By MICK HOLIEN
With four of its last six games in the friendly confines of Washington Grizzly Stadium, the remaining University of Montana football schedule rings favorably for the Grizzlies. They’ve now won 18 consecutive Big Sky Conference home games and only have lost 20 times in Missoula since the opening of Washington Grizzly Stadium in mid-1986.
I guess even more impressive is that since the beginning of the 2004 season, they’ve been unbeaten at home three times and have lost but four of the 50 games played there.
While Northern Arizona, North Dakota, and the 110th meeting between the Griz and the Cats loom between now and Thanksgiving, Idaho State is Saturday’s opponent. After last year’s debacle in Pocatello, when Montana barely scraped by the last-place Bengals on a last-second Brody McKnight field goal, there’ll be no looking any further than this week’s contest.
There was no category that the Grizzlies did not dominate in that game, including, by the way, four fumbles and 12 penalties for 129 yards, but with 1:25 to go with the ball at their own 17, Montana trailed 10-9.
But, even after being unable to score from the one-yard line and a offensive interference penalty moving them back for a longer field goal attempt, after ISU called a pair of timeouts, McKnight was true and the ride home from Pocatello as enjoyable as it can be from the Mini Dome.
But that Saturday was a bit different than this week.
Now Tennessee Titan Marc Mariani hauled in eight catches for 192 yards, Chase Reynolds carried 22 times for 123 yards of the 157-yard rushing attack, and Andrew Selle burned the Bengal secondary with 19 of 28 completions for a robust 321 yards.
What has not changed is that Idaho State remains the league’s doormat (1-4, 0-3), but has had donnybrook games with Montana including a 32-28 victory in Pocatello in the championship year 2002, a 13-9 Griz win in Missoula the following year, a 43-40 Montana victory in Pocatello in 2003, and a 24-22 Griz victory at home in 2004.
Need I say more? While the Grizzlies have had their way with the Bengals the last six games and lead the series 39-13, no matter the record, Idaho State seems to find a way to get after the Grizzlies at home or away.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it, but in the last four years the Bengals have been awful: They’ve won just six of 39 games. Idaho State has lost 17 straight league games and Montana has beaten the Bengals 26 of the last 28 meetings.
But this work-in-progress Montana team has no reason to look past any opponent or take anything for granted.
While the defense has played great for the last six quarters, lead FCS football in tackles for loss, and ranked sixth in sacks, they are a long ways from proving they are a contender in this year’s conference race.
You can feel a little momentum building after the first road win of the season. If the solidity provided by having a single quarterback at the helm builds some offensive continuity, without by any means looking ahead, this league race could come down to Griz-Cat and league tie-breakers for the automatic bid.
Indeed time will tell, and for now, it’s good to be home.