By ERIC TABER for GoGriz.com
The No. 14 Montana Grizzlies return to Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Saturday to take on the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks in the first Big Sky Conference matchup of the 2015 season for both teams.
The weekend is highlighted by the University of Montana’s 96th Homecoming celebration, and 20th anniversary commemoration of the 1995 National Championship Grizzlies. Fans are encouraged to break out their traditional copper and gold Griz gear for the game.
THE GAME: UM (1-2) enters league play as the No. 14 team in the nation in this week’s FCS Coaches’ poll after dropping a tough road game to a well prepared Liberty Flames team in Virginia. Northern Arizona is coming off a 77-13 drubbing at the hands of Arizona, the then #20 FBS team in the nation.
Kickoff is set for 2:10 p.m. on Sept. 26 inside Washington Grizzly Stadium. Limited tickets remain available.
SERIES/LAST MEETING: Montana leads the all-time series with Northern Arizona 32-13, but the Lumberjacks are on a two-game win streak over the Griz, defeating UM in Flagstaff 41-31 in 2012, and returning to Missoula in 2013 to defeat Montana 34-16. Due to Big Sky Conference structure, the two teams did not meet in 2014. Prior to 2012, Montana rattled off a string of 14 wins over the Lumberjacks in a row, stretching from 1998 – 2011. The Griz are 23-3 versus the Jacks since 1988.
TV/STREAMING: ROOT SPORTS network will broadcast the game as part of its Big Sky Conference coverage. Tom Glasgow will be doing play by play, along with analyst Jason Styles and Jen Mueller on the sideline. To find Root Sports in your area, see its Channel Finder or see local listings.
ROOT SPORTS regional sports networks are operated by DIRECTV Sports Networks LLC in the Southwest, Northwest, Pittsburgh and Rocky Mountain regions. The four networks combined reach approximately 13.1 million households across 22 states.
DIRECTV Sports Networks is a subsidiary of DIRECTV, the world’s most popular television service.
Fans can also follow LIVE play-by-play action on Twitter via the Grizzlies official handle, @UMGRIZZLIES_FB.
GRIZ RADIO: Veteran play-by-play man Mick Holien takes the mic for his 23rd season as “Voice of the Griz”. Greg Sundberg moves into the booth this season along side Holien after four seasons as sideline reporter. Adam Painter will be on the sideline. Live broadcast can be heard statewide on the Grizzly Sports Radio Network, and worldwide on gogriz.com. Visit gogriz.com for a complete station listing.
LAST GAME: The Griz crossed the Mississippi river for only the 17th time in program history to complete a two-game home and home series with Liberty University, coming back to Missoula with a 21-31 loss. The Grizzlies defeated Liberty 34-14 in 2012 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
RANKINGS: The Griz slid from No. 7 to No. 15 in this weeks FSC Coaches’ Poll, and from No. 8 to No. 14 in the STATS FCS media poll. In the Coaches’ poll, the Griz picked up 260 points, while in the STATS FCS media poll, the Griz had 1675 points. Montana State and Eastern Washington are the only two Big Sky Conference schools ranked ahead of the Griz in the Coaches’ poll, while MSU sits just behind UM at No. 15 in the STATS FCS poll.
Northern Arizona dropped out of the Coaches’ poll this week, where they had previously been ranked No. 24. The Jacks sit four places out of the top-25 in the STATS media poll with 171 points.
DEFENSE IN THE RANKS: Griz Linebacker Kendrick Van Ackeren has been a tackling machine for the Griz this season with 38 total takedowns (13 solo, 25 asst.), placing him among the best in FCS, tied for seventh in the nation. “Kenny” is currently sitting in second place in the Big Sky Conference in total tackles.
Defensive End Tyrone Holmes is currently tied for seventh in the nation in sacks, with four solo takedowns to his name, averaging 1.33 per game. Holmes’ four sacks is good enough to make him the Big Sky Conference leader in sacks as well.
JONES CLIMBS THE RANKS: Jamaal Jones continues his stellar senior season with the Griz with 24 receptions for 373 yards of offense, good enough to place him fifth in the national rankings.
Jones now has 2,177 career yards receiving, moving him ahead of current Griz coach Mike Ferriter in the UM all-time rankings to No. 12, just 46 yards shy of surpassing Jimmy Farris.
Jones is averaging 125 yards per game in 2015. If he continues this pace, he will finish the regular season with 3,177 yards, and will be Montana’s all-time leading receiver.
In the Big Sky, Jones sits in second place in all-purpose yardage, averaging 134 per game.
The Griz Breakdown/Keys to the game
NAU brings some talented attackers to Missoula on Saturday. Chief among Coach Gregorak’s concerns might be Emmanuel Butler, a sophomore wide receiver for the Jacks who has two, 100-yard games so far this season, and is second in the Big Sky Conference in receiving yards per game with 129 and five TDs.
The man throwing those passes to Butler has been greyshirt QB Case Cookus, who was named the STATS LLC FCS Freshman of the Week in the opening week of the season after leading NAU to a win over then-top 25 Stephen F. Austin on the road.
Chad Chalich has been named this week’s starting QB for the Griz after Brady Gustafson suffered an injury against Liberty. Chalich (pronounced Chaaal-Itch) went 14-28 for 228 yards against Liberty. He also passed for a touchdown (a 70 yarder to Jamaal Jones) and ran for another.
Chalich has seen the majority of the reps this week in practice with the first team, and will be key to getting Coach Stitt’s offense rolling at home.
Coach Stitt is pointing to the run game as a key this week for the Griz. UM has rushed for 342 yards on 88 attempts so far this season, with three TDs on the ground. John Nguyen is third on the team in total offense with 165 yards rushing, and 75 receiving.
Chris Lider has been solid at punter for UM, with 621 yards on 16 kicks, averaging 38.8 per kick and a long of 57, Lider will be tasked with pinning NAU deep in their own territory.
Dan Sullivan leads the Griz in scoring this season, going 6/8 on field goal attempts, and 6/7 on PATs for 24 points.