Lumberjacks Bring Explosive Passing Game to Montana

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – Stephen F. Austin comes into its Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinal game against Montana with the top passing offense in the nation.

Quarterback Jeremy Moses has passed for 3,920 yards and 40 touchdowns this season for the Lumberjacks (10-2), who like to go no-huddle.

“They’re an open set, mostly four wide receiver, drop-back throwing team,” said Montana coach Bobby Hauck.

Top seed Montana (12-0) needs to force incompletions to disrupt SFA and run the type of defense they’d like.

“If they complete a lot of their passes, we won’t be able to get new personnel into the game because they set up their next play so fast,” said Griz senior safety Shann Schillinger. “If we can keep them from completing passes, we can get new people into the game and mix up our defense.”

“We’ve played against no-huddle teams, but nobody that goes as fast as these guys,” said Schillinger, who had a season-high 14 tackles in Montana’s first-round win.

Hauck said the Griz offense needs to do its part, as well.

“We need to move the ball,” he said. “We can’t be three-and-out a bunch and letting their offense back on the field.”

Montana struggled with turnovers in the first half and trailed South Dakota State by 27 points in the third quarter before rallying for a 61-48 victory in the first round of the playoffs last weekend.

“What Montana does, they know how to win,” said SFA coach J.C. Harper. “You can’t win 12 straight Big Sky Conference championships, you can’t go to the national championship game six times, unless you can find a way to win. That’s what they do.”

Watching film of Montana’s first-round game, Griz receiver and returner Marc Mariani caught Harper’s attention.

“No. 80, he’s their guy,” Harper said. “He’s the rally guy, a tough guy, he seems to be the leader of the group.”

SFA is coming off a 44-33 win over Eastern Washington in which Moses passed for 432 yards and four touchdowns, and that was without two key receivers who were out with injuries. Aaron Rhea and Contrevius Parks are expected to return Saturday.

Montana quarterback Andrew Selle has passed for 2,250 yards and 21 touchdowns while sharing playing time with Justin Roper, who has 941 yards passing and eight scores.

Mariani leads the Griz with 1,151 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns, including 171 yards receiving and two touchdowns in last week’s playoff game.

Montana running back Chase Reynolds is averaging 99 yards per game and has 18 touchdowns this season. He was held to just 34 yards against SDSU, but still scored three times.

SFA running back Vincent Pervis averages 73 yards rushing per game and has two touchdowns, but ran for 125 yards against Eastern Washington.

Montana has a 3-0 record against SFA including a 70-14 victory in the semifinal game in 1995, the last year SFA has won a playoff game. The Griz went on to win their first national championship that year.

Montana likely has an advantage over the Texas team when it comes to crowd noise and the weather. Montana had sold more than 21,000 tickets as of Thursday and the temperature at kickoff is forecast to be around 20 degrees with a 50 percent chance of snow. Throw in the wind chill and the temperature drops down to single digits.

“I do think the stadium and the crowd will be factors, with us being our first time in 14 years in the playoffs,” Harper said. “It will be an environment not typical for us, and hopefully we’ll adjust to it.”

It was 68 degrees at kickoff of SFA’s first-round playoff game last weekend.

“Add in the weather and all those things, and we’ll know more about our football team after Saturday,” Harper said.