FCS Playoffs Second Round Playoff: At EWU 37, Montana 20

By DAVE GUFFEY for GoGriz.com

The second time was not the charm for the 11th/12th-ranked University of Montana Grizzlies, as the comeback-minded Grizzlies lost 37-20 to the fourth-ranked Eastern Washington Eagles in a second round NCAA Division I FCS playoff game Saturday at EWU’s Roos Field.

The Eagles (11-2) were led by junior quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. who passed for two touchdowns and ran for another, while senior halfback Quincy Forte rushed for 128 yards and a TD. Host EWU defeated UM 36-26 earlier this season in a Big Sky Conference game on Nov. 8.

The Grizzlies ended their season with a 9-5 record in the last game for coach Mick Delaney at the helm, and several players left their imprint in UM’s record book.

UM kept its comeback hopes alive when it stopped EWU on a fourth down conversion on an interception of Adams by junior linebacker Jeremiah Kose in the end zone, but the Eagles put the game out of reach as junior strong safety Todd Raynes picked off a pass by Griz senior quarterback Jordan Johnson and returned it 40 yards, giving EWU a 37-20 lead and the final points of the game.

The Grizzlies had kept their comeback chance possible with 6:29 remaining, when Johnson connected with senior wide receiver/halfback Travon Van on a 30-yard touchdown pass, cutting EWU lead to 10 points (30-20).

Montana trimmed EWU’s lead to 27-13 with 14:51 left in the game on a 27-yard field goal by junior kicker Daniel Sullivan. But, after recovering a Griz fumble – just their fourth of the season, EWU regained its three-score lead, as kicker Tyler McNannay kicked a 23-yard field goal with 9:24 left in the contest.

The Eagles quickly answered UM’s TD, as senior halfback Quincy Forte broke loose for a 27-yard scoring run, giving EWU a three-score advantage (27-10) with 1:52 to go in the third stanza.

Montana scored its first touchdown of the game four big plays, going 82 yards, and capped the drive off with a 38-yard TD run by senior halfback Jordan Canada at the 5:33 mark of the third quarter, making the score 20-10, EWU. It was Canada’s 11th scoring run of the season.

The Eagles scored on their first possession on the second half, going 75 yards in nine plays, and took a 20-3 lead with 10:59 left in the third quarter on a 23-yard scoring pass from Adams to wide receiver Cory Mitchell.

EWU jumped to a double-digit lead with just nine seconds left until intermission, as Adams scored on a 3-yard run. McNannay missed the ensuing PAT, though, and the Eagles took a 13-3 advantage into the locker-room at halftime.

The Griz got on the board as time expired in the first quarter on a 28-yard field goal by Sullivan, cutting EWU’s lead to 7-3. UM had a first down on the Eagles’ 12-yard line, but had to settle for Sullivan’s three-pointer.

Picture18The Eagles took a 7-0 lead on a 2-yard scoring pass from Adams to tight end Terry Jackson II with 6:53 to go in the first quarter. The TD was set up on a blocked punt by EWU senior linebacker Ronnie Hamlin, as EWU took over the ball on its own 2-yard line.

Senior defensive end Zack Wagenmann had 3 sacks in the game, giving him 37.5 in his career, as he adds to his school-record total, and he increased his record total of tackles for loss to 52. Wagenmann, named the league’s defensive MVP recently, also hold the school record for forced fumbles (11).

Canada rushed 11 times for 79 yards and a TD. Canada now has 1,207 yards rushing this season, moving up to seventh in school history, passing current Griz running backs coach Justin Green (1,146 yards, 2003) and Lex Hilliard (1,132, 2007).

Johnson was 18-of-33-2 for 223 yards and a score, and rushed for 48 yards, Johnson threw for or 2,781 yards and 24 TDs, and those passing yards are the 15th most yards in school history, while his 24 TD are the seventh most (tie) in a season. His 8,612 career passing yards for 77 TDs are the third most in school history.

Senior free safety Matt Hermanson had 8 tackles, giving him 348 in his career, which ties him third in school history with former linebacker Kent Clausen (348 tackles, 1976-79).

Van had career-highs of 9 catches for 161 yards and a TD. Junior wide receiver Jamaal Jones had just 2 catches for 8 yards, but upped his season total to 1,037 receiving yards, which ranks him ninth in single-season history at UM.

Junior linebackers Hebert Gamboa and Kose led the Griz with 11 tackles each. LB Kendrick Van Ackeren added 9 stops, followed by Hermanson’s 8. Defensive backs Nate Harris and Justin Whitted, and end Tyrone Holmes had 7 tackles apiece,

Delaney, who announced recently that he would retire after the 2014 season, finished his three-year stint as head coach with 24 wins– the seventh most ever by a UM mentor.

The Eagles will host Illinois State (11-1) next week in a quarterfinal game on Dec. 12/13..