
Even though they were outboarded and made but five treys,
the Grizzlies missed but eight shots in the second stanza in scoring 45 points
and claiming an 82-70 victory.
Even though the Hornets shot 54 percent they scored but
27 first-half points and trailed by 10 at the intermission.
The first time around was a game of guard scoring for Montana
as Kareem Jamar, Jordan Gregory and Keron DeShields combined for 51 points. or
60 percent of the offense with "Ream"
leading the way with 20.
Chris Kemp began his late-season surge with a then-career
high 10 to go along with seven rebounds and the Griz as usual took excellent
care of the orb with just nine turnovers.
But the Hornets buzz at home, winning 10 of 11 overall
and seven of eight conference outings in the always-active Nest.
They shoot 44.5 percent and average almost 70 while
giving up the same amount.
Sac State takes good care of the basketball and fill it
up from three averaging more than six a game, but they allow opponents more
They are ball hawkers grabbing almost seven steals an
One forte may be rebounding, not exactly a Griz strength
yet ever improving.
The Hornets have been outrebounded in just one a game,
while Montana is minus five in that regard.
Picked in the pre-season to finish seventh and eighth by
the coaches and media, Sac State has lost two straight to fall into a four-way
tie with a 9-9 mark and still battling to get in the tournament so there is a
lot on the line this week for the Hornets.
Portland State, Montana State and Eastern Washington are
tied with the Hornets for that sixth spot with ISU a game away.
The Bengals certainly could enhance their chances by
picking up a W at Eastern especially with league champ Weber State traveling to
But it may all come down to Saturday when six teams,
including Montana, finish up in the afternoon.
Well we're right down to it and even with North Dakota's
victory over Northern Colorado Tuesday, there's a whole lot to be determined in
this Big Sky Conference race in the last week preceding the seven-team
The two hottest teams in the circuit, that's right
Montana and North Dakota, claimed victories already this week but while UND
clinched a tournament spot and either a two or three seed, with 11 wins the
Grizzlies are just knocking on the door and not yet assured seeding or even a
With a pair of road games if the Grizzlies were to fall
twice and complete the regular season 11-9 a myriad of tie breaking
possibilities would exist especially given that Sacramento, Thursday's
opponent, has nine wins, and Northern Arizona, the finale is now 10 and 8.
North Dakota and Montana both have four-game winning
streaks while Northern Colorado fell for the fourth straight time.
Even Idaho State, with just eight league wins, has an
outside chance to get in and unseat teams above them in the standings with
closing wins over both Eastern Washington and Portland State, both teams with 9
and 9 marks.
Already with the host spot secure, Weber State also
finishes up on the road at Portland State and Eastern, while North Dakota could
match the Wildcats with wins as they finish at Southern Utah.
But Weber owns the tie breaker and thus the host position
and No. 1 seed.
After being swept by Montana, the Bobcats are fighting
for their proverbial life with road games at Northern Arizona and Sacramento
and with a 9 and 9 mark looks to at least have to split to have a chance to get
Getting to the 20-win pinnacle looks possible for Weber
and NAU, now with 16 and with a good road showing Montana can climb the hill
with a good tournament performance but it's bleak for anyone else leading one
to believe that the tournament champion, as I've written here before, could be
facing one of the two so called play-in games.
And that's sure not favorable for the conference and
would be a first.
But it is what occurs when the middle of the league is
comprised of teams who beat up on each other.
The Thunderbirds are still winless and headed to Missoula
for a Saturday contest but it wasn't for a lack of trying.
Southern Utah missed a shot at a streak-breaking victory
in regulation in Bozeman but fell in overtime to the Bobcats.
And thus speaks the Big Sky Conference this season as a
team with the nation's longest losing streak at 25 games takes the Cats to a
five-pointer in overtime.
And with the victory Montana State, Montana's final home
game of the season Monday night, evened their season mark and moved to 9-8 in
league, a half game back of the Grizzlies.
And since Eastern Washington dropped Northern Colorado,
Weber State not only broke the home win consecutive game record of Montana but
also clinched no worse than a tie for the league title.
The Bears fall for the first time this season at home
after 14 straight victories.
With a victory over Southern Utah Montana could inch
closer to the second spot while the Wildcats can clinch the tournament host
spot Saturday with a victory over Northern Arizona.
Southern Utah's Achilles has been lack of scoring. They
average but a league-worst 59.4 an outing, the result of being the worst
shooting team (.431) in the circuit.
But Montana won by just eight Jan. 30 in Cedar City and
if Thursday night is any indication second-year coach Nick Robinson still has
the Birds playing hard.
And talk about incentive - they can still figure into
this league race since after Montana they host North Dakota and Northern
It would be easy for this Griz team to look past SUU with
the Bobcat game right on the horizon and Tinks said on the radio Tuesday night
it is something the coaching staff talks about with their group, not something
that goes unsaid.
The Thunderbirds start a single senior, Jaren Jeffrey in
the post, along with a quartet of underclassman.
Sophomore forward A.J. Hess leads the T-Birds in scoring
at 9.1 with no player in double figures.
Casey OIiverson leads from the field at 55 percent and
has seen starting time at both the four and the five.
In Cedar City, the Griz trailed by three at the half but
missed just seven of 20 attempts after intermission but didn't secure the
margin until about three minutes remaining.
It's senior night and the final home game for league MVP
Kareem Jamar and fifth year senior Eric Hutchison.
And it's Fan Appreciation Night as well from 4:30-6:30 in
the East Auxiliary Gym. Now really who doesn't enjoy a $1 hotdog?
When you are just three games better than even and
fighting for your post-season livelihood you'd thinking facing a team with the
nation's longest losing streak wouldn't be much of a challenge.
The Grizzlies have a call-in-the-score game against the
Thunderbirds in Missoula right?
Well really nothing could be further from the truth as
after 24 straight losses going into Thursday's game against Montana State and
being the only Big Sky Conference team already eliminated from post-season
tournament possibilities, the Montana trip is of the utmost of importance to
It's their Super Bowl, their Masters, their NCAA
Tournament, it's their season maker.
And I can vividly remember in 1999 under the tutelage of
Don Holst when the Grizzlies were facing a Sacramento State game with a lofty
losing streak against league opponents - the numbers have faded but it might
have been 38 straight - when the Hornets decisioned the Griz by three in the
midst of our own seven-game losing streak.
Now while it is true you can't find the Thunderbirds
listed in the top few of any team or individual statistical category and they
stand last in the nation in RPI yet fourth in the circuit in strength of
But they played Montana to an eight-point game less than
a month ago in Cedar City while holding Montana to one of its lower offensive
outputs of the season (69 points).
And quite frankly this Montana team has not shown the
prowess that they could afford to look past anybody but with the Bobcats in
town two days later in a rare Monday matchup, just like in Bozeman, I suppose
while damn if I understand, that taking Southern Utah for granted is a
You see there are peaks and lulls during a basketball
season and while not to demean Idaho State in any way, but some of the
lackadaisical effort against the Bengals might have come as a result of an
emotional performance against Weber State two days earlier.
ISU had four games in eight days with a short bench but I
agree with Tinks that at times it looked like the Grizzlies, with a long bench,
were the fatigued team.
To win the tournament you need to play well three
consecutive nights and you can't just turn on the switch. Like I often say:
It's not yet crunch time but you can see it right down the street.
Big Sky Conference teams have combined for just 26 road
victories thus far this season and it is not a surprise that while the
circuit's two front runners have a combined 10 losses, both Weber State and
Northern Colorado are perfect in eight games at home.
And like Montana with four games remaining in the regular
season, the Wildcats and the Bears are home for a pair of contests this week.
Weber State looks to clinch at least a tie for the title
with games against suddenly upstart Sacramento State and Northern Arizona while
Northern Colorado tries to gain a split with Eastern Washington and Portland
State, teams they lost to earlier in the season.
The Wildcats (15-9) have moved into 25th in the Mid-Major
poll while Northern Colorado (10-6) continue to receive votes. Coming into the
week, only a quartet of league teams have winning records.
If the Wildcats sweep and Northern Colorado loses one
game, Weber clinches the outright title and the host spot for the seven-team
tournament that starts March 13.
The surprise team of league play certainly is Sacramento
State, which was picked seventh and eighth in pre-season polls. The Hornets are
10-2 in the Hornet's Nest and face Montana the last week of the regular season.
They've won seven straight conference home games, the
program's longest Division-1 streak, and at 9-7 are tied for third with Montana
and North Dakota. If they finish at .500 or above it would be the first time in
Sacramento State's D-1 history and a trip to the tourney would be their first
But it's a crucial stretch for the Hornets since like
Eastern Washington they play three games this week.
The league moved up a spot in RPI this week but still
rank just 25th with the Grizzlies in the league's third RPI position behind
Weber and UNC.
Saturday night's opponent, Southern Utah, after winning
their first game have lost a nation-leading 24 straight with a game at Bozeman
Amazingly three games separate the second place team from
the 10th spot.
The Grizzlies are in the midst of quite a run and it
couldn't come at a better time as the Big Sky Conference race winds to
With a quartet of games remaining in the regular season
and winners of six of their last eight, yet still just in a three-way tie for
third, Montana has positioned themselves by building momentum for the stretch
No one that I have talked to can remember when there has
been this much parity in the league this late in the season and especially
notable to me is the Idaho State team just defeated by one Saturday holds wins
over Weber State and Northern Colorado, the top two teams in the circuit.
But what is even more interesting is that at 7-9 those two
marquee wins may not have an opportunity to figure into the tiebreaker since
the Bengals will have to finish strong to even make their way into the
Home court may figure prominently and of course so will
who you play in the last 20 percent of the schedule.
The Grizzlies have winless Southern Utah at the end of
this week in Missoula, then the Bobcats at Dahlberg Arena two days later before
hitting the road with the finale at Sacramento and Flagstaff.
The growth and added maturity of this Griz team over the
last few weeks has been encouraging and a testament to the patience of a
coaching staff which hasn't had the easiest job this season.
Mario Dunn Jr. continues to amaze me and although he
failed to register a bunch of steals in the Idaho State game, his cat-like
quickness and sudden emergence as an outside offensive threat is paying
dividends and causing opponents nightmares.
But this run goes deeper than any single player and while
league MVP Kareem Jamar often is offensively unstoppable just go down the
roster and you can pick out a myriad of contributions on both sides of the
But kudos to you the Griz faithful for vocally supporting
this endeavor and turning Dahlberg Arena into an imposing atmosphere fueled by
student-athletes gathered behind the north bucket-the north end zone "wackos"
if you will of the Adams Center.
And you have two more chances ... I sincerely hope you'll
choose to be a part of it all.
Sometimes winning just tastes more special when it
arrives in small doses.
But defeating league front-runner Weber State Thursday
night left a sweet taste in my mouth all the way up the Mission Valley to
Polson and beyond.
And not just because Montana continued its recent
Missoula mastery over the Wildcats but because the Grizzlies played as close to
a 40-minute game as they have this season.
And it should come as no surprise that as we close in on
the completion of the regular season the Grizzlies lay down their finest effort
and set the stage for a stretch run to the post season.
Three consecutive home games are surely not a given and
the end-of-season journey to Sacramento and Flagstaff are a steep hill to climb
but you know what I have to say about hills and climbers.
With the tournament host spot yet to be determined and so
many circuit teams hovering slightly better than .500 and the league's low
ranking, I have to agree with my pal Carl Arky, the Voice of the Wildcats, that
the tournament winner that receives the berth into the NCAA Championships may
come in the form of a play-in game for the first time.
It continues with Idaho State in Missoula Saturday night
with a myriad of teams, including the Bengals, fighting for a tournament spot
and higher seeding.
Thursday's game was high-energy and fast paced and the
kind of game I'd pay to broadcast. It was just a blast and for this guy who had
a stroke last summer, made me think while I'm not hankerin' to have it occur,
wouldn't it just be a broadcasters dream to go out that way.
Such unselfish play by Montana always pays dividends and
of course Kareem Jamar, well he needs no introduction. He is just terrific and
Saturday night will move into the top 20 in league scoring as he inches towards
Montana top five.
The crowd didn't have the numbers one might anticipate
given who was playing but the ones in attendance were terrific and required
little prodding to rock and roll. And the student section behind Weber's
second-half bucket played a role and I'm sure had fun doing so.
Let's do it again Saturday night.
Think about this:
In the 50-year history of the Big Sky Conference just 23
players including Montana's Larry Krystowiak and Andrew Strait, have scored
more points than senior wing Kareem Jamar.
And if he hits his 20 point or so average Thursday night
in Missoula against Weber State "Reem" will inch within a decent first half
Saturday of moving into the league's top 20.
But if you think finishing his career in the top five of
all-time Griz scorers is more important to Kareem than how many dimes he dishes
as he moves toward the top of that list, you'd be mistaken.
With six points vs. Weber State Jamar moves past Wildcat
legend Willie Sojourner and into 23rd on the all-time list but with 386, he
stands fifth on Montana's all-time assist list with the chance of surpassing
former teammate Will Cherry this week.
And if Montana is to be successful against the Wildcats
and then Idaho State, Jamar's contribution in both areas is crucial.
While with an upset overtime loss to Idaho State earlier
this week cut Weber's league lead to just two games over Northern Colorado and
left them standing three better than North Dakota and Northern Arizona, Weber
looks like the team to beat even though they haven't been a great road team and
four of their last six are away from Dee Events Center.
Randy Rahe teams have lost just 27 league games in his
eight-year tenure in Ogden, just short of 80 percent far and away the league's
The Wildcats allow just 65 points an outing but Idaho
State scored 70 in regulation Monday night and added eight overtime points to
secure the upset.
But was the outcome an anomaly or was Weber just unable
to solve the zone which I'm sure Montana will employ plenty of Thursday.
Weber has given up just 36 percent from long range during
league play but surrendered nine of 18 treys to Idaho State.
Kyle Tresnak is a giant presence near the rim and Joel
Bolomboy of course is the circuit's top boarder but I think the Griz bench
figures paramount in this one.
Weber is thin there and played Monday night and will play
in Bozeman on Saturday.
Montana's won the last four over the Wildcats in Missoula
and with just a taste of good fortune, they'll make it five straight.
look at the last time the Grizzlies faced Weber State pretty much paints a
picture of what
must improve for Montana to prevail in Missoula Thursday night.
win over the Wildcats not only presents a prime opportunity to elevate the Griz
in the league
in the first of four home league games but also brings a myriad of tie breaker
Colorado swept the grizzlies, has a win over the Wildcats and more than likely
No. 2 seed into the seven-team Big Sky Conference post-season.
Sacramento State and now Idaho State also beat Weber and currently are tied
at 7-7 for the last spot into the tournament putting pressure on Montana to
victory over the potential league champ.
Montana has both Sacramento State and Idaho State remaining on their schedule
to sweep either team since they prevailed in Pocatello and in Missoula over the
last game in Ogden was indeed a dog fight with 15 lead changes and 11 ties
five points I suppose could be traced to the free throw line where the Wildcats
opportunities and scored that five additional points but that is deceiving
given late fouling
Montana to attempt to cut into the deficit.
a 48 percent first half, the Grizzlies made just 10 of 27 second half field
goals and were
five of 14 from outside the arc where for the game they connected on nine shots
at a 50
Joel Bolomboy, who stands fifth in the country in rebounding, captured 19
a half dozen on the offensive end, and Weber controlled the glass by eight.
Berry probably is going to get his points and the 25 he scored the first time
five better than his league average but redshirt freshman Kyndahl Hill scorched
the bench hitting all five of his field goal attempts.
quintet of grizzlies, including a pair of starters, scored just two points
while Mike Weisner
Montana's bench spark with 17.
night ISU matched the Wildcats on the glass and while making eight less free
less attempts, shot 55 percent in regulation, hit three of eight in OT while
of Bill Evans held the Wildcats to 41.4 percent, about seven percent less than
ISU didn't allow an OT field goal in the last 2:20 while holding the Cats to
just five points in the extra session.
the key was guard Chris Hansen, who netted 27 to offset Berry's 20, and drained
all four of his quartet of treys, connected on 8 of 16 overall and added seven
consecutive free throws.
a "W" Wayne Tinkle can move into a tie with Mike Montgomery for second all-time
on the career list and while there's still time, Montana would sure like to
notch this one in the left hand column.
another side note, Utah State's Stew Morrill, the former Grizzly mentor, stands
one win from No. 600, an amazing accomplishment.
Except for the one season that Northern Colorado claimed
the league title Big Sky Conference basketball has virtually been dominated by
Montana and Weber State.
The Wildcats are headed to Missoula Thursday for a
rematch of the Big Sky Conference tournament championship game in three of the
last four seasons.
Now while those outcomes are so unlikely suffice it to
say that Weber State won the regular season matchup in Ogden the last seven
times the two teams have met but even in 2011 when UNC won the tournament it
was the Grizzlies that ended Weber's season in the tournament's semi-final
Now granted it was a one-point miracle Griz win in Ogden
in the tourney in 2010 when Anthony Johnson stole the show and just a three
pointer in Missoula last year but a win is a win and let's face it when it
counted most the Grizzlies have been up to the task.
Montana has won the last four regular season matchups in
Missoula but Thursday's game is a different animal.
The Wildcats, who were picked by both the media and
coaches to displace the Grizzlies at the top of the circuit this year, while
not exactly dominate have a solid lead in the standings.
But curiously they lost by 19 at Northern Colorado and
suffered a surprising overtime decision at Sacramento State. Then of course
Weber State also dropped last night's Montana contest to Idaho State.
But the Wildcats are hitting just short of half of their
field goal attempts, allow a league low 42 percent from the field, hold
opponents to 64 points-per-game and are dominant on the boards.
Senior Davion Berry, an all-league and all-District
performer last year, leads with better than a 20-point average accompanied by
almost five rebounds and four assists.
Solid at all starting positions, the Wildcats are
anchored in the post by 6-foot 10 Kyle Tresnak yet off the wing Joel Bolomboy
amazingly is corralling better than a dozen rebounds an outing in league while
contributing almost 10 points.
Along with point guard Jordan Richardson it might seem
like they've been in Ogden forever since they both played as true frosh and
Richardson is a game short of the league record in games started.
It's all about D especially since the Griz have been
porous allowing better than 48 percent in league play.
Join us for the Hoop Show tonight at 6 p.m. from Dickie's
The Grizzlies dropped deep in the Big Sky standings after
being swept in consecutive road games by teams they entered the week tied with
in the listing.
Montana rebounded from a double-digit deficit to make it
interesting but couldn't quite climb the hill in Grand Forks falling to North
UND went on a rampage at the game's start and again after
the intermission but the Grizzlies kept working back into the contest and with
a trey attempt by Mario Dunn, who put up career scoring numbers, could have
been in a one-possession game late in the going.
But it was his only miss of the afternoon and Montana could
get no closer than the five points which ended up being the final margin.
Montana missed but 10 of 23 field goal attempts in the
second half at the Sioux Center and beat an opponent on the boards for only the
third time all season but 17 turnovers along with a dozen North Dakota steals -
four each by Troy Huff and Jamal Webb - ultimately spelled doom to drop Montana
to 7-7 in league play.
And with four of the final six games at home, it's a case
of struggling for post-season seeding to avoid facing the second-place team in
the opening round of the first-ever and probably last seven-team tournament.
But with tie-breaker implications still looming with
league-leading Weber State coming to town Thursday night a victory over the
Wildcats could loom large.
The aforementioned Dunn netted 17 and while just a 60
percent shooter connected on seven consecutive free throws and a near-career
high seven rebounds - all on the defensive end - to join a trio of other
Grizzlies in double figures.
But UND's leading scorer Troy Huff netted 18 on 15 shots
and Jason Nash was an efficient nine of 13 from the field for 19 points to more
than offset the Grizzly scorers.
Mike Weisner continued his strong bench play with a pair
of treys and a dozen points but he was all there was off the Grizzly bench as
four of the other five who played were scoreless and only Riley Bradshaw had a
Kareem Jamar led the way with 18 but uncharacteristically
had six of Montana's 17 turnovers as league play moves into the home stretch.
It was a game
effort for the Grizzlies in Greeley, Colo, but while it took an overtime peiord
Northern Colorado survived to win for the 12th straight time at home.
battled back from an 11-point second half deficit after leading at the half by
two and went toe-to-toe in an effort to claim sole possession of second place
and avenge the UNC 11-point victory in Missoula.
in fact had the opportunity to claim the W in regulation as they had the ball
with 12.7 seconds to go but as time ran out a forced trey by Kareem Jamar was
short and the two teams headed for OT tied at 77.
outscored the Grizzlies 20-10 in the first six-plus minutes but partially
behind the long-range bombs of Mike Weisner Montana kept battling back in a
game with double-figure lead changes and ties.
was limited to about eight minutes besieged with foul trouble in the first half
but led Griz scorers with 21
when a team uses that much energy to try to climb even, especially on the road,
they can't quite climb the hill but Montana displayed a load of character to
push Northern Colorado to the limit but late in the game and the OT they had no
answer for Tate Unruh and several times the defense broke down allowing the
Bears to get to the rim uncontested.
Colorado was a torrid 66 percent from the field in the second half and dropped
in four of five overtime opportunities while the Grizzlies hit just two of six
in the extra period.
"We blew an
opportunity here," said Wayne Tinkle. "Defensively we just didn't do a very
good production at times inside and even though they were cold from long range
in the first half, the trey kept bringing them back in the crunch even though
they attempted 29 from outside the arc.
DeShields, Jordan Gregory, Weisner and Mario Dunn Jr. all were in double
figures with Keron dropping in 20 with aggressive drives to the bucket.
With the Cats
winning at North Dakota they jump into a tie with Montana and UND with 7-6 marks.
afternoon game Saturday in Grand Forks with the pre-game at 12:30 p.m.
It is a pivotal week for Griz hoop as the winter road
Montana challenges unbeatan-at-home Northern Colorado in
Greeley tonight with at least a share of second place at stake.
In the meantime, Montana State travels to Grand Forks to
face North Dakota also tied for the runner-up spot behind Weber State with just
two games separating second and 10th in the league standings.
With a W Wayne Tinkle ties Mike Montgomery for second on
the career wins list of course far back of arena namesake Jiggs Dahlberg who
was at the helm twice and accumulated 222 victories.
In eight full seasons Monty, now the head coach at Cal,
accumulated 154 wins in his eight seasons between 1979-1986 while Tinks is on
the verge of securing the tying mark with seven regular season games left after
tonight in his eight season career.
He also is tied for seventh most all-time in league play
with former Gonzaga University mentor Hank Anderson.
But tonight's hill is steep but no hill for a climber you
The Bears are 11-0 at Butler-Hancock Pavillion but have
lost four straight on the road since being tied with Weber State for the league
They fell at Portland State amazingly by 23, dropped a
four-pointer in OT to Eastern Washington, fell by three to Idaho State and most
recently were defeated by the Wildcats by 14.
Senior guard Tate Unruh is the trigger man for the Bears,
scoring more than a 1,000 points and averaging a dozen a game while shooting 39
percent from long range.
But at power forward Derrick Barden averages 14 an outing
and yanks down better than eight caroms while connecting on 56 percent of his
field goal attempts.
Montana has won five of six over Northern Colorado before
the Bears defeated the Griz in Missoula earlier this season and have enjoyed
good fortune in Greeley winning the last three times there.
But the Bears prevailed by 11 in Missoula the last time
around with deep bench play and outrebounding Montana 31-15.
But this is a far different Montana unit since that
mid-January matchup and you can bet the Unruh-Barden duo will not net 40 points
between them Thursday night.
An important outing.
Remember back in
late January after the Grizzlies lost to Northern Colorado at Dahlberg Arena
84-73 to fall below .500 overall and a loser in four of six Big Sky Conference
It's been mostly roses since then and ironically the
Bears are next on the agenda.
Montana hits the road on this Wednesday flying into
Denver for the short car trip to Greeley where a Northern Colorado team has
fallen on hard times since they were riding high upon defeating the Grizzlies
The Bears have lost four straight and fell from the
league pinnacle, now occupied by just once-beaten Weber State, and into a tie
for the league's third spot shared by the Grizzlies.
And while it could be described as teams headed in
opposite directions keep in mind Northern Colorado has yet to lose in 11 games
at the Hancock Center and with six of eight circuit games at home will figure a
strong finish and a building of late-season momentum looms on their agenda.
And while they don't draw huge numbers in Greeley, it
certainly can be a raucous and intimidating place for a visiting team.
The Griz have done an admirable job of moving in the
right direction and with a trio of road wins made up for a pair of early league
home losses and have set the table for a late-season run of their own to the
seven-team tournament with the Wildcats very close to clinching the host spot
and first-round bye.
And they have done so currently with a four game win
streak since losing at Weber, and while they have played superbly at times,
Montana has yet to put together a complete 40-minute outing.
Tinks seems to have settled on the starting lineup
featuring freshman Mario Dunn Jr. at the point, Andy Martin anchoring the five
slot, and junior sharpshooter Mike Weisner playing the best hoop of his Griz
career coming early off the bench.
The recent added maturation of JC transfer Chris Kemp
also brings a different element especially on the offensive glass which has
been a Griz liability.
Montana has a quartet of home games book-ended by four
road games before the league tournament in the middle of March.
Tiebreakers and seeding begins to be the talk of the day.
Did I tell you this Big Sky Conference race to the
tournament was going to be crazy?
While Weber State remains the prohibitive favorite to
claim the regular season title and thus the right to host the seven-team post
season, everything else is sure up in the air with all but Southern Utah in the
The Griz face one of the stiffest road trips of the
season, not just because of the competition with teams sharing their spot in
the standings, but because of the sheer travel to Greeley, Colorado, and Grand
Forks, North Dakota.
Weber State sports a three-game lead on the field and
play six of their last eight in Ogden but nine of the 11 league teams are
currently within two games of each other.
Northern Colorado looks to end a four-game slide Thursday
when the Bears, winners of 12 straight at home, host the hot Grizzlies, winners
of four straight.
UNC's home win streak stands as the 18th longest in the
And it certainly is not too early to start thinking about
tie-breakers and Montana has a great opportunity in facing the Bears and North
Dakota, tied with the Grizzlies with 7-5 marks.
But the going won't be easy as road teams have broken
through just 16 times in 65 league games to this point but Montana has one more
road win (3) than any other league team.
And keep in mind the Bears claimed an 11-point decision
over Montana in Missoula in mid-January.
The Bears have fallen out of the Mid-Major rankings but
stand just ahead of the Grizzlies in RPI as the Griz jumped 31 spots to 193
well back of Weber State's 157.
For the Bears it's all about Tate Unruh and the trey. He
stands 13th in circuit history with 211 makes while Derrick Barden is Mr. League
rebound and has seven straight double-figure scoring games.
Barden has yanked down 17 caroms in two games this season
and averages better than eight a contest.
And the Bears can light it up from the field, leading the
league in field goal percentage at 48.8 percent, 14th best in the country.
Montana slightly outshoots UNC from deep and leads the
league in that category.
Quite a key matchup.
The Big Sky Conference is going to be an interesting run to the finish line.
It took an extra five minutes as the Grizzlies went to overtime again with Portland State but this time prevailed to move into a tie with the Vikings and North Dakota, a game out of second.
Montana dodged the bullet because with less than a second remaining the Vikings had a couple of attempts but when the ball finally rang the bucket bell it was just after the buzzer and thus an extra five minutes ensued in which the Grizzlies claimed victory.
And in the first extra period it was all about Keron DeShields who netted all but two of the 13 points to push Montana to a six-point verdict.
DeShields, who got an extended place on the pine in disfavor during regulation and played but 26 minutes put the Grizzlies on his shoulders in the OT and finished with 19 points to push Montana to 6-5, the league mark shared by the Vikings.
PSU jumped Montana at the forefront and moved to a 10-2 advantage less than three minutes into the game but while the score was tied nine times and the lead changed hands five times it was Montana that fought to a 22-20 advantage then an eight-point halftime advantage.
But the same Vikings would not go away and while the Griz led by six with some nine minutes to go Portland State tied it at 60 with three and half to go and it was anybody's game from there.
A DeShields lay-up with 16 seconds remaining gave PSU the last opportunity in regulation but a Kyle Richardson banker came after the buzzer and sent the game to OT for the second time between the two teams this season.
It was back and forth to the regulation's buzzer but Montana never trailed in the OT - it was tied at 71 - and waltzed away with the thriller to win for the fourth time in five games.
Kareem Jamar matched the 19 of Keron and passed Will Cherry on the all-time scoring list with his sights on Wayne Tinkle some four points away while Mike Weisner supplied the first-half offense with 15 points.
Eastern, a blowout victor over the Cats, is next tonight. Pre-game at 6:30 on your way to the Arena.
Needless to say Wednesday certainly was an exciting day for Griz Nation as high schoolers made their football intentions and aspirations known.
The approach of Letter of Intent Signing Day always is an interesting time and not just because then it is officially revealed to what institution a player will display his wares.
But it also is a day of validation for the recruiting effort by devoted coaches who have been on the trail for months evaluating where a player or if a player fits into the school's plan and then whether they can convince him or her it is the right decision for all involved.
Many prospects choose to call a local journalist and make a verbal commitment, something the coaches are not allowed to talk about until it becomes official with the arrival of a signed document indicating the official commitment.
And in fact coaches prefer to have a prospect, especially one who is coveted by a host of other schools, to make that verbal commitment in advance even though it is not official or binding believing I suppose that a verbal might cause competing schools to back off.
But in most cases if a blue-chip athlete is that coveted competing schools continue to put on the pressure and quote reasons why an athlete should change their mind instead of signing a Letter of Intent to with the competing institution.
Tuesday was a sleepless night for coaches as they awaited the arrival of teenage signatures that later could determine their coaching future.
Grizzly hoop took a step forward not just in the Big Sky Conference standings with the hard-earned win over Montana State and amazingly at the halfway mark moved within three games of the league lead occupied by Weber State.
No other circuit team has three road wins like Montana but two home losses leave the Grizzlies tied with the Cats at 5-5 instead of even closer to the league lead.
It took an extra 15 minutes (triple OT) in Portland to decide the last matchup with the Vikings in a game where the Grizzlies seemed securely in control but eventually lost 90-87.
The Vikings haven't had good fortune in Missoula, losing 14 of 17 but have won six of seven with one of those wins a 28-point trouncing of then league leader Northern Colorado
Portland State has a game lead over the Grizzlies (6-4) and stand just two games back of the league lead tied with North Dakota and Northern Arizona.
It is always a marathon but we're getting close to the turn for home with every game and every possession seeming to have greater importance.
And protecting the home court at this point is a necessity.
The way the Grizzlies came out of the gate at Worthington Arena Monday night, connecting on seven of their first 10 field goal attempts and breaking to a double-digit advantage, when the fire alarm went off one might have thought somebody in the crowd pulled the alarm to break the momentum.
I guess on the return trip from the east, the frigid wintery conditions jumped aboard and came back with me to western Montana. But the brisk wind and chill that dropped game-time temps to double digits below zero didn't slow the enthusiasm of 3,400 in attendance hungry for a Bobcat win recently dominated by the Grizzlies.
And the Bobcats, while they never led in the game, gave them plenty to be excited about with consistent runs to slice down the Montana advantage but to no avail as for every step Montana State took forward the Grizzlies refused to fold and won in Bozeman for the fourth straight time and seventh time overall in the cross-state matchup.
Wayne Tinkle has had their number winning 12 of 16 matchups in his eighth season but it's always a barnburner and this one certainly didn't disappoint.
But at 7:37 p.m. when the lights started blinking, spectators started for the exits, and the fire alarm blared it did cause pause because to send folks out into the bitter cold and teams back to the locker room would not have been a good deal.
In 29 years of broadcasting sports I've seen a lot of stoppages but never a fire alarm and compliments to the MSU staff who quickly determined it was just an electrical malfunction and the veteran Big Sky officiating crew that kept the games stoppage at a minimum.
While the win took Montana to an even league mark at the turn in the schedule, It was far from a complete game as this group continues to struggle with consistency but contrary to what you might have heard on television - I know why you would be listening to them instead of me - it's yet to be determined how this group compares to championship teams of the last two seasons.
Facing a favorable second-half schedule there's quite a ways to go as the Griz play for post-season conference tournament seeding but winning again in Bozeman-now that was priceless.
Already at the league's halfway pole the week kicks off with the cross-state matchup with the Bobcats.
Wayne Tinkle takes his Grizzlies into Bozeman for a rare Monday night game against Montana State.
It sure is a different schedule as the Bobcats won by two in Cedar City Saturday night to return for a Monday home game while the Grizzlies play three games in six days this week but at least the last two are in Missoula.
Being victorious in Bozeman where Tinkle teams are 5-2 in his tenure would pay huge dividends by evening the league mark at five, moving into a tie with the Cats and out of a four-way tie for seventh in the league standings.
Montana State dodged a bullet Saturday night with a two-point win in a game where Paul Egwuonwu, the team's second leading scorer, was dressed yet remained unexplainably on the bench throughout.
MSU is an average shooting team - about 45 percent - but with some 10 players with playing experience. They played nine against Southern Utah.
Tinks sees controlling the glass - an area where the Griz have been challenged this season - as a key to being able to get out on transition, something that has been a Griz staple at times.
And like Montana the Bobcats have not been an effective rebounding team and have been even a little stable in that area in conference games.
Montana is winners of two of the last three on the road while the Cats were mired in a three-game losing streak before the win Saturday in Cedar City.
Controlling Flavien Davis, who is averaging 13 in conference play, is yet another key, according to Tinks. He netted 16 against Southern Utah as the Cats rebounded from a four-point halftime deficit.
Like the Grizzlies the Bobcats have a favorable remaining schedule with six of their last 10 at Brick Breeden Field House.
In beating the team with an 18-game losing streak, the Bobcats were but 19 of 53 from the field and just 3 of 11 from outside the arc where their defense allows more than seven makes a game.
You can bet Worthington Arena will be rockin' but Grizzly veterans have been plenty successful in that raucous environment.
Go Griz but man it is a great day to be a Seahawk.
It took a gritty come-from-behind effort but the Grizzlies captured the second of three road games with Bozeman next on Monday.
Montana rebounded from a less than awe-inspiring first half effort to upend winless Southern Utah 69-61 Thursday.
After connecting on just seven first half field goals and going to the locker room down just by three a well-timed trey by Kareem Jamar pushed Montana to a 56-52 advantage they would never relinquish.
And once Montana took the lead they put the pedal down with crucial treys also added by Jordan Gregory and Keron DeShields to send the Thunderbirds to their 17th consecutive loss and nine straight in the Big Sky Conference.
And it was DeShields off an Andy Martin block that converted the run-out to push the Montana lead to 64-56 and while Southern Utah clawed a bit from there Montana slammed the door shut to pick up their second circuit road win and balance off the two league home losses.
While the score was tied 11 times and there were 15 lead changes that really doesn't tell the story of the second half as the Grizzlies knocked down five of seven treys and turned the ball over but twice to advance their league mark to 4-5 and even their overall record at nine.
After shooting 31.8 percent in the opening period Montana missed but seven second-half shots in 20 attempts (65 percent) to develop maybe just a taste of momentum headed to Montana State to meet the Cats who must travel to Cedar City for a Saturday game.
Kareem Jamar again led the way with 25, his eighth game with more than 20 points, and added five of the team's 10 assists on 20 buckets.
Yet again Montana was outrebounded (30-24), this time by the worst rebounding team in the league, but they more than offset the disparity by connecting on 22 of 33 at the charity stripe, making more throws than SUU attempted.
Gregory joined a quartet in double figures with 15 while DeShields added a dozen and Mario Dunn scored nine points in the first four-plus second half minutes to finish with 11.
The Montana bench contributed but four points in 51 minutes of playing time but Andy Martin made the most of nine minutes with four rebounds, a bucket, two assists and a pair of blocks.
And the Grizzlies got out on the break four times while making the most of the T-Birds 14 turnovers with 15 points.
Approaching the halfway pole a win in Bozeman could have huge seeding implications and with six of the last eight at Dalberg Arena would well improve Montana's lot.
It's game day in Cedar City and actually quite a favorable deal with Montana's next opponent, Montana State, having to meet the Thunderbirds on Saturday and worry about getting back to Bozeman for Monday's meeting with the Griz.
The Grizzlies on Thursday face the team with the nation's longest losing streak but also one of the least experienced in the country as well.
It's been a disappointing season thus far for second-year head man Nick Robinson who took SUU to a sixth place finish and a league post season berth in his first season.
They were 11-20 and winners of just eight of 20 in league but that got the T-Birds a sixth place finish and a tournament spot.
The season also handed Robinson a finalist spot in the voting for the Joe B Hall Award for first-year coaches and put a couple of players on the all-conference listing.
Coaches picked Southern Utah to finish last this season while the media tabbed them tenth.
This is just the sixth home game for Southern Utah which also can skew a record. SUU is a low scoring lot, averaging just some 56 points a game and shooting 38 percent. Opponents score some 75 points being outscored by that margin the T-Birds are at the bottom of the circuit in that regard.
Southern Utah also is last in the league in rebound margin having been outboarded by almost nine an outing.
Freshman point guard Trey Kennedy is leading the scoring at almost 11 an outing while shooting just 39 percent from the field and just 30 percent from three.
They feature a three-guard look with just a single upperclassman in the starting quintet and junior Chris Nsenki (say Nuh SEN key) is averaging just 2.6 an outing and shooting just 26 percent from the field.
Power forward A. J. Hess provides some of the offense, hitting at a nine-point clip while shooting 39 from long-range.
The Thunderbirds got a bit of a lift off the bench last week when freshman wing McKay Anderson hit for a career best eight at Eastern and followed that with a dozen at Portland State.
But he hit seven of eight shots with six of seven from outside the arc.
Tom Schultz has the call from the Centrum with pre-game at 6:30 p.m.
There's plenty on the table and it won't be easy as Montana visits the team with the nation's longest losing streak Thursday.
Yes it's true the Thunderbirds of Southern Utah, home-based in Cedar City have the nation's longest losing streak at 16 and with but a single win over Arizona Christian.
But they just gave Weber State a run at the Purple Palace, eventually losing 65-59, played Eastern Washington to a seven-point game at Cheney and lost most recently 67-64 at Portland State.
The Thunderbirds played a plenty difficult non-conference schedule featuring the likes of Utah State, California, both of course coached by former Grizzly mentors, Portland, Northridge, UNLV, San Diego and San Diego State.
And while admittedly they have been trounced in a few outings they opened the season losing by just four at North Dakota and like the Grizzlies play six of their last eight at home only interrupted by the Montana swing.
In other words the league's last place team is in the spoiler role and you can bet they'll notch a surprise or two before the season culminates.
Former Stanford standout Nick Robinson has had a rough go in Cedar City, winning just a dozen of 48 outings in two seasons but you can bet he'll have his young team gunning for the two-time defending champion.
Their non-conference menu ranked as the 46th toughest in the nation and second in the league and nicely benefitted their hoop budget.
And it's not easy travel after you land in Salt Lake City and travel by bus a couple of hours north of Arizona.
The Centrum, the Birds' home venue, is a pleasant hoop venue where the Griz have spilt a half-dozen games with Southern Utah before they joined the Big Sky Conference.
One of the youngest teams in the country with a roster boasting just 10 years of collegiate experience, SUU has five true freshmen, three of which have played in every contest.
And while they've been pretty stable with true frosh Trey Kennedy getting the starting nod in all but one game at the point and sophomore A.J Hess at the four starting all but a quartet of games, they're not afraid of going down the bench and using a myriad of combinations.
Don't think by any means this one is an easy proposition.
There's nothing like a long bus trip for a team after a big win or a road sweep. The mood is just lighter, the sleep easier and maybe the movie more enjoyable.
But for this edition of Grizzly basketball maybe just part of that was true and they knocked on the door but couldn't kick it down at one of the toughest venues in the league to be victorious.
It's been a decade since the Grizzlies have swept the I-15 road trip and Weber State has captured 24 straight league games at Dee Events Center.
But you might remember that in the last two years in the chipper it was Montana that ended Weber State's season by winning the Big Sky Conference tournament title and claiming the circuit's automatic berth to the NCAA Championships.
That also is two seasons when the Grizzlies lost in Ogden and still produced memorable seasons with just a pair of league losses.
But winning at Weber could have had gigantic seeding possibilities in the post season tournament because I see few teams with an opportunity to win there making it figure prominently when it comes to the tie breaker.
But now at 3-5, yet with a critical road breakthrough at Idaho State, the Grizzlies approach the halfway pole and facing games at Southern Utah and in Bozeman before getting back to the home confines.
But the tough early-season road run leaves the Griz playing six of their last eight at Dahlberg Arena where the crowds have increased and they've proved it can be as tough a venue as anywhere in the league.
Saturday they could have thrown it in, down by eight with five or so to go. While trailing just by four at the intermission, they battled gamely after tying the game at 50 but the Wildcats jumped to a nine-point lead and while the Griz trailed by just four with 1:40 to go couldn't get it to a one possession situation to make things interesting.
But while they netted nine treys - three each by Jordan Gregory and Mike Weisner - field goals in the crunch came hard as Montana shot just 37 percent after the break.
Cedar City and Southern Utah await Thursday night.
There are no such things as must wins with this many games to go but Thursday night's come-from-behind Griz victory in Pocatello was indeed meaningful.
The Grizzlies moved into a tie with Idaho State in the Big Sky Conference race with 3-4 records.
Montana maintained its recent mastery over the Bengals by rebounding from a nine-point first half deficit to pull away at the end prevailing 59-54.
For Idaho State it was the second league loss in four days after falling to Weber State at Ogden on Monday.
Tied at 52 with two-plus minutes to play the Bengals moved to a bucket advantage but wouldn't score from there as a late trey by Mario Dunn Jr, who started for the second time in his career, sealed the deal.
It was league MVP Kareem Jamar who took the helm in practice this week being outspoken about his and his team's efforts to this point in the conference race and voicing leadership.
So maybe it was ironic that for the first time this season Jamar didn't score in double figures instead distributing and getting his teammates involved and in better offensive position.
Jamar did score seven points but it was his nine assists that jumps off the stat sheet.
"Kareem was very unselfish," said an obviously excited Wayne Tinkle in the post game radio interview.
And while junior guard Jordan Gregory couldn't buy a trey early on missing four of his first five, he kept shooting and his consecutive quartet of threes played a huge role in the second half comeback.
He finished five of nine from outside the arc and led the way with 21 points.
Tinks described it as "a great team win ... a chemistry builder" if you will and with the win the victory makes up for one of the two league home losses.
It was the first home loss for the Bengals and it was interesting to me that given the win streak they moved the game to what sounded like a loud Reed gym but then again I've always been too superstitious about stuff like that.
Keron DeShields continued his double-figure barrage with 13 as the Griz went to the charity stripe just six times connecting on five and being outrebounded by just two.
Weber State is up next Saturday night.
One thing is for sure. This Bengal will be ready for a Grizzly
The Grizzlies open a critical four-game road trip in Pocatello Thursday night.
Now mired well off the top of the Big Sky Conference after dropping four of their first six league games and probably even more importantly giving up a pair of home games, Montana's not yet on life support but you just can't underestimate how critical each game has become.
And while travel to Pocatello and Ogden isn't as challenging as some road trips it's still face time on the Interstate in a Beachliner for a five-plus hour jaunt to Pokey followed by an additional couple of hours journey down the road to Ogden.
And after an overnighter return on Sunday, that's home to Missoula about 4 a.m., it's back on the road to Cedar City on Wednesday for a Thursday night matchup before finishing up the quartet in Bozeman on Super Bowl Monday.
Former Griz assistant coach Bill Evans is at the helm at Idaho State and the Bengal record (3-3) shows he has the Bengals with fire in their eyes.
And while ISU has been playing inside expansive Holt Arena - you know the mini-dome where they are averaging about 1,600 - the Montana game has been moved back to the far more intimate Reed Gym where you can taste and smell the crowd as well as hear them and provides quite the home-court advantage.
Now don't get me wrong as far as I'm concerned it's a far better environment to play in but there's no doubt it's extremely difficult to win there.
ISU gave league leading and pre-season favorite Weber State all the Wildcats wanted Monday night in Ogden trailing by four at the half and while the Wildcats held a 12 point lead with 6:26 to go eventually prevailing just 65-59.
In fact the Bengals trailed just by two with 46 ticks remaining after a pair of treys by sharpshooter Chris Hansen but could get no closer.
ISU is a good rebounding team especially on the offensive end, Weber dominated the glass by 11 while Hansen dominated the scoring with a 27-point effort.
Count on hearing all zone with the Bengals and how the Grizzlies attack it will be key but it's not like that is a surprise as it is Evans' staple.
While it certainly is gut check for this Grizzly men's team the season is by no means lost.
Montana fell into at the very least a temporary also-ran status in the Big Sky Conference race after losing for the second time at Dahlberg Arena.
Now if you think interviewing any coach is an easy proposition after a disheartening loss, let me be the one to tell you it is extremely difficult.
But it's more difficult, in my opinion, for the person who has been directing the action for the last 40 minutes of playing time, all the while using every tool in the shed to claim victory and have a team not only execute the game plan but make the right decision yourself the majority of the time.
I have been fortunate because having asked my share of dumb questions after a loss, I have never had a coach give me that "Mike Leach" look and proceed to call me out.
But that all aside what about Saturday night..
Some two-plus hours after the game Tinks already was utilizing social media with a Facebook posting asking the more than 4,000 fans who showed up for Saturday's game not to give up on his team even given the shaky start and assuring fans that they'd find their way back and make the town proud of them before the season was completed.
The margin is so slight between a win and a loss and so many times in that record-setting 19-1 conference season last year a game turned on a call or a shot or a situation in Montana's favor.
It doesn't mean those teams were any better prepared or in most cases played harder or even were luckier. It just means that's how it goes when a game can turn on a dime.
The Grizzlies Saturday night had two open treys by their best shooters in key situations that may have completely changed the game's outcome.
They were in the midst of a run-out bucket when a foul was called coming out of a melee under the Grizzly hoop that would have cut the deficit to six.
Instead it turned into two free throws and a double-figure Northern Colorado lead.
To get to the show you just have to get rollin' and it's not too late. Hang in there.
The Griz dug themselves a hole with the home loss to Northern Colorado especially since they now venture ointo the road for four consecutive games.
Losers of two home games among four conference losses in six games, the Grizzlies simply will be fighting for their very existence every time out from here.
Road wins have been a rarity thus far this season and there will be few if any road sweeps as the season winds to conclusion.
And while a quest for a third championship is not out of the question, a win in Pocatello Thursday night against former assistant coach Bill Evans' Idaho State squad almost becomes a necessity.
Northern Colorado with the addition of Dominique Lee who did not play Thursday against Montana State because of an "academic issue" not surprisingly played quite differently than the team that scored 55 points in Bozeman two nights before.
And what has become a Montana mantra this season - a slow start - again reared its ugly head as the Bears jumped Montana from the get-go and although they cut it to a one-point deficit at the half, the Grizzlies had the lead few times and seemed to be scratching to stay close throughout.
Montana led the game for the last time 44-40 two minutes after intermission but the Bears answered with a five-point run and were never again caught.
The tandem of Kareem Jamar, Jordan Gregory and Keron DeShields continue to produce the bulk of the offense and accounted for all but 14 of Montana's 73 points and the trio as is customary all contributed in double figures.
With 23 Jamar moved past Jordan Hasquet into eighth on the career scoring list and on several occasions dished dimes that took other players to the rim but on many occasions to no avail.
DeShields added 29 and Gregory 17 and each junior scored in double figures for the 12th time in 15 games this season.
But after showing post presence on Thursday in the victory over North Dakota with 16 points and 8 rebounds from the five-position alone, there was nothing going Saturday night.
But the 23-4 second-half rebound disparity spelled doom with second-chance opportunities eventually proving fatal to any Montana comeback.
Just remember the league race is not a sprint and a ways to go before we sleep.
On dot the league's best will test the Grizzlies at Dahlberg Arena Thursday night.
Senior Troy Huff from Milwaukee is one of just two players nationally to rank in the top 20 for scoring, where he merely averages 21 a game, AND steals, where he is 11th with 2.6 per game.
And Huff has enjoyed plenty of success against the Grizzlies scoring a total of 47 points last year, 23 of which came at Dahlberg Arena in a 20-point February loss.
Picked second and third by the media and coaches, North Dakota has fallen three straight times to the Grizzlies in Dahlberg Arena.
But they captured a league tournament game here last season defeating Southern Utah before losing a heartbreaker to Weber State in a game they easily could have won.
But they're off to a bit of a rocky start, much like Montana, this year but their pair of league losses were by a dozen to Weber State and 18 at Greeley against league leading Northern Colorado.
Winners of just three of 10 in the non-conference, they really don't have a quality outing except maybe a seven-point failure to South Dakota State.
Huff has led North Dakota in scoring in 10 of 14 games this season and has paced the group in scoring and rebounding in the same game eight times.
They return four starters to a team that features three of the top ball hawkers in the circuit and Jamal Webb's first point will place him in elite company with Huff and Aaron Anderson with 1,000 points.
Webb, meanwhile is the first program player to record 200 steals and just the fourth to drop 400 dimes.
Texas Tech transfer Jaron Nash, while only scoring in doubles once for the Red Raiders, has reached doubles 14 times for UND and is contributing some dozen points an outing.
UND seldom makes a trey and shoots an average percentage yet they give up 48 percent from outside the arc and every other shot inside.
But they get 11 steals a game and turn the ball over just eight times an outing.
Everything points to the Griz getting it going with high powered Northern Colorado headed this way Saturday.
Before the Grizzlies host the highest scoring, best shooting and rebounding and stingiest team in the Big Sky Conference when league leading Northern Colorado comes to Missoula, Montana faces the circuit's top ball hawkers when North Dakota visits Dahlberg Arena.
North Dakota merely steals 11 rocks a game and gets eight more turnovers than their opposition, which should indeed be interesting since the Grizzlies seldom turn the ball over double-figure times.
In UND's Jamar Webb's 46 games he has already grabbed 100 steals with Troy Huff just five back of the century mark with 95 thefts in just 39 games.
Huff, Nash and newcomer Jamar Webb are three of the league's top five in steals per game, while Huff stands 11th in the country.
The Griz are the league's tops averaging just 10.3 turnovers an outing, one less than North Dakota, which is ninth in the country in turnover margin, about three better than Montana.
Now in senior Huff you have the league's most prolific scorer who at 21 an outing also is 21st in the nation, while Nash is fourth in the league in shooting at almost 53 percent.
Huff has scored in double figures in 10 straight games, three less than Montana's Kareem Jamar who has been in doubles in every Griz game this season.
Talk about numbers Huff dropped 37 on Wisconsin, 33 against North Dakota State and 30 against South Dakota State.
Home court is at a premium thus far this season, just the opposite of a year ago with visitors winning just four of 21 outings. With the road dominance of Weber State and Montana especially last year that was far from the case.
With two dozen straight home wins Northern Colorado has the nation's 24th longest win streak but the Bears also are the only Big Sky Conference team not to play a road game. This marks the first time since 2010-11 that UNC has started the season at 4 and 0.
Counting a three-game regular season run at the end of last season the Bears now have won 10 of their last 11 league tilts.
The Montana trip will prove as a testing ground and the Grizzlies getting them the second night certainly is an asset.
Well here we are already 20 percent of the way on the season's journey to the league post season and the team forecast by prognosticators to finish fourth in the league standings is the sole unbeaten and sitting with a one-game league lead.
Of course early in the season it always is a case of who has played whom and where but Saturday's Griz opponent Northern Colorado has already proved their mettle and are the only league team with double-digit wins.
Of course the Bears are unbeaten on their home floor in nine outings and stand but 1 and 3 on the road while the Grizzlies have chosen to play but half dozen home games and have tackled a schedule meant to hone their skills for the rigors of the league in February.
And while it is no surprise that Weber State is winners of three of the first four league games, the Cats, picked fifth and sixth in the polls come back to Bozeman this week also winners of three of the first four.
Thus far the surprise for me is Northern Arizona, whose victory over Montana in Missoula boosted the Lumberjacks, who were picked far down the league standings, to winners of three of its first four after last night's domination of hapless Southern Utah..
But another team to keep your eyes on is Bill Evans and his Idaho State squad.
Pollsters completely missed by picking the Bengals as one of the league's worst and with a single game in Pocatello against Southern Utah, Evans' former employer, don't be surprised if ISU moved closer to the pacesetters by week's end.
This is a pivotal trip for North Dakota, highly regarded by voters in the pre-season but unimpressive as of yet.
While they beat the Bengals by just four last week, UND has just split four league games and stands just 5-9 on the season.
Equally pivotal are the games against a pair of North teams for the Grizzlies as they look to bounce back from what has surely been a rarity - a league road losing sweep.
It took the better part of 55 minutes but Portland State broke a nine-game losing streak to Montana in defeating the Grizzlies 81-78 in triple overtime Saturday in the Rose City.
It's been some three years since the Grizzlies were swept on a Big Sky Conference road trip but then again that's how it goes when you dominate the circuit like two-time defending champion Montana has the last two seasons.
But the first league win for Portland State also marked the third league loss for an admittedly struggling Montana team that faces highly regarded North Dakota and Northern Colorado in Missoula this week.
This one should have been over several times as the Vikings went on a 10-1 run at the end of regulation to force the initial extra period.
The Grizzlies made up a seven-point deficit with a run culminated by a conventional three-point play by Eric Hutchison to force an additional five-minute period.
But in the third session the Griz had no answer for Gary Winston Jr. who scored all nine points for the Vikings
There has never been a lack of drama on the Portland State campus at the Stott Center on the Park Blocks over the years.
It seems it is one of those locales where controversial calls always pop up, play is aggressive and physical and close games are the usual rather than the exception.
What was unusual was triple overtime which hasn't occurred for Montana since it occurred twice in the 93-94 season.
Jordan Gregory continued to put up exceptional scoring outings for the Grizzlies with 25 points while Kareem Jamar scored in double figures for the 13th straight game with 19 although he scored but five points after the Intermission which saw the Grizzlies trailing by just one point.
Keron DeShields contributed 17 points while true freshman Mario Dunn Jr. stacked his stat line with six points and career highs in rebounds with seven and assists with nine.
Out rebounded by just one, like at Eastern Washington, the smaller lineup seems to be the direction this team is headed although "Hutch" did contribute 26 minutes and contribute seven points and three boards.
After a quartet of road games there are fewer teams than Eastern Washington that's pleased to be back in the home confines in Cheney for a four-game stretch.
It sure hasn't been much of a stretch for the Eagles who have lost seven straight games and come into Reese court winners of just four of 13 outings.
Picked to finish sixth by the media and fifth by the coaches, barely ahead of Montana State, the Eagles have been beset with injuries, traveled to New Jersey, Connecticut, and Utah as well as Idaho since beating Seattle University in November and that certainly couldn't have helped their confidence much but they feature the League's second highest scorer in Tyler Harvey, who gets some 20 a game.
It has been all about shooting for Eastern Washington as they are unbeaten when they outshoot an opponent and winless in eight games when they don't.
As for Harvey, a sophomore from Torrence, Ca., he dropped 30 on Weber in a loss last weekend, the 39th top performance in Eagle history and connected on 10 of 17 from the field including four of five from three-point range.
With their schedule Eastern is third in the RPI and has the 39th toughest schedule in the country.
But Eastern is tops in the circuit in treys made, just ahead of the Grizzlies, and leads the league in rebounds and is seventh in rebound margin, of course a real Montana deficiency.
Last season's Freshman of the Year Venky Jois is lending a dozen an outing and leads the eagles in caroms with about eight an outing and has 13 double-doubles in his 41-game career.
Then there is Sierra College transfer Drew Brandon who stuffs the stat sheet with 11 points, six-plus rebounds, five plus assists and more than a steal an outing.
Stopping transition will be key for Montana as the Eagles score 77 a game and you know they will turn it up a notch at home against the two-time defending champion.
And they are plenty stingy defensively allowing but 44 percent and allow just one of three from three-point range.
And in Jois and Martin Seifert they have a couple of the league's best shot blockers although against the Grizzlies, Seifert plays a bit more away from the bucket.
Mark my words on this eighth day of January. We have not seen the true Montana Grizzly team that I have the confidence it will become.
For sure there is a long way to go, but there were a number of promising signs in Saturday's victory over Sacramento State, and to a man there is likely little difference in what each player believes about his teammates, his team and his coaches.
It starts with the team first and the importance of the name on the front of the uniform and not the one adorning the back. And that's the same for every player, whether it be a starter or the 13th or 14th man down the bench. They all contribute in their own fashion.
Every player, when given the chance, will be on the floor giving the utmost of their capabilities, and because of that getting the most of his effort. And every player will define what the utmost effort truly is, whether it's stripping the ball from an opponent or diving over rows of chairs to keep the ball alive.
Everybody gets out on the break and celebrates together, whether it be a bone-rattling slam or a soft one off the window, and when the shot clock winds under 10 seconds on the defensive end, sheer frenzy brings the court alive with the deepest of enthusiasm. That's our rock, baby, and we want it back.
There's more, of course, but you get the general idea. This is a young group that is going to learn that you can do anything with enthusiasm. So here we go on Thursday night, with Montana's first Big Sky road game at Eastern Washington.
And away we go - The 50th season of Big Sky Conference hoop is underway and with yet another new look preceding the addition of Idaho to the league next season.
And for the first time in three years, the Griz are not at least sharing a part of the circuit lead.
But a couple of things to remember: Seldom is the league title settled in January and mark my words that before this is all over the season will have been marked a marathon not a sprint.
But make no mistake about what Rams defender Chase Reynolds said during a short visit Thursday night: A team's home venue floor is getting all the more difficult to defend and the talent level of the Big Sky Conference is reaching even greater heights.
Injured part of the season the former Drummond product said it now seems almost unfathomable that he is living the dream of playing professionally after a prep career that has more than its share of "Hoosier" moments.
A deep testament to attributes like fortitude, commitment and courage, just to name a few, he proudly dons that "old-school" designed Rams helmet and joins former Grizzlies Caleb McSurdy and Trumaine Johnson in applying the coaching he took from Washington Grizzly Stadium and that relentless winning attitude to the play-for-pay ranks of the highest level of the National Football League.
Yes they are among a myriad of former circuit players that have taken that stupendous step in recent years to move to that next level, sometimes excelling, others slipping to a practice squad or eventual obscurity.
But you see they lived that dream that started in Chase's case on that school bus rolling back into Drummond from the far corners of the state in the wee hours of the morning, stiff and sore from the contact yet smiling inside knowing, albeit dreaming, that you were good enough and possessed the audacity that you could get there.
His smile Thursday night spoke volumes that any little guy just can't possess that incredible dream, but even live it to reality.
There just isn't a better guy around, who like the majority that come through this program, never will forget what they learned on those bone-chilling nights on the Riverbowl.
Two games in and Griz are a split in the Big Sky Conference race and headed on the road.
The Grizzlies battled through a half-dozen point deficit to build an 18-point lead and send Sacramento packing with a pair of road losses.
But while there was significant improvement in some really necessary areas, Montana was again outrebounded and gave up 50 percent from the field.
But the board deficit was less, although the Hornets are not a great rebound team, and Montana got some much-needed post play that has been severely lacking.
JC transfer Chris Kemp, who didn't even see the floor in the NAU loss Thursday night, was a demon and led the glass with a career-high seven to match an also career-high 10 points.
And while he also had three steals and a block the numbers don't paint the true picture as he was far more active than at any time this season and also contributed immensely on the defensive end in 24 minutes of playing time.
Junior Jordan Gregory played stupendously, fearlessly driving the lane for the majority of his 20 points, swiping at balls on defense, dishing off a trio of assists and grabbing a couple of the team's eight steals while corralling a quartet of defensive rebounds.
And junior Keron DeShields pushed the pace, missed just a trio of 10 shots and turned the ball over but once.
And while "Steady Eddie" Kareem Jamar moved into the top 10 in scoring with his 11th straight double figure game with 14 points, Eric Hutchinson added seven points including five-for-five free throws and Andy Martin added three paired with a block and a steal.
Point guard Mario Dunn Jr. continues to shine with four points, a quartet of rebounds and two assists against just a pair of turnovers, an area that the Grizzlies are among the nation's pacesetters.
Montana has come back of age at the charity stripe and missed but four of 23 attempts and a baker's dozen of players saw game action while the Grizzlies were shooting better than 65 percent after leading by 10 at the intermission.
Again there's plenty to build on and the road beckons for a pair this week, but there was plenty to like.
Northern Arizona blew the lid off the Big Sky Conference regular season by stunning two-time defending champion Montana on its own floor.
When you hardly miss a shot in the second half and a player who has connected on about one of four treys in the entire season finds his way to a quartet of long rangers in seven attempts, well you get the idea.
The Lumberjacks, who won eight league games all last season and have but four players with circuit experience, refused to be denied and after trailing by eight points at the half rebounded to an 11-point second-half advantage.
But to their combined credit the Griz refused to quit and cut the deficit to one with a buck and a half to go but the aforementioned three-point shooter Quinton Upshur answered from three and Aaseem Dixon's free throws iced the game.
Montana had not lost to a conference opponent in Missoula since 2010 - a string of 31 games -and of course fell just twice in league games the last two seasons.
Besides missing just five of 22 second-half shots, the Lumberjacks connected on nearly 59 percent from the field for the game, this by a team that came into the building shooting just 41 percent in 11 outings.
But that's what makes college basketball such a great game and in this game witnessed by nearly 4,000 fans. Northern Arizona played far above I'm sure even their expectations.
With his tenth straight double-figure performance and fourth 20-point game this season (21), Karen Jamar moved past Derrick Pope and Shawn Samuelson and into the school's top 10 career scoring list.
But even leading in rebounding with eight and assists with seven, his exploits, on this night anyway, just weren't enough to offset a hungry senior Max Jaconbson, who netted 21 and Dixon's 23-point outburst.
A 30 percent three-point shooting team , the Jacks connected on seven of 11 attempts while the Grizzlies were but 10 of 26, many late in the game to crawl close.
Junior guard Jordan Gregory was the pacesetter from outside with five of 10 treys and 17 points while Mike Weisner and Keron DeShields netted a pair each.
Sacramento State, a 15-point victim of Montana State, visit Missoula Saturday night with again the first 1,000 through the student gate admitted free.
You know, familiarizing yourself with potential players in a Big Sky Conference game usually is a whole lot easier than non-conference foes whose names you've maybe never seen before.
Northern Arizona is in town for the league opener Thursday and I must say after just nine non-league affairs, I've got to do just what the players need to accomplish and turn up my game for the starts of true counters for the two-time defending league champ.
But when one examines the Lumberjacks, who have lost their last seven road games and come to Missoula winners of three of 11 games, I basically have an entire roster to master before the 7 p.m. tipoff where the first 1,000 through the student entrance get in free.
You see there are just four players with league experience and while second-year mentor Jack Murphy has basically seemed to have settled on his starting quintet there's just a host of players whose names and numbers need to drag me away from the bowl games and hammer into my forehead.
You surely will remember Gaellan Bewernick, the converted power-forward to wing who redshirted last year but has played extensively for NAU and 6-foot 8 senior Max Jacobson, who leads the Jacks at nearly 14 a game also has plenty of Dahlberg Arena minutes.
But while you can make no mistake I'll be ready by tipoff, beyond that I'm scrambling.
Jordyn Martin, a letterman sophomore, has started nine games for the Jacks when 6-foot10 behemoth Len Springs isn't on the floor but this team is going to be one that will have to mesh quickly if they can climb to seventh in the league as picked by the media.
Now don't get me wrong - You know I respect every opponent and wouldn't ever fashion looking past anybody but this is not your Dad's "recruit to shoot" NAU group since they are averaging just five made treys a game and shooting just 30 percent.
But one thing you can count on, NAU will go to the glass, a spot where Montana has been deficient.
Kareem Jamar can climb into the top 10 in career scoring in just his 101st game tonight and the Griz can put up win No 99 in the last five years and that's plenty of reason to be there.
It's been a rough non-conference season for Montana's
opening opponent Thursday but while Northern Arizona has lost five of six games
the Lumberjacks are bound to be stoked for the opener.
Happy New Year everybody as winners of just three of 11
non-conference matchups NAU comes into Missoula for the opener picked to finish
in the bottom third of the Big Sky Conference.
And it is quite the revamped lineup for second-year head
coach Jack Murphy who starts a trio of junior-college transfers and features a
lineup filled with transfers and freshman.
But the Lumberjacks lost by just four at USC and played
Fresno State to a four-pointer in overtime.
With five of nine league games on the road in January, it
is incumbent that the Grizzlies establish the home-court dominance that has so
recently fueled this program that has lost just two of 36 Big Sky games the last
But then again in Wayne Tinkle's amazing eight-year
career, the Grizzlies have lost just 31 league games and his 85 circuit
victories are the most in school history and in the last five league campaigns
Montana has been defeated but 17 times.
League MVP Kareem Jamar charges into his senior league
season on a roll with nine straight double figure games and 69 in his 100-game
Not only has he been a scoring phenom, he is about to
move into the top 10 in career assists.
"Ream" now trails Derrick Pope by just four points on the
career scoring ladder and is but eight points from moving into the top 10 spot
occupied by Shawn Samuelson.
Picked to finish second behind Weber State by the media
and third behind the Wildcats and North Dakota by the coaches, the Grizzlies
have won four straight after losing four of their first five.
And the lineup continues to develop much-needed depth
especially with the recent emergence of true freshman Mario Dunn Jr. at the
point and three-point specialist Brandon Gfeller who is shooting almost 44 percent
from long range.
The Lumberjacks have been porous on defense allowing 46
percent and being outscored by seven points while turning the ball over an average
of 14 times an outing. Remember, the first 1,000 fans get in free.
The day's headlights are shining brightly on 2014 a day after Kareem Jamar claimed yet another Player of the Week award this time as a co-recipient after his clutch performance on the road in Moscow Saturday afternoon.
And I think the senior MVP might tell you he has not even approached playing his best hoop in leading the Griz to a 5-4 non-conference mark while netting double figures in all nine outings.
And how does that bode for the two-time defending Big Sky Conference champion?
Premier seasons get increasingly difficult to match and in the case of "Ream," who continues to move up the career scoring ladder in just 100 games, his stat line might tease you into thinking he is playing at the top of his game.
And let's just face it there were times Saturday against Idaho and in similar outings earlier in the season where coming down the lane he is simply unstoppable.
But the California senior has yet to put together a 40-minute outing and at times gets detached on the floor whether it is with the constant off-ball hounding of the opponent trying to keep the rock out of his hands or other personal distractions, he'd be the first to share with you that there's plenty of good times ahead and plenty of fuel in the tank even though he plays as many minutes of a game as anyone in the circuit.
An efficient free throw shooter there have been several times he has been lacking at the line this season and then you see a game such as the one against the Vandals when he misses his first opportunity, then sank 11 consecutive including the tying and go-ahead bucket at the game's culmination.
And he'd be the first to tell you he can play considerably more efficient on the defensive end, an area where the Grizzlies have certainly been lacking even while leading the league in field goal offense themselves.
But when his game is intact he can be as dominant a player as any that has worn the Grizzly colors and already with 98 wins in the last five seasons we've been in the midst of some kind of run.
What amazes me is that Griz hoop, with conference play underway Thursday in Missoula against Northern Arizona, remains one of the best kept secrets around - go figure.
It was one of those games that as a broadcaster you dream about - and it was a Griz victory.
Montana put a cap on 2013 by taking all but 4.1 seconds of Saturday's game to catch then pass the Vandals and spin a hush over the Kibbie Dome in Moscow.
This one looked like an Idaho victory from the tip and when the Griz fell behind by 15 on the road in the final minute of the first half, you might have thought the Vandals were set to atone for the loss in Missoula earlier this month.
But you know I am a never say die kind of guy and "no hill for a climber" just couldn't have been more accurate in this one as amazing defense and a stupendous coaching strategy coupled with sheer player determination snatched this game from the jaws of defeat and set up the conference opener in Missoula against Northern Arizona Thursday night.
True freshman Mario Dunn Jr. had his hands all over the rock in the final few seconds and Wayne Tinkle held off held of fouling Glen Dean on the sideline with some six seconds remaining, trapping the pass, forcing the former Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year to call a timeout rather than turn the ball over.
Key was the in-bounds that came from the sideline, not the end-line, and with seven-footer Andy Martin in his face, Dean's inbound possibilities were diminished and Dunn was the beneficiary tipping the ball as it was going out-of-bounds to Kareem Jamar who was fouled going to the hole.
And the league MVP, who missed just his first free throw then connected on 11 straight, calmly sank a pair for the W although the Vandals had a 30-foot attempt that bounced away as time expired.
Jamar offset a career performance by Stephen Madison, who netted 35 points, with his ninth straight double figure performance with a near-career high 26 of his own and the Grizzlies connected on 18 straight from the charity stripe in the second half.
Yes it's just a non-league road win over a weakened WAC opponent but now winners of four straight, it's one more step to maturity, a victory to cherish and one that will remain in my memory for years to come,
Make no mistake about it, a post-season game can serve as
one of the most prized occasions and rewards for a college athlete.
So why do so many players just keeping screwing up the
Now I fondly remember those days of old when New Year's
Day featured the major bowl games with a pre-cursor on the previous night.
But of course now all you have to do to become what now
is termed "bowl eligible" is win a half dozen Divsion-1 games because it takes
that many teams to fill up the plethora of games that have "bowl" tags.
Well I have less trouble with that, since you can just
completely OD on games involving teams that you may have heard of, but some of
the competition and especially the game's culminations have been just flat
So I'll give you that one - If there are that many
sponsors who are willing to throw that kind of money at a football game, have
at it - It still probably doesn't mean I have heard of or will likely purchase
But what I can't understand is the number of athletes -
many of them premier performers who end up being sent home for the proverbial
"violation of team rules" in advance of the contests.
I get it - Going to a game a week in advance many times
in sun country and always after finals must resemble just one big "Spring
But whatever happened to your teammates, your leaders,
coaches who made sure curfew is at this time, this is what is suitable and
appropriate and we are here to represent our program and the institution that
has chosen to provide me hopefully with a college degree.
It's not necessary to list the programs or the players
involved but it seems every day you read the stream at the bottom of the
television and there's one more prominent player who has been given his walking
papers and not allowed to perform in what for many is their final collegiate
And for those skill players who have an opportunity to
play at the next level, what do you suppose your potential employer is thinking
but then again maybe given the level of some of the illegitimate behavior in
post-collegiate competition, maybe it just doesn't matter to them.
Well it matters to me...what about you?
With just a pair of Big Sky Conference teams sporting
winning non-conference records and the start of circuit play on the near
horizon, it could be challenging at this point to come up with a league
Northern Colorado sits atop the league and is receiving
mid-major voting consideration and a quartet of teams are hovering around the
.500 mark but a half dozen of the league teams have had trouble grabbing a W in
As well as the Grizzlies playing Saturday afternoon
Eastern has a toughie at U-Conn while Weber State hosts Northern New Mexico and
Cal Bakersfield journeys to Pocatello.
The 2-5 Wildcats are coming off a laugher (107-36) over
Saint Katherine, the largest victory margin in school history as with the W
Randy Rahe moved into a tie with Weber's Ron Abbeglen for eighth on the
league's all-time list.
Montana's Wayne Tinkle stands tenth.
League play kicks off Sunday with North Dakota traveling
to Northern Colorado in a battle of tournament semi-finalist teams from a
The Bears are the league's fourth pre-season selection
while North Dakota was tabbed second by the coaches and third by the media.
The league stands 24th in last week's RPI just behind the
weakened WAC with Eastern Washington's 144 the top ranking.
Montana stands fourth at 194 while the league's
non-conference slate is ranked as the nation's ninth toughest.
UM junior Jordan Gregory stands second in the nation in
free throw percentage missing just one of his initial 22 attempts while the
Grizzlies are the 22nd best field goal percentage team (.493), far
outdistancing the Cats (.469).
Montana also leads the circuit with 8.6 treys made per
game and is third in the league and 39th in the country shooting .394 percent.
With eight straight double figure games this season,
defending league MVP Kareem Jamar is third in scoring (18.9) behind North
Dakota's Troy Huff and Eastern newcomer Tyler Harvey.
Kareem also stands second in assists per game at five an
outing and is the league's active leader in scoring, rebounding and steals.
But off comes the lid Sunday and up goes the price of
A Merry Christmas Griz morning to you from that load of
elves that bring you some 400 words of Griz Biz on a daily basis
It always seems like such a short holiday break as UM
players branch out to the different corners of the west to share holiday cheer
with their families.
And of course for those who can't make it back to the far
corners of the country, well they are more than taken care of with nearby
teammates and coaches.
But before you know it that Beachliner diesel will be
warmed up and jockeying for seats for the short jaunt to Moscow will begin.
It is a bit of a rare rematch in such a short 18-day
period with the Vandals, winners of two of three over Big Sky opponents
Portland State and Idaho State since falling to the Grizzlies Dec. 11.
Idaho slipped past the Vikings in Portland by one , then
just also slipped past the Bengals in Pocatello by three earlier this week.
A couple of days later they dropped a 10-point decision
in Los Angeles to Cal State Northridge to stand six and seven on the season with
four of those losses and a half dozen of those games on the road.
They also show a victory at UC Davis but probably their
top outing was a 67-66 loss to neighboring Washington State.
So the Vandals actually have lost five of their last
Stephen Madison was an early horse against Montana in
Missoula but while he scored nine early points in the post chasing around
Kareem Jamar defensively eventually slowed him down on the offensive end.
But Madison is still by far Idaho's leading rebounder
(7.4) and leads the Vandals in scoring (16.1) and blocks.
The Vandals are especially strong on the offensive glass,
have been outshot by just a few percentage points and turn the ball over about
as much as their opponents.
Ironically however the Vandals had just five turnovers in
the 79-69 loss at Northridge while the Matadors only gave the ball away eight
The difference though was rebounding where Northridge
grabbed 14 more caroms and outshot the Vandals.
This is a 2 p.m. game Saturday not like 7 p.m. as your
schedule shows so join us for pre-game at 1:30 p.m.
Here it is just about conference season for the two-time defending champion Grizzlies but there have been some rough spots in this eight game non-conference season.
Happy Christmas Eve to you and go grab someone you care about and give em a big hug right now - No really I mean it.
The 4-4 Grizzlies grab just a bit of personal time before jumping on that Beachliner Friday morning and heading to Moscow, Idaho, for a rematch of the 11-point game in Missoula a couple of weeks ago.
And this marks the non-conference finale with Big Sky Conference play against Northern Arizona on the schedule next week.
This will again mark a good test for a Griz team with a quartet of new players and while returning the league MVP in Kareem Jamar and plenty of starting experience has a ways to go before finding themselves up to the rigors of what promises to again be a highly competitive Big Sky Conference schedule.
There were a half dozen ties and four lead changes the first time around and while Montana had five players in double figures led as always by Jamar they were as usual outrebounded although they did shoot well at the charity stripe.
Connor Hill is a penetrating load and led the Vandals with 24 points but had Idaho not been 7-of-18 at the free throw line you can bet there would have been quite a different outcome.
That also would have held true had Montana not nailed 9-of-18 treys against Idaho's 7-in-16 attempts.
But it was a breakout game for freshman guard Mario Dunn who netted a career-high 11 points and has scored 25 in his last three outings.
Mark my words Montana's guard line is the best in the league and there's little doubt Jamar is the circuit's top player but that may not be enough for a repeat championship.
You might recall UM-Western just shot 51 percent and scored 74 against a partially-uninspired Montana team that after eight games should be fine-tuning not searching.
You know I am the eternal optimist and have complete faith in where this outstanding coaching staff will take this team but Idaho Saturday afternoon would sure be a fine place to get started and a fourth straight win heading into league play also would be a welcome boost.
Ok so I have a confession to make.
As most of you know by now I am a Spokane guy and thus naturally some would figure since I attended Eastern Washington back in the NAIA college Savages days, I would be an Eagle, right?
Well sure, I was pulling for the Eagles Saturday on the red turf and what a valiant effort they made in losing in the semi-final round at home for the second straight season. I really didn't think anybody could stop the Eagles offensively at the game's culmination but I also didn't expect their defense to surrender the winning drive.
But congrats to Eastern for being in the final four for the second consecutive season and I'm with you as far as seeing Vernon Adams and Cooper Kupp for even more matchups.
But I digress.
The game I really had trouble with was Colorado State vs. Washington State.
You see I am a life-time Coug who grew up climbing the fence - that's right climbing the fence - to watch the then Pac-Six Cougars tangle with California powerhouses UCLA and USC at then Memorial Stadium (now Joe Albi) in west Spokane.
Of course former University of Montana Athletic Director Bill Moos, a Coug alum, is a longtime pal and the WSU AD and former Griz defensive coordinator Mike Breske, another good friend, holds the same position in Pullman.
But then you have upstart Colorado State which is headed by Sentinel alum Jim McElwain who came from Nick Saban's Alabama staff to the head Ram job and has sent Fort Collins on its ear by taking them to a bowl game in just his second season at the helm.
The McElwain's have strong Missoula and Montana ties - one sister Janie Haight works in UM Athletics and a second, Mary Sullivan, is a former UM athletic trainer.
There was no doubt in my mind that the former Eastern Washington quarterback and Bobcat, Fresno State, and Alabama offensive coordinator would bring CSU to the forefront but let's face it to score 18 points in about the last three minutes, then pull out a Boise-like Statue-of-Liberty for the win will forever forge a place in Bowl history.
And besides I've been Couged for years.
Well you hear it all the time - Why can't Montana hoop get better non-conference competition to play in Missoula and if they did would that return Dahlberg Arena to the raucous days of old?
I'm sure you have heard the refrain - and it's not just true in hoop but in football as well. Why do the Grizzlies play the occasional Division-2 in football or bother with facing off with an NAIA program in basketball.
It really is a horse of a different color.
Financially to meet budget Montana must play a half dozen home football games and with so many traditional UM rivals either joining the Big Sky Conference or moving to FBS there are just fewer and fewer competitive non-conference possibilities.
And while they still have been able to secure a home-and-home here and there they are becoming few and far between, thus requiring UM to say play a Central Washington to venture into Missoula.
In hoop it is quite a different scenario.
Just for example coming off back-to-back 25-win seasons and consecutive NCAA appearances, quite frankly teams are not anxious to play in Missoula where even a higher mid-major program has more to lose than to win.
A program has to get a home game out of a relationship and schools like even Gonzaga University want two games at their place in return for a single visit to Missoula and expect the series to start at their house.
It isn't easy to travel to Missoula and also is expensive and while you would like to attract schools with prominent FCS football programs whose names are recognizable to fans - McNeese State, Youngstown State come to mind - they're not going to travel a time zone or two that then unbalances their home schedule.
We all remember tournament play like the Champion Classic which attracted outstanding fields but large incentives are required ($80,000 and up) to attract those kind of programs and without sponsorship with deep pockets, well you get the idea.
I wasn't a plan of BracketBuster mainly because it broke in the middle of the league schedule but it did guarantee you a home game against a school you probably would not have been able to schedule on your own.
An examination of post season laurels paints a picture of a Grizzly football team that won twice as many games in 2013 as it did in a previous season.
With the football all-star teams there's a single selection of course that jumps right off the page with the naming of Jordan Tripp as only the second Grizzly in football history after Scott Gragg to be selected to play in the prestigious Senior Bowl.
And why not after a stupendous senior season which saw the ball hawker recover more fumbles than any player in Griz annals and complete a career as one of the leading tacklers of all time among the likes of Vince Huntzberger, Tyler Joyce, Kent Clausen and Mike Rankin.
But more than the stats are the kind of person Jordie is and the type of commitment he brings to not just football but his life.
When it was time to adorn the legacy of jersey No.37, opting out of his Dad's number, he did so with aplomb and brought even added lore to the fabled shirt, which again will be passed along in that tradition that was started by Craig Paulson in the early 80's.
But take it even deeper than that when Griz football was in turmoil last summer and someone was called upon to speak on their behalf about how they felt about UM Athletics and the importance that it held in the Missoula community.
It again was Tripp who headed that up as a rare third-generation Griz who wanted Griz Nation to understand just how important this Saturday venue that makes Washington Grizzly Stadium the state's sixth largest city six times a season is and what the moniker on the front of the jersey represents.
Tripp may or may not play at the next level - my bet is that he will - and will have a Guy Bingham kind of career - but what you have to know about him is how he will "REPRESENT" what makes Griz football what indeed it continues to be - not just wins or even continued excellence but one of legacy.
And that friends is why we embrace and will continue to recognize what Griz football represents.
There will be a lot of familiar names on the roster of UM Western when they journey into Missoula Friday night.
The Western team that challenges Montana will be anything but a tune-up.
Not only are they 10 games into the season, although they could treat Friday's game as an exhibition, the Dogs return all five upper-class starters from a year ago that picked up their share of laurels.
In addition to being named to the All-Conference team last season, power forward Jake Owsley from Bozeman also was accorded second team All-American honors.
He is averaging 15 points and some seven rebounds while shooting 57 percent from the floor and leading Western in blocked shots.
Junior wing Chris Castro from Huntley Project was the league's defender of the year last season and leads them in steals and assists while corralling seven caroms an outing.
And junior guard Jordan Overstreet from Three Forks has connected on 18 treys while averaging a dozen points an outing.
He was second team all-league last year while fellow guard Maazin Butler, who was accorded honorable-mention status, is one of a few out-of-staters from near Tacoma, who shoots 45 percent treys and is second on the team in scoring at more than 14.
A high scoring quintet, Western averages just about 80 points an outing but gives up more than 77 while allowing 44 percent from the field.
They have no conscience when it comes to treys as they shoot about 24 a game connecting on an average of about eight.
Add to that mix of key returnees sophomore transfer Kurtis Parsons from CMR who is fourth in the scoring column at about 13 a game while dropping in almost a pair of threes an outing.
Counting the redshirts there are 16 Treasure State products on the roster including sophomore Connor Woodill from Hellgate, Caleb DeGroot from Loyola, and redshirt Kyle Ball from Victor.
If there's deficiencies they might be turnovers where they allow about as many as they get and rebounding where Western has been slightly outdistanced although they do control the offensive glass.
Tipoff at 7 Friday night and the Griz won't be back on the home floor until league starts in January.
One of the more interesting things about watching young players when they first get to the college hardwood is how they react in a myriad of unique situations.
And while most of those players who arrive on the college scene were the star on their respective high school team and often bring along the attitude that comes with it, they all react differently to the rigors of collegiate competition.
You will have to admit we have been plenty spoiled during the last few seasons with the exploits of All-Conference Griz guard Will Cherry.
During his final two seasons he was just a joy to watch as he created havoc with his ball hawking skills, gambling for a steal, gallivanting up the floor on the break and often finishing against much taller odds.
I can't count the number of times it was the injection of his enthusiasm that spurred the Griz time and time again to 50 victories over his final two seasons.
And while I am not yet ready to adorn his heir apparent in true freshman Mario Dunn Jr., who also ironically is from Oakland, in about a three minute stretch Sunday against St Martin's showed signs, if not yet the athletic ability, that he possesses some of the same tools.
Maybe it's that Oakland water ... or maybe even in the case of California the lack thereof.
Now if you were to look at his stat line, it wasn't like Dunn stuffed the sheet although he did pick up a career-high three steals.
It was more his presence than his numbers, although after a career-high 11 against Idaho in his last outing, he added nine against the Saints.
But two-thirds of that output came in about a two-minute span when if he wasn't on the floor driving the opposition batty, he was swatting at the orb and forcing a dribble interruption.
As Tinks agreed in the post-game it was almost like a light went off and Dunn discovered he belonged at this level.
But of course keep in mind St. Martin's is an NAIA school unlike the competition Dunn will face with the approach of league play.
But mark my words, he is going to influence some outcomes early and often in his career.
Needless to say it's always nice to grab a victory in your house and it is even sweeter when it is over a former league foe who moved from the circuit looking for greener pastures.
Idaho is off to a rough start this season but I guess that would be predictable when you realize veteran Head Coach Don Verlin basically flushed out his group from a season ago and has a strong group of new guys who before the season is over are going to give some teams fits.
Montana jumped the Vandals early-on from three-point range connecting for five of their first 11 and Idaho's only first half lead came on their first trey of the contest to take a 3-zip advantage.
And even though the Grizzlies were again controlled on the offensive boards, Montana's zone caused the Vandals plenty of trouble and held them to about 37 percent shooting.
Stephen Madison was their guy early on but as Wayne Tinkle said in the post-game show his later offensive output was deeply affected by trying to chase Kareem Jamar around all night and he eventually fouled out of the contest finishing with just nine points.
Jamar was his usual self and on many occasions simply is unstoppable. His hang time even seems greater than a year ago and because of his athleticism it seems he plays bigger than 6-foot 5.
The league MVP had his usual double-double (16 points and 10 rebounds) and added a half-dozen assists against just a pair of turnovers.
My only concern is he plays so many minutes (38) because you just can't keep him off the floor because of his competiveness.
While five Grizzlies were in double figures my Star of the Game had to be Andy Martin who basically hadn't shown up on the stat sheet in the team's first five games.
Not only did he have six points and five caroms but his presence, along with "Hutch" on the back of the zone is a game changer.
There has to be a post threat at both ends of the floor for this Montana team to reach the heights of the last two seasons.
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.