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Permalink 12/16/09 , CSN West, CSN Columns

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CSN West: Three is A Magic Number

floated rightBy Kent Schmidt, CSN West Columnist

Growing up, the song “Three is a magic number” was one I would sing along to while watching “Schoolhouse Rock” Saturday mornings on ABC Television. The song was written and recorded by Bob Dorough.

That song came back to memory as I watched Montana triumph last Saturday to return to the FCS Championship game for a second consecutive year.

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You probably are asking what this song has to do with anything going into this week’s title contest in Chattanooga. Three is a number that Montana hopes to gain in a couple of ways. The Grizzlies hope to win their third national title, and they also hope the third trip for current coach Bobby Hauck will earn him his first title as the head man in Missoula.

How did Montana get to the national title game?

I explained the first two rounds in my columns the last two weeks as Montana rebounded to defeat South Dakota State in the first round 61-48, then blew out Stephen F. Austin 51-0 in the quarterfinals.

Then came last week’s much-anticipated showdown with Appalachian State. This semifinal round game turned out to be a classic between the two FCS titans.

Montana held off a last-minute drive by Appalachian State to win 24-17. Montana tied the game at 17-17 with a Brody McKnight 32-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.

App State was moving the ball following the Griz field goal. Mountaineer quarterback Armanti Edwards found Matt Cline for a 26-yard gain to set the Mountaineers up in Montana territory, but on the next play safety Shann Schillinger stepped in front of Edwards’ pass at the UM 10 and returned the interception to the Montana 34. The Griz were forced to punt.

ASU took over at its own 19, and it put together a 12-play drive, but again the Griz defense stiffened. ASU kicker Jason Vitaris missed a 44-yard field goal attempt, leaving the game tied 17-17 with under four minutes left.

Montana took possession from the missed spot and drove 73 yards on four plays. Griz quarterback Andrew Selle found receiver Jabin Sambrano streaking down the sideline in the end zone for a 25-yard scoring pass that gave Montana a 24-17 lead.

The Mountaineers started at their own 25 with around a minute and a half on the clock. They used three Edwards’ passes to cover 51 yards, and following three incompletions ASU took a timeout to set up for fourth-and-10 at the UM 24 with 25 seconds remaining.

Edwards completed a pass to wideout Brian Quick to the Montana 14, which was ruled on the field to be a first down after an official review confirmed the spot. ASU had new life again.

The Mountaineers picked up another first down when Edwards passed to Devon Moore for 11 yards to the UM 3, but App State was forced to spend its final timeout.

Griz linebacker Brandon Fisher then tipped a pass to prevent a touchdown with :02 seconds to go, and when Edwards’ pass to Quick fell incomplete on the game’s last play, Montana prevailed and is now headed to Chattanooga.

The Griz offensive weapon was runningback Chase Reynolds, who rushed for 193 yards and two touchdowns. With his two scoring runs against ASU, Reynolds now has 24 total touchdowns this season (22 rushing, 2 receiving); breaking the record of 23 he set last year. His 144 points in 2009 breaks the single-season record of 138 that he also set a year ago.

Who will Montana play in Coach Hauck’s third title game?

The Grizzlies will face a school that is making its first trip to a national title game in the Villanova Wildcats. Villanova had a classic battle last Friday night in defeating William & Mary 14-13. The Wildcats rushed 38 times for 168 yards and two touchdowns to defeat the Tribe in their semifinal round game in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Villanova, which was the No. 2 seed entering the playoffs, rallied after W&M had jumped out to leads of 10-0 at halftime lead and 13-7 in the fourth quarter. A sneak by junior quarterback Chris Whitney from a yard out gave the Wildcats the lead for the first time with under 11 minutes remaining.

The two teams exchanged punts and Villanova ran the clock out on its final possession to secure its first FCS title game appearance.

Villanova defeated New Hampshire in the quarterfinals and Holy Cross in the first round.

Villanova will be the third straight Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) team that Montana will face in the title contest. The Griz lost their two previous games (in 2004 to James Madison and last year to Richmond).

Yet another No. 3 that the Griz hopes to be a charm to overcome, to look to get their third overall national title, in Coach Hauck’s third trip to Chattanooga. I think three will be a magic number this year and believe the Griz should come home to Missoula with the third title. Yes, yes, three is a magic number.

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CSN West National Title Game Preview

#2 Seed Villanova (13-1) vs. #1 Seed Montana (14-0), 8:03 pm Eastern

In its two most recent trips to the title game, Montana has been defeated for the championship by James Madison (31-21 in 2004) and by Richmond (24-7 in 2008). Overall, the CAA is 4-3 in the postseason against the Big Sky Conference, including all rounds of the FCS playoffs.

Montana is attempting to become just the fourth undefeated and untied team to win the national championship. Eastern Kentucky (1982), Georgia Southern (1989) and Marshall (1996) are the only other teams to accomplish the feat. Youngstown State also went undefeated, but it had a tie when it went 14-0-1 en route to the 1994 national title.

Villanova is averaging 269.7 rushing yards with 11 rushing touchdowns in the playoffs. The Wildcats’ defense has allowed just 25.7 rushing yards per game with one rushing touchdown. Opponents are averaging 1.0 yards per rush in the playoffs against the Wildcats.

Villanova ranks fourth in the nation in rushing offense, but it has no one averaging more than 53.1 rushing yards per game. Wildcat quarterback Chris Whitney ranks ninth in the nation in passing efficiency at 150.13. In the playoffs, he’s thrown for 381 yards with one touchdown with no interceptions.

Montana, on the other hand, ranks ninth in total offense with 427.57 yards per game and first in scoring with 36.86 points. Montana quarterback Andrew Selle is seventh in the nation in passing efficiency at 153.7. In the playoffs, Selle has thrown for 751 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions.

The Griz defense ranks ninth in scoring defense (18.71 points per game) and ninth against the rush (91.36 yards per game).

Given the stats, the game appears as if it will be a defensive, low-scoring game. One difference I believe will factor into the outcome will be special teams but that also appears about even as both teams have high-power returners. Montana’s Marc Mariani ranks 13th in the nation in all-purpose yards per game with 143.36. Villanova’s Matt Szczur is 14th at 140.64.

The one factor that I see in Montana’s favor is experience playing in Chattanooga. The Griz have 12 starters playing this year that also started last year in the title game. I think this will be a determining factor among these two teams that appear almost equal.

I will take Montana by you guessed it, three in a low-scoring game to get its third national title in its history. Montana 16 Villanova 13.