Griz Host Eagles in Titanic Playoff Rematch

The second season of Montana football kicks off under Friday night lights this week as the Grizzlies ride a five-game winning streak into the second round of the FCS playoffs for a prime-time rematch against Eastern Washington.

Fresh off a bye week and momentum to spare after a decisive 29-10 win over rival Montana State, the Griz (9-2, 6-2) open the 2021 playoffs at home, with kickoff from Washington-Grizzly Stadium set for 7 p.m.

Montana will face Eagles squad (10-2, 6-2 BSC) that comes to Missoula after a first-round playoff win over Northern Iowa (19-9), are winners of three of their last five, and are averaging over 500 yards of offense per game – video game-like numbers.

One of those ten wins? It was over Montana on Oct. 2, under the lights in Cheney in front of a national audience on ESPN2.

In Montana’s FCS record 25th playoff appearance, the Griz will face a familiar foe in the high-flying Eagles, getting a shot at redemption for that 34-28 loss on their red carpet, but this time they will have to contend with a capacity Griz crowd that broke a stadium record against MSU.

They’ll also have to contend with the fact Washington-Grizzly Stadium has been happy hunting ground for the Griz in postseason play, with Montana holding a 30-7 all-time record in playoff games at home.

As the Griz emerge from a bout against injuries, Montana enters the game on the uptick, with key components back in the lineup and a defense that is playing, arguably, the best any Griz defense has every played. And that’s saying something.

It will be a clash of a titanic offense versus an immovable iceberg of a defense, and the winner keeps marching on through the bracket.

THE MATCHUP: Led by highlight-reel QB Eric Barriere, the Eagles come to Missoula with one of the most potent offenses in the nation, averaging more than 550 yards and 44 points per game.

They’ll have to contend with Montana’s defense however. A speedy defense led by Buchanan Award finalists Patrick O’Connell and Justin Ford that only allowed one touchdown in the entire month of November, and that one came on the final drive of the game against MSU.

Montana’s defense is an undefeated 9-0 this season when holding opponents to 20 points or less, but will be tested by an Eagles outfit that put up 538 yards of offense in the last meeting.

But the Griz were also missing some key contributors in that game in seniors Joe Babros (D-end) and Gavin Robertson (safety), each of which add to Montana’s defensive team speed.

They’ll try to put the brakes on Barriere, running back Dennis Merritt (averaging 71 yards per game), and a host of receivers with big play ability led by Talolo Limu-Jones, who’s hauled in 907 yards on 57 grabs this season.

But the Grizzly offense is starting to find its stride as well. Montana has averaged nearly 30 points per contest over the last five wins, and has been bolstered by the return of some key contributors there as well, including the team’s leading rusher in Xavier Harris, who rushed for 124 yards and a TD at Eastern in October.

Also bursting on the scene late in the year is tight end Cole Grossman, who has had a touchdown in three of the last five games and had at least one big play catch of 20 yards or more in each of the last four games.

IMPLICATIONS: Win or go home. Simple as that.

With the No. 6 seed in the FCS playoffs, Montana landed in the loaded sided of this year’s bracket, setting up a potential murderer’s row of future opponents, if chalk holds.

The winner of the UM/EWU game will go on to face the winner of the No. 3 James Madison vs Southeastern Louisiana game on December 11 in the quarterfinals. While the SELA has been on fire with the best scoring offense in the FCS this season at 47.2 points per game, they are the same Lions that came into Washington-Grizzly Stadium in 2019 and fell to the Griz 73-28. JMU, meanwhile, is one of only three teams in the FCS to be top-five in major offensive and defensive statistical categories. So that will be a challenge.

It doesn’t get much easier from there as the winner of that game will enter the North Dakota State corner of the Bracket, with the Bison ranked No. 2 and all but assured home-field advantage through the playoffs, barring an upset.

WATCH: For those not lucky enough to be inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium Friday night, the ESPN+ streaming service will be the only place fans can watch the Griz take on the Eagles, with the broadcast available to a nationwide audience (subscription required).

Longtime ESPN commentator Shawn Kenney will have the play-by-play call, with former NFL lineman Barrett Brooks serving as analyst.

The NCAA owns and manages all broadcast rights to the FCS playoffs, and its broadcast partner ESPN determines what platform games will be available on.

LISTEN: “Voice of the Griz” Riley Corcoran and long-time analyst Greg Sundberg will bring you the action live from Washington-Grizzly Stadium Friday night on KGVO Missoula, the flagship station of the Grizzly Sports Radio Network, and its fifteen affiliates around the state.

New in 2021, Griz fans have a better than ever way to stream all of Montana’s radio broadcasts on their mobile device LIVE and FREE of charge with the Varsity Network App, powered by Learfield and Sidearm Sports. Live audio web streams can also be found at

Fans can download the app for iPhone or Android use for instant access to free gameday audio streams plus the Coach Hauck Radio Show, and receive push notifications to remind them of games starting or upcoming audio broadcasts as well.

COACHES SHOW: The Bobby Hauck radio show returns this week, broadcast live across the state from the banks of the Clark Fork River at the show’s new home of FINN in the DoubleTree Hotel in Missoula, each Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Admission to watch the live broadcast at FINN is free, with a special coaches’ show menu available.


HAUK MILESTONES:  Bobby Hauck – Montana’s winningest coach of all time – added to his lengthy resume with the win over MSU. The victory was his 107th career win as the Grizzly mentor, and his 63rd win in Big Sky Conference play.

107 wins ties him with former Portland State and Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh as the third-winningest coach in conference history, while his 63rd win ties him with Mike Kramer for the fourth-most league wins.

Hauck needs five more wins to pass former Nevada coach and College Football Hall of Famer Chris Ault’s Big Sky win total of 111, and is chasing former Grizzly assistant Jerome Souers as the Big Sky’s winningest coach of all time at 123 wins, needing 17 wins to get there.

• Hauck improved his all-time head coaching record against Montana State to 6-4 last week. MSU is the only team in the Big Sky conference to have ever won more than two games against Hauck. Following the Oct. 2 game, Hauck is now 7-2 all-time against the Eagles.

• Friday’s game marks Hauck’s ninth trip to the FCS/1-AA postseason as the Grizzlies’ head coach, and his 11th trip as a member of the UM coaching staff.

PASS THE BUCK: Cornerback Justin Ford and Linebacker Patrick O’Connell, both juniors and both two of the top statistical performers in the FCS, are two of 25 finalists for the Stats Perform Buck Buchanan Award.

In his first season as a Grizzly, Ford has been one of the most dominant defensive backs in all of Division-I football, going on an unprecedented streak of collecting eight interceptions in eight-straight games.

His eight interceptions are the most, not only in FCS football but in FBS and D-II football as well. And in addition to interceptions, he also ranks third in the nation in total passes defended and is second in the Big Sky and top-15 in the FCS in fumbles recovered.

O’Connell, who was named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week after posting 11 tackles and 1.5 sacks against MSU, has also been a commanding presence in coordinator Kent Baer‘s defense.

The Kalispell native leads the Big Sky and is third in the FCS in total sacks with 13 to his name, getting in on at least one in 10 of UM’s 11 games to date. He also ranks third in the league in both tackles for loss and forced fumbles and is ranked No. 8 in the conference in total tackles.

Montana’s Dante Olson won the Buchanan Award in 2019 – the last complete season of FCS football played. Other Buchanan Award winners from UM include Tyrone Holmes in 2015 and Kroy Biermann in 2007.

MONEY MACIAS: Senior kicker Kevin Macias earned Special Teams Player of the Week honors from the Big Sky Conference after a dominant performance in against MSU where he went 5-5 on field goals and 2-2 on PATs for a personal haul of 17 points.

One of those field goals was a career-long 50 yarder, which beat-out his career-long of 49 yards set just a week previous at NAU.

Five field goals is rare for any team. So, when was the last time a Grizzly slotted more than four field goals in a single game? Back in 2015 Dan Sullivan made four in a 54-35 rout of MSU in Bozeman – the last time the Griz beat the Cats.

It’s also been a minute since a Grizzly slotted a 50-yard field goal. Ben Worst was the last UM kicker to hit from that deep, nailing a 50-yarder against Oklahoma Panhandle State back in 2013. Both remain two of the longest field goals in Grizzly history, with only six kickers connecting on 12 attempts from 50+ yards all-time at UM.

BOOM-CHINI: Brian Buschini has had the best single season performance by a punter in UM history, with an average of 46.4 yards per punt on 62 attempts.

That 46.4 yards per-attempt is currently the sixth-best single season average in Big Sky history, and the third best in conference history in punters who don’t play in a dome.

This week, his average also places him in the top-12 for all punters in D-1 football.

RECORD WATCH: Samuel Akem became the fourth-leading receiver in Montana history last week, passing Jamaal Jones with 185 career grabs to date. He also passed a pair of Montana legend on the all-time receiving yards list in Shalon Baker and Jon Talmage, now with 2,572 yards to his name, and is just three yards shy of passing long-time Grizzly radio personality Scott Guernsey.

Patrick O’Connell also moved up UM’s all-time sack and TFL tables after a big game against MSU. He passed Shawn Poole (1982-85) on UM’s all-time TFL list to move into top 15, and Jay Turner (1991-94) on the all-time sack list with 19.5 to move into the top-10 with a year left to play.


• Montana is 9-2 all-time in night games at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The last time the Griz lost under the lights at home? 2017, against the very same Eastern Washington Eagles.

• For the first time this season, Montana was outrushed by an opponent (MSU) and still won the game. The Griz are 8-1 when winning the ground game, and 1-1 when losing it. The last time Montana lost the ground game prior to that was the loss to conference champion Sacramento State.

• Alternatively, UM is a perfect 7-0 when out-passing opponents. Cam Humphrey and the Griz more than doubled MSU’s passing yardage 237-108, giving UM 84 more yards of total offense. The Griz are also 7-0 when posting more total yards than their opponent this season.

• Somehow, Montana is undefeated at 4-0 when losing the turnover battle this season. The Griz threw two interceptions to the Cat’s one fumble (that was returned for a touchdown by Justin Ford).

• Speaking of that return… Montana has played two-straight games with a fumble return for a touchdown. The first was a strip-sack by Robby Hauck that O’Connell ran back against NAU, the other was Ford’s score on a botched and blocked fake field goal attempt by MSU. Ford vs MSU.

• The last time a Grizzly returned an actual blocked field goal was way back in 2005 by Jimmy Wilson against NAU.