Monday, December 7, 2009

Frigid temps and the Final Four

Well, I've gotta hand it to Mother Nature: November was pretty sweet. After a cold snap in October that made it seem as though early winter was setting in, we actually got a solid month of fall weather in November with highs in the 50s many days. In other words, perfect running weather. To be doing long runs in late November in shorts and a t-shirt is pretty awesome. But, of course, winter couldn't stay away forever and as soon as December started, the cold air moved in. From highs in the 50s and 60s to highs in the single digits with negative windchill. Such is life in South Dakota.

Regardless, my running went fairly well last week. I had at least 3 runs where my mileage exceeded the temperature, but I wasn't really cold on those runs. The relative lack of wind helped a ton, along with some judicious use of layers. For example, for my long run yesterday it was 10 degrees with a windchill of around 0. I layered up and headed out and ended up logging 16 miles and was never once really cold. In fact, after wearing my facemask for the first mile I pulled it up and never put it back down again. This morning, I headed out for a 7 miler before work and it was all of -1 degree outside. I was cold for the first mile or so, but after that felt fine. If the damned wind stays away, the cold can be very bearable. It's actually got me wondering just how cold it could be and still be okay to run outside if the wind wasn't blowing. I don't really want to find out, but I'm still curious.

Okay, enough about running. Time for some football talk. It's been an interesting two weeks if you're a Montana Grizzly fan. The Division 1 FCS playoffs started on Nov. 28 with a 1st round game against South Dakota St. After spotting SDSU a 34-14 halftime lead and then proceeding to fall behind even further, 48-21 in the 3rd quarter, the Griz reeled off 40 unanswered points in the last 20 minutes of the game to pull of a miraculous comeback and win the game 61-48. That win earned the top-seeded Griz a berth in the quarterfinals where they were 9-1 all time and 9-0 when playing in Missoula. Stephen F. Austin University from east Texas rolled into Missoula and was greeted with temps in the 20s and windchills even lower. Apparently, SDSU had awoken the sleeping bear in that first playoff game, because SFA never stood a chance. The Griz capitalized on 10 turnovers to rout the Lumberjacks 51-0. Coming into this game, SFA was the highest scoring team in the nation. Not anymore. Since falling behind to SDSU 48-21 in that first game, the Griz have now outscored their opponents 91-0 in the last 5+ quarters of football.

The win over SFA sends the Griz into the Final Four of the FCS playoffs where they will play Appalachian St. in Missoula this coming Saturday afternoon. This is the matchup many people have been looking forward to. Montana and App. St. have been the two dominant programs at the FCS level for the last decade. They rank 1 and 2 respectively in games won and have won a combined 4 national championships (3 by App. St. in 2005, 2006, and 2007 and 1 by Montana in 2001) in that period (Montana also won a championship in 1995). Montana has also finished runner-up three times (2000, 2004 and 2008) in the last 10 years (and also in 1996). Despite all their success, the two teams have only played each other once before. In the 2000 semifinals, the Griz scored a TD in overtime to beat the Mountaineers 19-16 in Missoula. This year's game should be another barn burner. Montana brings in a perfect 13-0 record and seems to have hit their stride at the perfect time. App. St. brings an explosive offense led by QB Armanti Edwards, the 2008 Walter Payton Award winner (FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, he's also a finalist for this year's award). The winner will face either Villanova or William & Mary in the national championship.

Of course, I'm heavily biased but I really think the Griz will pull this one out playing at home. Very few visiting teams leave Washington-Grizzly Stadium with a win and the way the Griz have played over the last 5 quarters of football has been amazing. But it's gonna be close; App. St. is too good of a team to not put up a fight. I say the Griz force Edwards into a turnover or two and take advantage of the Mountaineer's relatively soft defense to win the game 31-27. And then it's on to Chattanooga for the championship! GO GRIZ!!!

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