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D-II Central Washington Looks to Rekindle Past Big Sky Success vs. Montana
For an inquiry on the capabilities of Central Washington’s football program, just refer to Montana State in 2002 and Eastern Washington in 2006: both Big Sky clubs were slain by the Division II Wildcats.
Can history repeat itself Saturday?
Don’t expect the fourth-ranked Montana Grizzlies to doze off after last Saturday’s last minute win over UC Davis. Central Washington is 4-0 and ranked ninth in the AFCA Division II poll, boasting close road wins over Dixie State and Western Oregon.
“I’m real anxious to get going again. We got a good, solid opponent coming in here,” said senior receiver Mike Ferriter, who caught his third touchdown pass of the season against UC Davis.
On paper, Saturday’s match-up represents one final tune up for Montana before it begins a crucial two-game road stretch at Weber State and Eastern Washington. But as Montana State and Eastern Washington have learned, Central Washington has proved in the past to be a deadly cupcake to try and swallow. This year is no different, as they arrive in Missoula with NFL prospects at quarterback and tight end, and a spread offense that is averaging 42 points per game.
Former Flathead High quarterback Mike Reilly is a Division II All-American for the Wildcats, averaging 320 passing yards per game in an offense that has outscored opponents 171 to 86 through four games.
Montana will again face an experienced crew of wide receivers on the perimeter. Division II All-American tight end Jared Bronson has caught three touchdown catches and is averaging 18 yards per catch, and 6-3 junior wide out Johnny Spevak has had a coming out party through four games, catching 34 balls for 556 yards and six touchdowns.
“The receivers we’re going to face this week are probably the best receivers that we’re going to play, besides Ramses (Barden),” said freshman corner Andrew Swink. “Ramses is just one receiver; we got three this week.”
Central Washington will face a maturing defensive unit, which last week cemented Montana’s late fourth quarter touchdown drive by stalling the UC Davis rally threat, as junior linebacker Brandon Fisher broke up a pass on fourth and two with just minutes left. Trumaine Johnson’s second quarter 56-yard interception return set up a Thomas Brooks-Fletcher touchdown run at the end of the half. It was Johnson’s third pick in two games.
Head coach Bobby Hauck said that despite Montana leading the league in third down defense, allowing UC Davis to complete half of its third downs last week afforded the Aggies ball control opportunities, which led to scoring drives of 15 and 17 plays.
“We’ll continue to emphasize third down, hopefully get a better handle on it and get more stops and make more plays,” Hauck said. “Third down is essentially playmaking time. Assuming we get our guys in the right call, then we got to make plays.”
Stopping Central Washington’s attack is a concern of Hauck’s, but the sentiment is also shared by the Wildcats first-year head coach Blaine Bennett, who is staring down the task of slowing Montana’s offense.
“We’re very aware of it, but I don’t know how you stop them,” said Bennett of Montana’s offense, which is averaging 378 yards of total offense per game. Bennett said that he was impressed with the efficiency of Montana’s passing game, which has accounted for 250 yards per game. “They have great receivers and they have great team speed. It’s going to be a great challenge for our secondary.”
Bennett said his team has to focus on winning the third phase of the game - special teams, a unit that has produced three punt blocks in the past three games for Montana, two of which set up scores. Bennett said neutralizing the Griz special teams is critical for his team to hang around.
“We’ve won games on special teams the past two weeks,” Bennett said. “For us to have any chance at all, we have equal them on special teams.”
Central Washington will also need an almost perfect outing from Reilly and its offense, which will try to take advantage of Montana’s young corners. The Griz defensive secondary is equally optimistic to face the spread attack, with Swink saying that the he is looking forward to the challenge. After all, he has work to do in order to catch up to Johnson’s interception total.
“I think I’m going to catch up to him this week. They pass the ball 90 percent of the time,” said Swink, with a laugh. “I’m going to have a chance to get at least one or two.”
Central Washington looks to rekindle past Big Sky success
by Roman Stubbs, Montana Kaimin