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Griz gear up for second course
The No. 12 Montana Grizzlies aren’t calling this the revenge tour, but they know the score: 36-27.
That’s the final of last year’s Griz-Eastern Washington game, the first on the Eagles’ new red turf. The hosts won in dramatic fashion, scoring nine points in the final four seconds.
It was the second straight heart-breaking loss of 2010 for the Griz, who’d lost 35-33 the week before to Cal Poly. They never really recovered while the Eagles went on to win the Football Championship Subdivision title.
Now the 1-1 Griz, having just beaten Cal Poly 37-23, get the No. 10 Eagles again Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. It’s the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams, and kickoff is at 1:05 p.m.
“They’ve definitely turned into a rival for us,” Bobby Alt, a senior defensive end for the Griz, said Tuesday during UM’s weekly press conference. “Just coming off those two losses last year - that was probably the worst feeling I’ve ever had in my career.
“We’ve just been real motivated since winter conditioning to avenge those two losses. We’re back on the right track with last week’s victory, but we have to look forward to this opponent.”
Eastern is looking for some momentum after an 0-2 start, including a 30-17 loss at South Dakota last week in which the Coyotes ran for 198 yards.
In that regard the Griz are only about 30 minutes ahead of Eastern. Montana scuffled in the first half of its win over Cal Poly before putting everything together after intermission.
“We were having trouble with the snaps, our O-line hasn’t blocked as well as we were capable of,” said offensive tackle Jon Opperud. “And you know we heard about it at halftime. We made the adjustments - a few tweaks here and there - and it really helped us out.”
The Eagles are certainly better than their record, and if they’ve been throwing it a ton you can have a quarterback a lot worse than Bo Levi Mitchell passing 129 times in two games.
Partially because Eastern has been playing catch up a lot, Mitchell has 842 yards through the air.
“He’s throwing it 60 percent again this year,” said UM coach Robin Pflugrad, referring to Mitchell. “And for as many balls as he’s thrown, that’s a pretty high percentage. But his release is so fast, he has decent height and he can run the football…”
Mitchell threw for 473 yards in Eastern’s 30-27 season-opening loss to Washington. He threw for 234 yards against the Griz last year when the game came down to the final moments.
In the 2010 game the Griz settled for a game-tying field goal with 1:33 left; Eastern then drove 56 yards in 12 plays to kick the winning field goal, and Renard Williams provided the finishing touch with a fumble return.
Griz quarterback Jordan Johnson was on the sidelines.
“It was hard to watch that game last year,” Johnson said Tuesday. “We had so many chances to win the game. I just hope if we get those same chances, we can capitalize on them this year.”
Pflugrad said part of Johnson’s emergence in the second half against Cal Poly - he threw for 205 of his 240 yards after intermission - was helped by play-calling.
“We had some certain plays that we had practiced the previous week, and knew they were good plays,” said Pflugrad. “We just need to be stubborn and stick with them.”
That Johnson ended up being Montana’s nominee for Big Sky offensive player of the week - Frenchtown product Cody Kirk, a running back for MSU, won it - offset a rough start against the Mustangs.
“Some of it was individual technique that didn’t go with the scheme or the plan,” Pflugrad said of the first half, after which UM had 83 yards of offense.
QUICK KICKS: UM’s Jabin Sambrano is ranked 27th in career receiving at UM with 1,305 yards, just behind Shannon Cabunoc (1,317 from 1988-92). Next is Eric Allen (1,397 from 2005-07). … Eastern’s Mitchell is ranked first in the FCS in total offense at 413.5 yards a game, and Eagles’ receiver Nicholas Edwards leads the nation in catches per game with 12.5. … Eastern is actually just third in passing offense in the FCS despite averaging 421 yards a game. Idaho State is first at 430.5 yards a game. … Forecast high for Saturday in Missoula: 68 degrees. … Suspended Eagles’ RB Mario Brown ran for 127 of his 341 yards last season in EWU’s final two playoff games after Taiwan Jones was hurt. In two games this year, Brown has 24 yards on 15 carries. … Eastern beat the Griz three straight times from 1990-92 but has won just four times since, and no two matchups in a row.
By FRITZ NEIGHBOR, the Missoulian