#12 Montana Grizzlies (9-4, 6-2 BSC)
@ #4 Eastern Washington Eagles (10-2, 7-1 BSC)
Saturday, December 6, 2014 - 2:30 pm MT
Roos Field (8,600) - Cheney, WA
TV: The game will be televised on ESPN3 and ESPN Gameplan. Talent: Trey Bender & Darius Walker
RADIO: Mick Holien has been the voice of Grizzly football the past 22-plus seasons and is in his 30th year overall. Scott Gurnsey is in his 17th year as analyst, and Greg Sundberg is on the sidelines for his fourth season.
SERIES: Montana leads the series 26-14-1
STREAK: Eastern Washington holds a 3-game winning streak, and has won 4 of the last 5.
- 2014 - L 26-36 @ Cheney
2013 - L 37-42 @ Missoula
2012 - L 26-32 @ Cheney
2011 - W 17-14 @ Missoula
2010 - L 27-36 @ Cheney
Griz, Eagles readying for Round 2
BILLINGS -- If Montana is to push its FCS playoff run into the quarterfinals, it has to get over the hump against a familiar and heated rival.
By virtue of their 52-14 demolition of San Diego in a first-round game last week, the Grizzlies (9-4) earned a second-round date with Big Sky Conference champion Eastern Washington (10-2) on Saturday in Cheney.
It’s a rematch of a game the fourth-seeded Eagles won 36-26 atop The Inferno at Roos Field on Nov. 8.
Montana fell behind by 23 points in the third quarter that day but rallied. The Grizzlies appeared to have scored a TD on a pass from Jordan Johnson to Sean Haynes late in the game, but Haynes was ruled out of bounds.
Instead, they had to settle for a Daniel Sullivan field goal. It was a crucial moment, and EWU held on.
“I feel like we left a lot on the field when we played them the first time,” receiver Jamaal Jones told reporters after UM beat San Diego. “There were opportunities we had to win the game like Sean’s touchdown that didn’t get called a touchdown and one of (Ryan) Burke’s balls got tipped in the end zone.
“I feel happy we get another opportunity to play them. I feel the outcome may be different but we just have to make sure we keep doing what we’re doing.”
The formula requires a better performance against EWU quarterback Vernon Adams.
Adams, in his first game back after missing four games with a broken foot, threw for 410 yards and four touchdowns against the Grizzlies. Wideout Cooper Kupp had a huge game, hauling in eight passes for 134 yards and a TD, and returning a punt 67 yards for another score.
It was the Eagles’ fourth victory over Montana in their past five meetings.
"Vernon was gutsy,” EWU coach Beau Baldwin said. “He definitely wasn't 100 percent in terms of being able to move, but he was still was able to buy time, see things, throw from the pocket and make a lot of plays.
“Vernon brings something electric and he was able to make some huge plays. There will be stuff we can go back and look at, and there are still things we need to work on. It was really special for him to do the things he did, make the plays he made and get us in rhythm against one of the top defenses in the Big Sky.”
The Eagles are coming off their second bye in a four-week span. Montana has won three in a row while averaging 40 points per game in that span.
It’s rare for Big Sky Conference rivals to clash in the playoffs. The Montana-EWU game is just the eighth time Big Sky teams will meet head-to-head in the postseason in the 37-year history of the FCS.
The Grizzlies were involved the last time it happened, when they defeated Weber State 24-13 in a quarterfinal game at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in 2008. UM went on to play for the national title that year in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but lost to Richmond, 24-7.
This is the fourth time overall that the Griz will play a league rival in the playoffs. They are 1-2 in the previous three. This is the first time EWU will play a conference foe in the postseason (the Eagles joined the Big Sky in 1987).
If you’re looking for a trend, the home team has won five of the seven previous intraleague playoff games. The only road teams to win were Nevada at Idaho State in 1983 and Weber State at Idaho in 1987.
Coming of age
Dakota Prukop is the odds-on favorite to be named Montana State’s MVP for the 2014 season.
The sophomore quarterback from Austin, Texas, took the Big Sky by storm, accounting for more than 3,500 total yards and 31 touchdowns. Had it not been for the knee injury that sidelined him for the final two games of the regular season, Prukop probably would have been a legitimate candidate for the league’s offensive player of the year award.
Prukop had a great year, but how about some consideration for Chad Newell? Few players were as truly valuable as the running back from Billings Senior, especially as the season wore on.
Newell finished the year with 477 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He also caught 15 passes for 169 yards, and was in on every special teams play, making 12 tackles with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Late in the year, as Shawn Johnson and Anthony Knight battled injuries, Newell became the Bobcats’ primary running back. It culminated in a rugged 24-carry, 101-yard, school-record-tying five-touchdown effort in last week’s 47-40 first-round playoff loss to South Dakota State.
“Chad Newell was a warrior, as he always has been,” MSU coach Rob Ash said. “Tough, hard-nosed, gutsy, determined … whatever adjectives you want to add, there’s not enough.
“He’s going to be a guy we’re going to build around. Not necessarily just the plays, but with the attitude and the determination that he brings to the table. What a great leader and a great person to build around for the next couple years. Him and Dakota both.”
Around the league
• EWU is 30-4 all-time at The Inferno, with two of those losses coming in semifinal playoff games. The Grizzlies have not won at Roos Field since it was renovated with the red turf prior to the 2010 season.
• Montana leads the all-time series with Eastern 26-14-1, but EWU has won four of the past five. Montana has won 11 road games over the Eagles.
• Despite having two byes since the beginning of November, EWU has some injury issues facing key players.
Running back Quincy Forte (ankle) has been hindered for most of the year. He is listed as questionable. Backup running back Jalen Moore (knee) is out, as is safety Jordan Tonani (concussion).
• Montana State RB Shawn Johnson missed the last three games of the regular season with a hamstring injury but returned for the playoff game against SDSU.
Johnson rolled up 204 all-purpose yards, giving him a single-season school-record total of 1,961. Johnson leaves MSU as its all-time record-holder with 4,681 career all-purpose yards.
Around the nation
• South Dakota State (9-4) gets another crack against Missouri Valley rival North Dakota State (11-1) in the second round on Saturday in Fargo, N.D. The Jackrabbits have lost six in a row to the three-time reigning national champion Bison.
“We’ve got to stop their power game,” said SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier, whose team lost at NDSU in a second-round game in 2012. “That’s what happened last time. They just lined up with two tight ends and a fullback. When it’s second-and-3, it’s a long day.”
• Fordham QB Michael Nebrich amassed 421 passing yards in a 44-22 victory over Sacred Heart on Saturday. It was the third time Nebrich has eclipsed 400 yards this season.
The Patriot League-champion Rams (11-2) travel to play top-ranked and top-seeded New Hampshire (10-1) in the second round.
• Indiana State’s 36-16 first-round road win at Eastern Kentucky on Saturday marked its first playoff appearance since 1984.
The Sycamores (8-5) were a surprise at-large addition to the playoff bracket, with a win over FBS Ball State carrying a lot of weight. But now they’re one of 16 teams still standing.
ISU looks to pull another upset when it travels to play No. 8 seed Chattanooga (9-3) this week.
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