The last time the Montana Grizzlies were on a football field, they were celebrating a 28-14 triumph over Montana State in the 113th Brawl of the Wild, but with a week off before the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision, that day in Bozeman seems like a long time ago.
Now, however, the No. 4 Griz (10-2) are raring to get back at it, and their return to the playoffs starts Saturday when they host the No. 11 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (10-2) in the second round of the FCS tournament in what should be a bitterly cold Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Kickoff is set for noon in Missoula.
But the fact that temperatures are expected to be near zero at kickoff means little to the Grizzlies, who have won four straight games and are seeded No. 8 in the playoffs. Montana missed the playoffs after going 5-6 a year ago, something that’s only happened twice in the last 25 years. Now however, the Griz are back in the newly expanded field of 24, and they couldn’t be more excited about Saturday’s game.
“When we came back Sunday, you could just tell the players were refreshed and excited to get going,” UM head coach Mick Delaney said of the Griz’ bye week over the Thanksgiving break. “If we would have had to play last Saturday, we would have been ready to go, and we would have played well. But the guys had some time off, to get away from school and the weight room and all of that. So I think it was just what the doctor ordered.”
The bye week was a big deal as it gave the Griz, winners of four straight games, its first week off since early September. Montana had its bye following its season-opening win over Appalachian State. Meanwhile, the Chanticleers, who shared the Big South championship, beat Bethune-Cookman last Saturday in the first round of the FCS playoffs. The Chants, who are making their second straight playoff appearance, lost just twice this season, and are a dynamic offense, and have an outstanding defensive squad. CC is led on offense by Walter Payton Award nominee Lorenzo Taliaferro. The 6-2, 235-pound running back has piled up 1,532 yards which is second in the FCS, to go along with 24 touchdowns. The Chants are a zone-read offense, bolstered by the outstanding play of sophomore quarterback Alex Ross, who has thrown for 22 TDs against just seven interceptions. As a unit, CC is second in the FCS, averaging 43 points per game.
Defensively, the Chants allow just 28 points per game and are stronger against the rush, while the Grizzlies score 38 points per game, and will certainly look to run the football with Jordan Canada, a healthy Travon Van, an improving freshman John Nyguen and Montana’s huge offensive line. The Griz also have Jordan Johnson back at quarterback, and it’s no coincidence, without the junior signal caller, UM was home for the playoffs a year ago.
But Montana’s offense which has really picked up speed, may be a secondary factor to the Grizzly defense, which has allowed just one touchdown in its last 10 quarters of football. Led by linebackers Jordan Tripp, Brock Coyle, John Kanongata’a and a stout defensive line, UM is charged with the task of stopping one of the best offensive teams in all of FCS football Saturday.
But what could play an even more central role in Saturday’s game is the cold. Highs are expected to be in the single digits with wind chills dipping to a possible -30 during the game. That’s bad football conditions for any team, but the Chants hail from the Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina, where temps are usually in the low 70s this time of year. So there’s no getting around the fact that the weather will affect the Chants, just as it has in the past. Montana is a whopping 20-1 against Southern teams in the FCS playoffs in Missoula.
“We’re kidding ourselves if we make believe we’re going to acclimate to the cold weather in 48 hours,” said Coastal coach Joe Moglia. “It takes weeks to do that right. Hopefully we’re going to have a good heating system on the sideline. But at the end of the day it’s about understanding that you don’t want to lose your body heat. If we’re able to do that — I mean it’s going to be cold, we know that, but we have to be able to handle it.
“I told the guys Sunday night, don’t get duped into thinking this weather is a big deal,” Delaney said. “They’re gonna come and play, they’ll play in the elements just like we will. They’re an explosive team on offense, they’re really solid defensively, so it’s still just about playing football. Whoever hangs on to the ball and makes the least amount of mistakes, whoever can play the hardest for the longest will win the football game.”
At stake Saturday is a berth in the FCS quarterfinals with a likely trip to Fargo, N.D., to play top-seeded North Dakota State. The Bison take on Furman Saturday and are heavy favorites in that contest.
But the only thing the Griz are thinking about is the Chants, and the fact that they’re back in the playoffs, a place Montana has won the second-most games of any school in FCS history.
“We don’t know if this will be the seniors last game in here (Missoula),” said UM offensive lineman Danny Kistler. “All we can do is control what we can control, go out there and play our football and see how the dice fall at the end.”
Saturday’s game between Montana and Coastal Carolina kicks off at Noon in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Viewing options for the game include ESPN3 on the internet and ESPN’s Game Plan package, which is $29.95 through DirecTV, Dish Network and Charter Cable.
FCS Playoffs: Round Two
No. 4 Montana Grizzlies (10-2)
vs No. 11 Coastal Carolina
Saturday at Noon
at Washington-Grizzly Stadium
Viewing: ESPN GamePlan and
ESPN3 on the internet.