Still in the Hunt


You can say what you want about this year’s edition of University of Montana football, but one thing is for sure – while I’ll take a winning mark any old time, this group of Grizzlies does not seem inclined to win easily.

And while winning 70 percent of the time is what I’ve been accustomed to over 2 1/2 decades of broadcasting, games like last Saturday’s win over the University of North Dakota continue to add fodder for those who seem inclined to ask – “So what’s wrong with your Grizzlies this year?”

And while I continue to dutifully answer—they’re fine, thank you very much for asking – games like that against the Fighting Sioux make you think Montana is dominating only to realize you’re in the midst of a one-possession contest. It readies you for an ugly slugfest every time out and you just have to settle for being pleased when at the end, you’re left with plenty to improve upon–but after a win, not a loss.

Since it was a bye week, it was a bitter taste that hung around for two weeks after the loss in Ogden against Weber State. But since the Griz haven’t lost at regular season home game in ions, and are unbeaten in Missoula since the playoff loss to Wofford in 2007, I felt relatively secure going into the North Dakota game.

But at the half with a three-point lead on the day after the Grizzly Hall of Fame inductions, I fully realized, that even though Montana was to receive the second-half kickoff in front of a half empty stadium, the last 30 minutes would be a knuckle buster.

And while Chase Reynolds, who I’m sure is intent on delaying, but surely can visualize the end of his playing days, followed the run blocking of the offensive line and powered his way to season-highs in carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, the Grizzlies never really had this game put away.

Back-to-back scoring runs by Reynolds (the last one with five minutes to go was a career record breaker), made it a two-possession game. But the way Griz special teams have defended kickoffs this season – they surrendered a near fifth scoring runback when Dominque Hawkins returned a kickoff 99 yards to the one-yard line– you just had a feeling it could be another last possession win or loss.

But a defense that continues to play with its hair on fire never really let the Fighting Sioux close to a score or the ensuing onside kick possibility. Thus the Grizzlies have been propelled into the showdown finale against Montana State next Saturday. And believe it or not, they’re still in the hunt for the league crown with a win and an Eastern Washington loss.  If that happened it would eliminate any chance that the Bobcats could claim an outright championship.

I’m off to Salt lake City with men’s basketball for a Wednesday night game against Utah and will miss some of the week’s hype, but suffice it to say it’s the highest ranking for some years for Montana State and they deserve to be favored coming into Washington Grizzly Stadium.

Whether that is still the case in the waning daylight Saturday will be, to say the least, interesting.

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