By ERIC TABER
The No. 22 Montana Grizzlies (5-4, 4-2 BSC) enter the business end of the 2015 season with everything to play for, and nothing to lose as one of UM’s biggest rivals of the era, No. 10 Eastern Washington (6-3, 5-1 BSC), pays a visit to Missoula.
As it has been for nearly two decades, the UM-EWU game is rife with post-season implications when the Eagles travel to Montana on Saturday, Nov. 14 for a 1:30 MT kickoff.
It’s senior day at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, with the Griz football senior class of 2015 being honored during the pregame festivities, and having an opportunity to play rivalry football at it’s best with the Eagles submerged in the noise of the Montana faithful at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
It’s also Military Appreciation Day, when Montana servicemen and women currently deployed supporting military operations around the world will be honored during the national anthem, and throughout the game.
Fans can help “Can the Cats” as well with the annual food drive contest between UM and MSU kicking off in the lead up to the holiday season. Non-perishable foods can be dropped off at several locations around the stadium before the game.
THE GAME: Montana’s playoff hopes will remain alive and well with a home victory on Saturday, and Montana is riding a wave of momentum into the game following last week’s overtime win at Idaho State.
The entire top half of the Big Sky Conference remains a virtual toss up though, with pivotal games remaining on the schedule for each of the six teams still in the playoff conversation.
The Griz now sit in a three-way tie for third place in the conference standings along side Portland State and Northern Arizona, each of whom are 4-2 in league play.
Conference leaders Southern Utah travel to Oregon to face Portland State in a game that will affect the Grizzlies’ league standing pending the outcome of the EWU game.
Eastern Washington currently sits in sole possession of second place in the Big Sky with a 5-1 conference record. The Eagles are coming off its first league loss of the year though, a 52-30 home drubbing at the hands of Northern Arizona, a team that Montana beat at in Missoula a little over a month ago.
A win over EWU will also assure Montana its 29th winning season in the past 30 years.
LAST MEETING: The Grizzlies made their 22nd appearance in the FCS playoffs in 2014. After defeating San Diego in the opening round, the 12th ranked Griz traveled to Cheney for the second time of the season to face the No. 4 Eagles in the second round.
Senior quarterback Jordan Johnson threw for 223 yards and Travon Van caught a career-high nine passes for 161 of those yards as the upset-minded Griz fell behind early, but scored 17 points in the second half to make a push for the comeback, eventually falling 37-20.
Current Griz linebacker Jeremiah Kose kept the Griz within striking distance of the Eagles by intercepting a Vernon Adams pass in the end zone on a fourth down conversion play.
Kose and another current Griz, senior Herbert Gamboa, led the Montana defense in that game with 11 tackles each.
The win was the Eagles second of the season over the Griz. The first was a 36-26 regular season victory in Cheney.
SERIES HISTORY: Montana leads the all-time series over Eastern Washington 26-15-1, with the Grizzlies taking wins in 15 out of the last 23 meetings.
The Griz have lost four of the last five meetings with the Eagles however, with the last UM victory coming in 2011, a 17-14 win in Missoula. 2014 was the first times the two FCS powers have met in the same season.
WATCH: 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 Stiles and Jen Mueller on the sideline. To find Root Sports in your area, see the channel finder on gogriz.com.
The game will also be seen on ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain, Southwest Alt 1, DIRECTV Audience Network & AT&T U-Verse.
STREAMING: No web video stream will be available due to the Big Sky Conference media rights agreement with Root Sports.
Fans can also follow LIVE play-by-play action on Twitter via the Grizzlies’ official handle, @UMGRIZZLIES_FB.
RANKINGS: In another wild week of FCS football, the national polls changed dramatically, but the Griz remained steady at No. 22 in both the STATS FCS media poll and the NCAA FCS Coaches’ poll.
The 5-4 Griz picked up 621 points in the STATS FCS poll, and 83 points in the Coaches’ poll.
Montana is the fourth of five Big Sky Conference schools in the NCAA FCS Coaches’ poll, with EWU at 10, Southern Utah at 15, Portland State at 16, and Northern Arizona at 25.
Eastern Washington remains the top Big Sky team in the national polls, dropping from No. 4 following the loss to Northern Arizona.
Montana and EWU have both been nationally ranked for 15 out of their last 21 meetings.
WEEKLY AWARDS: Montana cornerback JR Nelson was named this week’s ROOT Sports Big Sky Conference defensive Player of the Week after playing a key role in Montana’s 33-27 defeat of Idaho State.
Montana’s game-winning play on a botched field goal attempt was officially ruled a fumble, making it the first fumble returned for a touchdown since Tucker Schye returned one 46 yards against Central Washington in 2014.
Nelson also returned an interception for 20 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, the first pick-six for the Grizzlies this season.
Nelson’s selection is Montana’s fourth Big Sky Player of the Week award so far this season, which ties the Grizzlies as the second most recognized team, along side Eastern Washington and Portland State, and behind Northern Arizona and Weber State who have five Player of the Week awards.
NOTES: Griz Defensive Coordinator Ty Gregorak celebrated his 120th win in his 12th year as a member of the Montana coaching staff last week.
Gregorak’s defense is currently ranked second in the Big Sky Conference in pass defense, and has held opponents to the third-fewest first downs in the league, allowing an average of just 18.8 per game. Of the 169 first downs allowed by the Griz, only four have been from penalties, while 101 have been on the rush, and 64 on the pass.
Last week, sophomore quarterback Makena Simis became the first Grizzly to rush for over 100 yards in a game this season, with 105 net yards and a long of 31, averaging 4.8 per carry.
JONES WATCH: Jamaal Jones hauled in 56 reception yards for the Griz against Idaho State, giving him 804 yards so far this season, and his putting his career total at 2,607 yards.
That 56 yards at Idaho State moved him up the all-time receiving list at Montana past Jon Talmage and Scott Gurnsey into third place. Jones needs 127 more yards on the season to move past Matt Wells into second place with 2,733 career yards.
Mark Mariani is Montana’s all time leading receiver, sitting on 3,018 career yards. Jones would need 411 more yards in the remaining two regular season games if he were to surpass Mariani, unless the Griz were to make a playoff appearance.