Since that loss to Weber, the Griz have reeled off 8 straight wins, including a win over Texas St. last Saturday in the first round. Weber pulled off an upset on the road, beating 3rd ranked Cal Poly on the road to earn a trip to Missoula for the quarterfinal rematch. Missoula's Washington-Grizzly Stadium is not a nice place to play if you're a visiting team and has been even more unfriendly to visitors in the quarterfinals, as the Griz came into yesterday's game sporting an 8-0 record in quarterfinal games played in Missoula.
The big question heading in was whether or not the Griz could stop Weber's extremely dangerous offense. The Cats put 45 points up on the Griz in their first meeting this year and scored 49 against Cal Poly last week. Griz turnovers played a big role in that loss to Weber as the Griz coughed it up 4 times in that game. Turnovers would prove to play a part in this game too, but fortunately in a different way.
The Griz jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, capitalizing on two Weber fumbles. They opened the scoring when quarterback Cole Bergquist ran a sneak 35 yards for a touchdown on a gutsy 4th and 5 call. From there on out, it was a smashmouth, grind it out affair as the teams exchanged blows. Eventually, Weber pulled within 17-13 in the 4th quarter and momentum appeared to be shifting in the wrong direction. Then, the Griz drove methodically downfield. In Weber territory, they faced a crtical 3rd down. Bergquist dropped back to drop, was chased out of the pocket by the pass rush and scrambled 14 yards for a first down. A couple of plays later, running back Chase Reynolds ran it in from 12 yards out to seal a 24-13 victory. Reynolds finished the game with 185 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns. Just a sophomore, his two scores gave him 19 rushing TDs for the season, breaking the previous Montana single-season record of 18.
So, now Montana advances to the semifinals for the first time since 2006. They will face a somewhat familiar foe in top-ranked James Madison. It was JMU who defeated Montana 31-21 in the 2004 national championship game, the last championship appearance for the Griz. Thanks to JMU's higher seeding, the game will be played away from the friendly confines of Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Another chance for vengeance and the right to play for the national title is on the line.
Oh, and here's another interesting trivia fact that I learned from watching the ESPN broadcast of the game yesterday. Which Division 1 football team as the most victories since the year 2000? Oklahoma? Florida? Ohio St.? USC? No, no, no and no. That would be Montana. The Griz have now won 104 games in that span. Oklahoma is second with 102. Yeah, they play at different levels of Div. 1, but still, that's a lot of damn wins. Here's hoping they tack on two more this year...