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Return of the Grizzlies
University of Montana football team back in the playoffs and hosting second-round game this weekend
Montana Grizzlies senior linebacker Brock Coyle. Photo courtesy of Todd Goodrich | University of Montana
For Griz fans, order is restored in the universe. Football is once again being played inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium in December. The Great Divide Trophy — that bronze emblem of superiority between the Bobcats and Grizzlies that can determine a season’s merit more than anything else — is once again settled in Missoula.

The revived Grizzlies are back in the Division I FCS Playoffs after staging an impressive turnaround. A year after tying for eighth in the Big Sky Conference with a 5-6 overall record, the University of Montana football team regained its swagger, compiling a 10-2 record, finishing third in the conference standings and earning an at-large bid with the eighth seed in the FCS playoffs.

“The tribute goes to the coaches and players,” said head coach Mick Delaney, who received a one-year contract extension through Jan. 31, 2015 following the team’s 28-14 win over Montana State in Bozeman on Nov. 23.

“They've just hung in there and have taken that old sports cliché so-to-speak — sticking together, being family, caring about each other, and taking care of each other off and on the field. It's just a great accomplishment by a group of young guys that set some goals in January when we came back for our winter program and have continued to expand upon everything.”

The fourth-ranked Griz host 11th-ranked Coastal Carolina (11-2) in the second round of the playoffs at noon on Saturday, Nov. 7, inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

The Grizzlies tout the best defense from the Big Sky Conference and second best scoring offense. The defense is commanded by three first team All-Big Sky Conference selections — J. P. Kanongata’a, Jordan Tripp and Zack Wagenmann. The two linebackers and defensive end combined for 225 tackles and 14 sacks this fall. The defensive unit has limited opponents to 21.3 points per game. Danny Kistler Jr., an offensive lineman, also earned first team honors while seven players were named to the second team. All 24 starters from the Griz were named to either the first, second or third all-conference teams or honorable mention.

“I don’t know if people understand, but we can’t vote for our own guys,” Delaney said. “This is all entirely done by the other coaches … I am just so excited that they recognized so many of our guys.”

Redshirt junior running back Jordan Canada leads the rushing attack with 958 yards and 16 touchdowns. He ranked fifth in scoring in the Big Sky with 96 total points. Junior Travon Van emerged as a solid backup for UM, tallying 482 yards and five TDs.

Quarterback Jordan Johnson has completed 57 percent of his passes, second best in the Big Sky, and has thrown for 2,999 yards and 28 TDs, with only four interceptions. The junior ranked fifth best overall in the Big Sky.

Ellis Henderson leads the Griz in receiving yards with 889 and has 14 TDs. Jamaal Jones has 657 yards receiving and Cam Warren has 480.

The Griz can’t afford to look past this weekend’s game to a possible matchup in the quarterfinals with FCS powerhouse North Dakota State.

The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers — named after the proud and fierce rooster in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and called, in short, the Chants, pronounced SHONTS — are enjoying a banner year after winning their sixth Big South Conference championship and third in the last four years. Hosting only its second playoff game in the team’s 11-year history, Coastal Carolina defeated Bethune Cookman 48-24 in the first round in Conway, SC.

University of Montana head football coach Mick Delaney. Photo courtesy of Todd Goodrich | University of Montana


The Chants, led by Walter Payton Award candidate and Big South Offensive Player of the Year Lorenzo Taliaferro, boast one of the best offenses in the FCS. The team is averaging 42.6 points per game, third best in the country, and rank first in red zone offense, second in third down conversation percentage and fifth in total first downs. The team set a new single-season conference record for points with 511. Taliaferro, a 6-2, 230-pound senior running back, is fifth in the nation with 1,487 rushing yards, tied for second with 23 rushing TDs. He owns conference records for TDs and points scored.

Quarterback Alex Ross, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound sophomore in his first season as a starter, led the conference in passing yards per game, 225, and threw 22 TDs and only seven interceptions. He passed for 256 yards and four touchdowns against Bethune Cookman. His favorite target, Matt Hazel, is the school’s all-time career receptions leader with 168 and this fall has tallied 881 yards and eight TDs.

The Chants defense circles around linebacker Quinn Backus, the Big South’s Defensive Player of the Year, who led the conference with 111 tackles, ranking 42nd nationally.

Coastal Carolina’s two losses this fall were against Charleston Southern, 31-26, and FBS powerhouse South Carolina, 70-10.

Montana has won four straight and seven of the last eight, with the added confidence of eliminating its in-state rival in the regular-season finale. The Grizzlies’ two losses came against Northern Arizona, 33-16, and Eastern Washington, 42-37.

Montana Grizzlies receiver Ellis Henderson. Photo courtesy of Todd Goodrich | University of Montana


South Dakota State (9-4) dropped Northern Arizona from the playoffs last weekend, 26-7, and advanced to play Big Sky champ and third-ranked Eastern Washington (10-2) at 2 p.m. on Saturday in Cheney, Wash. Southern Utah, the fourth member of the Big Sky to advance to the playoffs, lost to Sam Houston St., 51-20.

The top dog in this year’s bracket is once again North Dakota State, the back-to-back FCS champions and undefeated team out of the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The Bison defeated Sam Houston State for the second straight year in last season’s championship game, winning 39-13 and becoming the first team to win consecutive FCS titles since Appalachian State won three straight from 2005 to 2007.


2013 NCAA Division I Football Championship

First Round - Nov. 30

Furman 30, South Carolina St. 20
Coastal Carolina 48, Bethune-Cookman 24
New Hampshire 45, Lafayette 7
Sam Houston 51, Southern Utah 20
South Dakota St. 26, Northern Arizona 7
Jacksonville St. 55, Samford 14
Fordham 37, Sacred Heart 27
Tennessee St. 31, Butler 0

Second Round - Dec. 7

#1 North Dakota St. (11-0) vs. Furman (8-5)
#8 Montana (10-2) vs. Coastal Carolina (11-2)
#5 Maine (10-2) vs. New Hampshire (10-2)
#4 Southeastern La. (10-2) vs. Sam Houston St. (9-4)
#3 Eastern Washington (10-2) vs. South Dakota St. (9-4)
#6 McNeese St. (10-2) vs. Jacksonville St. (10-3)
#7 Towson (10-2) vs. Fordham (12-1)
#2 Eastern Illinois vs. Tennessee St. (10-3)

Quarterfinals, Dec. 13-14

Semifinals, Dec. 20-21

Championship, Jan. 4
 
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