Cats, Griz on the Road in Big Sky Football

By Beacon Staff

The Montana and Montana State football teams are on the road this weekend, with the Grizzlies looking to stay unbeaten as they head for the FCS playoffs for the 15th consecutive year and the Bobcats hoping to end the season on a positive note for the seniors.

No. 3 Montana (9-0, 6-0 Big Sky) plays at Idaho State (3-6, 3-4), which will be honoring 19 seniors during pre-game ceremonies. The game kicks off at 3:05 p.m. Mountain.

Montana State (5-4, 3-3), which has lost three of its last four games, is at Portland State (2-7, 2-4), which has lost four in a row — giving up 189 points in the process. The game kicks off at 2:35 p.m. Mountain, after PSU honors 25 seniors playing in their final home game.

Montana takes on an Idaho State team that has lost three of its last four games, with its lone win a 38-20 victory over Portland State, a team Montana beat just 34-31 a week ago.

“We get to go to Pocatello and face an extremely skilled Idaho State team, on a fast surface, which will be a tall order to try to get our 10th win in a row,” said UM coach Bobby Hauck. “They absolutely thrashed Portland State. That’s really caught our eye.”

John Zamberlin is in his first year as ISU coach, and has never faced the Grizzlies, but has respect for the program.

“When I talk about Montana, I talk about a program that is used to winning,” Zamberlin said. “There was a time they were at a starting point like us. Now they’re at a point where when they step on the field, they feel like they’re going to win.”

Idaho State’s key players are redshirt freshman quarterback Russel Hill, who is averaging 192 yards passing per game and has 12 touchdown passes. His leading receiver is Eddie Thompson, who averages 84 yards per game and has five touchdown catches. Josh Barnett averages 96 yards rushing per game and has two touchdowns. He is 212 yards away from becoming ISU’s career rushing leader.

Montana quarterback Cole Bergquist is averaging 206 yards passing and has 15 touchdown passes. Ryan Bagley is averaging 65 yards receiving and has six TD grabs while Mike Ferriter averages 61 yards and has four touchdowns. Lex Hilliard is averaging 92 yards rushing and has scored 12 touchdowns this season.

Idaho State typically gives the Grizzlies a tough game, including a 42-40 double-overtime loss in 2003.

“They’re good, year in and year out,” Hauck said. “Look back at those games and not many weren’t tight contests.”

Zamberlin said his Bengals are close to turning the corner.

“We’re playing all the way through games, and we’re close, real close,” he said. “It’s a building process, but I think we’re putting down a nice foundation for the future.”

At Portland, Ore., the Bobcats and the Vikings are trying to salvage their seasons.

“I told the team on Sunday that our complete focus for myself as a head coach, all the assistant coaches, and every player on this team is to help the seniors finish the year out in a positive fashion,” said first-year MSU coach Rob Ash. “They deserve it. They went through a tough summer of transition prior to their final year of football. They’ve dedicated everything to what we’ve asked them to do this whole season and I’d like nothing better than to see them end up with a couple of victories.”

Portland State is led by freshman quarterback Drew Hubel, who is averaging 250 yards passing and has thrown 11 touchdown passes in four games. Tremayne Kirkland leads the Vikings with 107 yards receiving and seven touchdowns while Olaniyi Sobomehin averages 57 yards rushing and has eight TDs to go with 42 yards receiving and another three scores.

MSU quarterback Jack Rolovich is averaging 213 yards passing and has 10 touchdown passes. Josh Lewis is averaging 52 yards receiving and has three TD catches while Demetrius Crawford is averaging 75 yards rushing and has three scores.

Crawford is hoping the Bobcat offense can be more productive on the PSU turf.

“The turf is going to bring out a lot of people’s speed,” he said.

But Ash said Portland State has a capable defense and held Montana’s offense to just three points in the second half last weekend.

“They’ve given up some points, but sometimes that’s a function of other things besides the defense: Quick scores, turnovers. I’m not going to walk in and think it’s going to be easy by any means for our offense,” Ash said.

In other league games Saturday, No. 20 Eastern Washington (6-3, 4-2) is at Northern Arizona (6-4, 5-2), Sacramento State (1-8, 1-5) is at Northern Colorado (1-9, 1-5) and Fort Lewis (1-8) is at Weber State (4-5).

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.