Griz Looking for First-Round Win

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The University of Montana football team has lost just eight games over the past four seasons, but three have come at home in the first round of the playoffs, including a 23-22 loss to Wofford last season.

“Always those big losses you have as an athlete stick in your mind,” said defensive tackle Austin Mullins. “But to go out like we did last year, losing by one point — you think of how much work you have to put in during the offseason to get that extra point.

“It’s something we really concentrated on,” he said. “We’re trying not to just make the playoffs, but to make it through all four games.”

The fifth-ranked Griz (11-1) will try to shake their recent streak of bad luck in the playoffs Saturday when they take on Texas State (8-4), ranked 23rd in the Sports Network poll. Kickoff is at 12:05 p.m. at Washington Grizzly Stadium.

Montana’s 2006 playoff loss was also a heartbreaker, a 19-17 decision at the hands of Massachusetts. The Griz fell to Cal Poly 35-21 in the first round of the 2005 playoffs. The next weekend, Texas State beat Cal Poly 14-7 before falling to Northern Iowa in the semifinals.

“This is another big step for our program,” second-year Texas State coach Brad Wright said. “We know Montana is a very good team, but we are going to prepare to win the game.”

Montana and Texas State have never met on the football field, but teams from the Southland Conference have an 0-7 record against Montana since 1995.

The Bobcats are led by junior quarterback Bradley George, a 26-year-old who played minor league baseball for five seasons in the Cincinnati Reds program. In 2001, he was the opening day starter for the Billings Mustangs, who beat the Missoula Osprey 8-7.

“It’s a small world,” said George, who pitched parts of three seasons for the Mustangs of the Pioneer League. “Here I am, going back to Missoula, Montana to play football.”

George has passed for 2,401 yards and 25 touchdowns this season. He didn’t play in Texas State’s 38-35 win at Northern Colorado, a team Montana beat 41-20.

Karrington Bush has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons and has 11 touchdowns this season for the Bobcats. He has 2,226 all-purpose yards this year. Cameron Luke has more than 1,000 yards receiving in each of the past two years and 16 touchdown catches this year.

“They look really fast to me,” said UM coach Bobby Hauck. “They’re scoring 38 a game, which is a whole bunch.

The Bobcats allow their opponents an average of 31 points per game. Montana averages 34 points per game and gives up 17.

Griz quarterback Cole Bergquist has passed for 2,457 yards and 24 touchdowns this season while Chase Reynolds has rushed for 995 yards and 15 scores. Marc Mariani has 1,009 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns while Mike Ferriter has 723 yards receiving and nine scores. Mariani has 1,836 all-purpose yards and has returned punts for touchdowns in each of the past two games.

Wright is impressed with Montana’s size.

“We’re extremely small compared to Montana,” he said. “You look at Montana’s linemen. I think their smallest one is 6-4. I don’t know that our tallest one is 6-4.”