By ERIC TABER
The Montana Grizzlies defeated archrival Montana State in dominant fashion last week to claim the 115th “Brawl of the Wild”, and move ahead of the Bobcats 72-37-5 in the all time series.
With the win, the Griz claimed a share of second place in the Big Sky Conference, and kept playoff hopes alive. Those hopes were confirmed on Sunday when the NCAA selection committee awarded the Griz (7-4) an at-large playoff bid to host the South Dakota State Jackrabbits (8-3) of the Missouri Valley Conference.
Kickoff for the NCAA FCS playoff game is set for 1:00 p.m. (MT) on Saturday, Nov. 28 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula. The game marks Montana’s FCS record 23rd appearance in the playoffs.
Tickets for the playoff game are on sale now at GrizTix.com, and at the Adams Center Box Office on the UM campus.
The newest Grizzly tradition, the Griz Walk, will once again take place in the lead-up to the game. Fans are encouraged to cheer the team on as they walk from their final meeting into the locker rooms for game prep on Saturday at 10:50 a.m. on the sidewalk in between McGill Hall and the Adams Center.
WATCH: Due to the NCAA’s exclusive partnership with ESPN for all playoff games, the Montana/South Dakota State game will be shows live via web stream on ESPN 3 and the WATCH ESPN app. It will also be shown on DirecTV’s ESPN College Extra channel. Complete broadcast details of the game can be found at gogriz.com.
GRIZ RADIO: Mick Holien, Greg Sundberg and Adam Painter will bring Griz fans the action sate wide over the Montana Grizzlies Radio Network. Web audio streaming is not available for this game due to NCAA rights agreements.
THE GAME: After beating its two biggest rivals, the Montana Grizzlies enter the playoffs as the No. 16/17 team in the country, and burning white hot after putting 111 points on the board in the past two games.
The Griz finish the regular season tied for second in the Big Sky Conference with Portland State in a wild last weekend of play could have seen one of four teams take the conference title.
Montana enters the playoffs as one of three teams in the FCS Playoffs, along side conference champ Southern Utah, and Portland State, who earned a No. 6 seed from the selection committee, and a first round bye.
South Dakota State comes to Missoula ranked ahead of the Grizzlies at No. 10/12 after putting together an impressive season that saw notable wins over Kansas, Youngstown State, No. 4 ranked Illinois State, and a 55-10 dismantling of Big Sky Champion Southern Utah.
The Jackrabbits are one of five teams from the Missouri Valley Conference to earn a place in the FCS playoffs, along side Illinois State, North Dakota State, Northern Iowa, and Western Illinois, whom the Jackrabbits lost to in double-overtime last week.
SDSU enters the playoffs outscoring its opponents 324-184 during the regular season, averaging just shy of 30 points-per-game, and averaging 417 yards of total offense per game.
The Jackrabbits bring with them a potent passing attack led by wide receiver Jake Wieneke, a finalist for the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year award who has caught for 1344 yards this season, has 11 touchdowns, and is averaging 122 yards-per-game.
SERIES HISTORY: Saturday’s game between the Griz and Jackrabbits will be only the eighth in series history. Montana has never lost to South Dakota State, and has only played the Jackrabbits three times since they moved up to FCS (D1-AA) from D II in 2004.
Even though SDSU has only played FCS football for 11 years, the three meetings between the two schools has provided some thrilling games for Griz fans over the years, including a come from behind 52-48 win for the Griz in 1993, and a tight 7-0 win in 2005, all played in Missoula.
LAST MEETING: The last meeting between the two schools may have been one of the greatest in Montana history though.
In 2009, the Jackrabbits came to Missoula to face the top ranked and then-undefeated Griz (11-0) who found themselves trailing No. 11 SDSU by 27 points with 5:40 left in the third quarter. The Griz then rattled off 40 unanswered points to claim a 61-48 win, sparked by a Marc Mariani kickoff return.
Current Montana quarterbacks coach Andrew Selle was the man under center for the Griz in that game, and 309 yards on 27-43 attempts. Current Saint Louis Rams running back Chase Reynolds had 35 hard yards rushing on 14 attempts, but scored three times for the Griz as Montana put up 34 points in the fourth quarter alone to beat the Jackrabbits.
UM went on to dismantle Stephen F. Austin 51-0, and beat Appalachian State 34-14 in an instant classic before falling in the FCS Championship to Villanova.
HOLMES WATCH: Senior defensive end Tyrone Holmes earned a first-team pick on the Big Sky all-conference team on Tuesday after moving into fourth place on the all-time career sack list with 30.5 career sacks at Montana.
He currently leads the nation with 14 sacks on the season. Holmes now needs two more sacks to move into third place with 32, and just 2.5 more move into second place on UM’s all-time list.
Holmes added a tackle-for-loss against Montana State, upping his career total to 43.5, holding steady in sixth place on Montana’s all-time ranking.
With just two more TFLs this season, Holmes can pass three more former Grizzlies, and move into third on the all-time ranking with 45.5.
JONES WATCH: Jamaal Jones hauled in 132 yards receiving last week against Montana State to inch him closer to breaking Mark Mariani’s all-time receiving record at Montana (3,018).
The senior from Spanaway, Washington now has 2,896 career yards, needing just 123 more to eclipse the all-time mark.
Jones also has 1,092 yards this season, the fifth-highest single season total in Montana history behind Etu Molden, who’s 2001 season total was 1,145 yards. Jones also surpassed his previous season-best mark of 1,044 he set in 2014.
Marc Mariani holds the single season receiving yards record at Montana as well with 1,479. Jones would need 387 more yards to complete the best season in Montana history.
COACH STITT’S KEYS TO THE GAME: “Defensively we need to be able to slow them down with the run. You’d like to be able to make them one dimensional in a game like that. I don’t know if they’d feel real comfortable having to drop back, and with our defensive line, with Ty Holmes, you want to be able to say, ‘Hey, it’s a passing down. Go get ‘em’,” said Coach Stitt during his weekly radio show.
“Offensively we need to start over, and let’s put some first downs together, let’s move the ball, and let it come to us.”
BACK TO THE PLAYOFFS: The Griz return to the FCS playoffs for the 23rd time in program history, the most of any D1-AA or FCS team. The next teams on the all-time list are Eastern Kentucky (who missed the 2015 playoffs) and Northern Iowa, who both have 21 appearances.
Montana has the second most FCS playoff victories of any program with 31 playoff wins. Georgia Southern holds the record for most playoff wins at 45.
Montana also holds the record for consecutive playoff appearances with 17, a mark set between 1993-2009. New Hampshire continues to close in on the Griz in that category, picking up its 12th consecutive appearance since 2004 this year.