So it’s the Richmond Spiders against the Montana Grizzlies in the Football Championship Subdivision national championship on Friday. I would like a show of hands of people who can say they predicted this championship matchup at the beginning of the season.
Both teams are relative surprises, though considering the Grizzlies have been perhaps the best FCS team in the nation over the past 15 years, it’s hard to ever really call them a surprise. Since 1995, the Griz have won two national championships and finished second three times.
The national championship game, which is held in Chattanooga, Tenn., at 6 p.m. MST on Friday, would be exciting for Griz fans under any circumstances. But with a host of good storylines – UM’s redemption over James Madison, trash-talking coaches and the rest – this game has particular charm. Let’s take a look at it.
To be fair, the Grizzlies’ victory over James Madison was a combination of superior play by UM and a few lucky breaks. The Dukes lost the heart and soul of their team, quarterback Rodney Landers, to an injury and committed four turnovers. Despite all of this, the Dukes still made things interesting at the end of the game before falling 35-27.
But it’s incumbent upon JMU’s coach Mickey Matthews to be gracious after such a heartbreaking loss. Instead, Matthews offered this little tidbit: “This is what I told the kids at half: I can play quarterback and we can move the ball. They weren’t going to stop us, and they didn’t stop us.” Ah, but yes they did coach. That’s why they are playing in the national championship and you are not.
Landers, who was forced to watch his final collegiate game from the sidelines, did what his coach should have done. He said: “Montana is a good team and they deserved to win tonight.”
Another fun addition to “College Football Coaches Say the Darndest Things” is the verbal sparring match between UM’s Bobby Hauck and Villanova coach Andy Talley. After losing to James Madison, Talley said: “I think it’s a slam dunk for (James Madison) there. They’ll beat Montana. We would have beat Montana. JMU is an outstanding team. Richmond is an outstanding team.”
After the Grizzlies’ victory over James Madison, Hauck offered an analysis of what would have happened if the opponent had been Villanova instead: “We would’ve beat Villanova by 50.”
Which leaves us with Montana and Richmond, with Talley and Matthews surely sitting at home rooting for the Spiders. Richmond came into the tournament unseeded and then rattled off three consecutive victories over conference champions, including this weekend’s 21-20 squeaker over Northern Iowa. In that game, Richmond came back from a 20-7 deficit in the fourth quarter.
The Grizzlies and Spiders have met once before, in the 2000 FCS quarterfinals at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The Grizzlies won that game 34-20, but that means very little now, of course. This is Richmond’s first-ever appearance in the title game. It’s Montana’s first national championship appearance since losing 31-21 to James Madison in 2004.
Both teams seem to be playing their best football of the year, which is exactly what all coaches hope for. Neither team will have home-field advantage, but Chattanooga is clearly closer to Richmond’s backyard than Montana’s. But expect, as always, Grizzlies fans to show up in hordes.
Richmond is 12-3 and Montana is 14-1. The game begins at 6 p.m. Mountain Standard Time on Friday, Dec. 19 and will be aired on ESPN2.
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