Eagles to Return to Missoula for Rivalry Showdown

The Montana Grizzlies return home to a renewed rivalry this week as the Eastern Washington Eagles come to town for the first time since 2017 after sitting out a one-year hiatus in 2018, a lapse in the schedule that has not occurred since 1982.

Two of the most successful FCS teams of the past 20 years are set to collide in Washington-Grizzly Stadium as the No. 10/11 Griz (5-2, 2-1) return home after being stung by the Sac State Hornets, now set to host the defending FCS Championship runner-up Eagles (3-4, 2-1) on Saturday, Oct. 26, with kickoff set for noon.

Picked to repeat as conference champions in 2019, the Eagles come to Missoula after a bye week with four losses on the season. But, at 2-1 in league play and a top-five FCS offense averaging nearly 500 yards per game, EWU may be down but are certainly not out of the Big Sky title race. Led by junior quarterback Eric Barriere, the Eagles offense has soared at times this season, posting the most total yards of offense in the conference.

Following a dominant start to the season, Montana enters the week in need of a rebound after a 49-22 loss to the upstart Hornets. While the quarterback position might be a question mark, Montana still enters the game with the seventh-best total offense in the FCS, averaging more than 480 yards and 38.3 points per game.

It’s an offense that is loaded with weapons at receiver in the likes of Samuel Akem (ranked No. 15 nationally in receptions per game) and Samori Toure, and has an emerging run game in Marcus Knight (ranked No. 9 nationally in rushing TD’s), that remains explosive no matter who is under center.

As is typical when the two rivals meet, all indicators point to Saturday’s game being an offensive shootout and one that will likely have postseason ramifications.

“They have a really good football team. We’re all aware they played in the national championship game a year ago,” said Montana head coach Bobby Hauck.

“Their offense is very skilled, and it starts with the quarterback. Barriere is a dynamic, special guy with the ball in his hands. I think they have good skill, always have good offensive linemen, including this year, and they’re just tough to stop.”

HAPPENINGS: The Grizzlies celebrate the history of Montana football this week with the “Pride and Tradition” game, honoring all the things that make UM football one of the best fan experiences in college football. Fans are asked to join the team in sporting their best maroon and silver for the occasion.

GRIZ WALK: Fans are encouraged to gather on Memorial Row (outside the Adams Center) at 9:50 a.m. to cheer on the Griz as they make their way from final meetings to the locker room prior to kick off in one of UM’s newest traditions.

WATCH: The Griz/Eagle rivalry game marks the third of six Griz games this season to be broadcast nationwide on ROOT Sports. Veteran broadcaster Tom Glasgow will have the play-by-play, with analysis from Taylor Barton.

ROOT Sports and its regional affiliates (AT&T Rocky Mountain, Las Vegas, and Southwest) are available on DirecTV, Dish Network, and Spectrum Cable. The game will also be shown nationwide on DirecTV’s Audience Network, part of the satellite provider’s basic channel lineup.

A web stream of the game is also available via AT&T Now and AT&T TV (subscription required) via the Audience Network.

LISTEN: “Voice of the Griz” Riley Corcoran and longtime analyst Greg Sundberg will bring you the action live from Washington-Grizzly Stadium on KGVO Missoula, the flagship station of the Grizzly Sports Radio Network, and its thirteen affiliates around the state. Live audio web streams can also be found at GoGriz.com/Listen or on the TuneIn app.

LIVE STATS: Live stats can be found at GrizStats.com

ABOUT THE EAGLES: Led by 2018 Big Sky co-Coach of the Year Aaron Best (the other being UC Davis’ Dan Hawkins), the Eagles are looking to return to the FCS playoffs where they made a title-game run in 2018, finishing with a 12-3 record.

• Each at 2-1, the Griz and Eagles are tied for third place in the current Big Sky standings. EWU has not won a road game yet this season at 0-4, but have remained undefeated at home.

• The Eagles have played four games against Big Sky opponents this year, but only three counted as conference games, with their 27-35 road loss against Idaho – a school just 72 miles down the road – a nonconference game due to an unbalanced league schedule.

• The Eagles lost 13 starters from last year’s championship squad, but have returned one of the top offensive threats in the Big Sky in Barriere, who is complimented in the run game by senior RB Antoine Custer, who is averaging nearly 82 yards per game on the ground this season and has over 2,000 in his career with eight 100+ yard games.

• While Barriere (a member of the watch list for the Walter Payton Award) has accounted for 2,239 yards in the air this season (the second-most passing yards per game in the league), he has relied on several receivers to get there.

• Four EWU receivers: Andrew Boston (392), Jayson Williams (369) Dre’ Sonte Dorton (477), and Johnny Edwards (335) have all caught 20 or more passes for more than 335 yards as Barriere’s favorite targets.

• Defensively, EWU senior DB Dehonta Hayes is the third-leading tackler in the Big Sky (and No. 8 tackler in the FCS), averaging 10.4 tackles per game. The leading tackler in the league? UM’s Dante Olson. More on him later.

SERIES HISTORY: It’s not a stretch to say the Grizzlies and Eagles have played a key role in determining the Big Sky Champion for most of the last 40 years. Since joining the league in 1987, Montana or Eastern Washington have either won the conference championship or come in second in 29 of the past 31 years, with both teams finishing top-two in 10 of those years.

This year’s matchup appears to be no different. Montana enters the game with a 27-17-1 all-time advantage, with a 16-6-1 all-time record in Missoula. But the Eagles have been red hot in recent years, winning seven of the last nine, including 2017’s come-from-behind 48-41 win in Missoula.

• The 1986 game between Montana and Eastern Washington marked the final game ever played in Dornblaser Field. Current Montana assistant head coach and wide receivers coach Brent Pease led the Griz to a 42-37 win that day under head coach Don Read in his first year at UM. Two weeks later, Montana opened Washington-Grizzly Stadium with a 38-31 win over Idaho State. 

• The Eagles enter the game unranked for a third-straight week, a rare position for the defending co-champs, with the last time EWU played unranked coming in 2011. Despite that, this week’s matchup marks the 22nd-straight meeting between the two, with at least one team ranked in the top-25. 

COACH HAUCK BY THE NUMBERS: Saturday’s game marks the first time Grizzly head coach Bobby Hauck will face the Eagles since his return to Montana in 2017, renewing a rivalry in which he holds a commanding lead. Montana went 7-1 against EWU during his first stint as UM head coach from 2003-2009, with the only loss occurring in 2005 in Missoula, 34-20.

Only two teams in the Big Sky have ever beat Hauck’s Grizzlies more than once – MSU (3) PSU (2) – leaving nine teams with just a single win over UM from 2003-2009, and in 2018 – Eastern Washington included.

This past Saturday marked Hauck’s first loss to the Hornets in his 14-year history as a head coach, leaving only one other team never to beat his teams. Only Northern Colorado has never beat the Griz with Hauck at the helm, with UM holding a 6-0 record against the Bears under the winningest coach in Montana history.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: A look at the stats also points to a shootout on Saturday, with Montana and Eastern Washington among the top five in the Big Sky in scoring offense, total offense, and passing offense.

The Griz continue to lead the league in third-down conversions after seven games, converting on 47.4 percent of attempts. The Eagles are also proficient in converting on third down, sitting fifth in the Big Sky by converting at a 43 percent rate.

The Griz are also one of the top teams in the league in turnover margin, sitting in fourth place in the league with a +4 on the season (13 gained, nine lost). EWU is tied for second in their turnover margin at +5, gaining one more interception than UM to put them at 14 gained, nine lost. Weber State leads the league with a +10 turnover margin.


CHASING 600: Montana needs one more win this season to become the 22nd team in FCS football to achieve 600 or more wins in program history. Dating back to 1897, Montana would become the only school in the Big Sky Conference on the 600+ win chart, and only the fourth FCS school west of the Mississippi to compile more than a half-century of wins (the others: North Dakota St., UNI, and South Dakota St.).

Montana would also be one of just 22 schools in all of Division-I football west of the Mississippi River to accumulate more than 600 wins in program history.

PASSED 300: With 16 tackles at Sac State – or for him, just another day at the office – Dante Olson continues his march toward the top of Montana’s all-time tacklers’ list with 303 career takedowns to his name.

Olson passed a number of legends on the list and now sits at No. 10 in career tackles at UM. He moved ahead of the career totals of National champion Jason Crebo, NFL Draft Pick Caleb McSurdy, NFC Champion Brock Coyle, four-time Big Sky Champion Shawn Lebsock, and ’82 conference champ Jake Trammell.

TOP TACKLERS: Olson led the nation in tackles as a junior in 2018 with a school-record 151 takedowns, an average of 13.1 per game. Now as a senior, Olson is climbing his way back to the top of the national standings in tackles with 85 so far this season (12.1 per game), ranking him first in the Big Sky and second nationally this week.

Brandon Easterling of Dayton is the current national leader in tackles, averaging 13.7 per game with 82-total in six games. The Flyers are currently third in the Pioneer League standings.

Montana’s Robby Hauck and Jace Lewis also rank among the top five tacklers in the league, with Hauck sitting at No. 4 with 68 tackles (9.7 TPG), and Lewis at No. 5 with 64 (9.1 TPG).

CAREER DAYS: Lewis has been on a tear in the tackling department as of late, setting a new career-high for tackles in each of the last three games. Against UC Davis, the junior posted 13 tackles and followed that up with 14 against Idaho State. On Saturday, he set a new personal best with a game-high 17 tackles against Sac State.

D-LINE PICKS: Montana freshman D-lineman Alex Gubner was the lucky recipient of a tipped pass at Sac State that gave him the second interception of his career. While Montana has the third-most INTs in the league as a team with eight, Gubner is the only Grizzly and the only D-lineman in the league with more than one.

EXPERIENCE COUNTS: Seniors Cy SirmonJustin Calhoun, and Josh Sandry each made their 40th appearance in a Grizzly jersey last week in Sacramento – the most appearances on the team. Sirmon and Calhoun have been journeymen in their time at UM, with Sirmon playing starting his career at linebacker before eventually moving to the offensive line. Calhoun started as a wide receiver and has made the transformation to cornerback where he is now among the top 15 in the league in passes defended. Sandry has been a stalwart at safety since his sophomore season.

No. 37 Jesse Sims is set to make his 40th career appearance on Saturday against the Eagles.

UP NEXT: The Griz return to the state of Oregon for a second time this season to face another of the upstart teams in the Big Sky: Portland State on Nov. 2. The Vikings (5-3, 3-1 BSC) are 4-0 at home so far this season, are winners of three-straight including a home win over Idaho, with a defense that held the SEC’s Arkansas Razorbacks to just 20 points.