FACTS & STATS: Site: Roos Field (8,000) — Cheyney, Washington. Surface:
Sprinturf (red). Television: ESPN3.com. Announcers: Trey Bender, Darius Walker.
Home Record: Montana 7-0; Eastern Washington 6-0. Away Record: Montana
2-4; Eastern Washington 4-2. Series Record: Montana (26-14-1). Last Meeting:
Nov. 8, 2014 (Eastern Washington, 36-26 at Eastern Washington). Series
Streak: Eastern Washington has won the last three meetings. Conference: Montana
– Big Sky; Eastern Washington – Big Sky. Nicknames: Montana Grizzlies; Eastern
Washington Eagles. FCS Playoff Seeds: Montana (not ranked); Eastern Washington
(4th). Head Coaches: Montana – Mick Delaney (3rd season, 24-13 at Montana and
overall; Eastern Washington – Beau Baldwin (7th season, 66-24 at Eastern
Washington; 8th season, 76-27 overall). Playoff Records: Montana (33-19);
Eastern Washington (13-9). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Montana 22 (1982,
1988-89, 1993-2009, 2011, 2013; two-time National Champion 1995, 2001); Eastern
Washington 10 (1985, 1992, 1997, 2004-05, 2007, 2009-10, 2012-13; National
Champion, 2010). Current Playoff Streak: Montana has lost two of its last three
FCS playoff games; Eastern Washington has won eight of its last 10 FCS playoff
GAME NOTES: It was a battle of quarterbacks when Big Sky champion Eastern
Washington defeated Montana, 36-26, on Nov. 8 in Cheney, Washington. Eastern’s
Vernon Adams Jr., in returning from a four-game absence because of a broken
right foot, threw for 410 yards and four touchdowns. Montana fifth-year senior
Jordan Johnson passed for a career-high 447 yards as well as three touchdowns
and two interceptions.
More offensive fireworks are expected between an Eastern squad that leads the
FCS in points per game (44.6) and a Montana squad that isn’t too shabby at
30.4 points per game. Incredibly, EWU has scored in 40 consecutive quarters
and 47 of 48 this season.
There’s a clear statistical difference on the other side of the ball as
Montana leads the Big Sky in scoring defense (19.8 ppg) and doesn’t get into
as many high-scoring duels as Eastern Washington, which has allowed 30 points
But the visiting Grizzlies have found it hard to stop EWU wide receiver Cooper
Kupp (35 TD receptions in 26 career games) the last two seasons, and he’s just
one of many weapons in the Eagles’ arsenal. One of the keys for the Eagles is
having a productive Quincy Forte (6.9 yards per carry), who is listed as
questionable with an ankle injury, but he’s also backed by reliable Mario
Brown, who is set to tie the EWU school record by playing his 52nd career
Eastern linebacker Ronnie Hamlin also is set for his 52nd career game. He is
the Eagles’ all-time tackle leader (448) and sits seventh on the Big Sky
career list, but only 23 tackles behind the leader.
Montana must contain Adams (391.5 total yards per game) from the edge. The Big
Sky’s two-time offensive player of the year will be pursued by Grizzlies
defensive ends Zack Wagenmann, the Big Sky defensive player of the year, and
Tyrone Holmes. They lead a pass rush that has accounted for a Big Sky-high 40
sacks. Conversely, Eastern Washington has allowed too many sacks – 36 in 12
With a plus-16 turnover ratio to lead the FCS, Montana has a chance to win
field position. The Grizzlies’ game plan is simple: Keep feeding the ball to
running back Jordan Canada (1,128 yards, 10 touchdowns) to set up the JJs,
Jordan Johnson and 1,000-yard receiver Jamaal Jones. Canada struggled in the
loss to Eastern, but he’s averaged 149 yards in the Grizzlies’ three wins
To really spice up the fun, Eastern coach Beau Baldwin is being mentioned as a
possible successor to retiring Montana coach Mick Delaney.
The winner will advance to play either Northern Iowa or No. 5 seed Illinois
State in the national quarterfinals.
PREDICTION: This is EWU’s 23rd all-time playoff game but its first against a
Big Sky rival. Despite their defensive deficiencies, the Eagles have enough
offense to win a classic. Eastern Washington, 35-31.