So the moral of the story is what?
Maybe only that Eastern Washington isn’t allowed to take the elevator up - that the Eagles must still take the stairs.
Too bad. In an elevator, they would have had a better chance of tackling Joe Douglass.
The sports marketing cliche of the ‘90s has been the football hero headed for Disneyland after the championship game. Montana did not win a championship Saturday at Woodward Stadium - a reprieve perhaps, but no championship yet - and still Joe should go.
He should be a ride.
One goof, one call, one play does not resolve a rodeo like the one Saturday, but one player can.
“If he were back next year,” said EWU coach Mike Kramer of Montana’s wondrous wide receiver, “we’d have to have a plan for him.”
Like a bench warrant.
For the events of Saturday were borderline criminal, if you prefer your justice Eastern style. For the better part of 59 minutes, the Eagles had played with courage and cunning and flat had the defending NCAA Division I-AA champions beat.
Unless this was just Montana’s interpretation of the rope-a-dope.
Whatever, as the clock ticked under 1:00, Grizzly quarterback Brian Ah Yat dodged the desperate rush of Eastern’s Derek Strey and parried with a desperate stab of his own - a pass toward the left sideline that Douglass hurried back to meet. The connection was made near the Eastern 20-yard line, and between there and the end zone, two Eagles - DePrice Kelly and Jason Christensen - had shots at Douglass, who eluded them both.
You could make the argument that Ah Yat’s sidestep was the key element - that Montana ain’t got a thing if it ain’t got that fling. But it would also be taking the play out of context.
No one - not Strey or Jerrad Jeske or Steve Mattson off Eastern’s resourceful defense, not UM’s exceptional safety Blaine McElmurry, not even Ah Yat, who amazingly threw for more yards (560) in this game than Grizzlies legend Dave Dickenson ever did - put a stamp on this game the way Douglass did.
Four touchdown receptions. A school record 279 yards on 14 catches. Leaping snags, great routes, baffling feints.
“What we wanted to do,” Kramer deadpanned, “was take (flanker) Jerrold Jackson and put him on man-to-man. Jerrold’s so small we could have had 12 guys out there and no one would have noticed.”
Douglass is perhaps the most notable holdover from UM’s championship season, the Oregon State transfer who often plays like the converted running back he is and says of his seven TD receptions in the past two weeks, “I just know how to be a receiver better.”
Just as the Grizzlies, at this point, know how to win better than EWU. And why not? They do have that big ol’ trophy.
“We were so well composed,” Douglass remembered of the winning drive. “There was no sense of urgency, even, when you think in that situation there might be.”
No urgency? Maybe not.
After all, the Grizzlies had driven to the Eastern 12 and 2 the previous two possessions, only to see Ah Yat fumble the first time and throw a pick the second - errors that were symptomatic of an afternoon’s worth of self-inflicted wounds, or at least co- inflicted ones. They had finally, too, gotten past the point of being dominated up the middle by Eastern - a rather obvious observation that the final yardage totals (630 for Montana, 386 for EWU) curiously don’t support. Perhaps the Douglass factor again.
“I don’t know if they won today on quarterbacking,” said Kramer, knowing the Grizzlies had won many the past several years that very way. “But they certainly won on tradition and belief and making plays. When you’ve won a string of ballgames like they have, that comes back to you.”
Eastern won a little something, too. Twentieth in the poll this past week, justice dictates the Eagles move up instead of out - though, of course, it never works like that.
“What we wanted to do was get to this point and be good enough to play,” Kramer said, “to show we’re a good team. We’ve done that - we accomplished that by halftime. Now let’s go out and contend.”
That’s now a figurative, the Eagles being two games in the loss column behind both UM and Northern Arizona. If there will be no hardware, there is hard-earned praise.
A year ago, this was a program splitting down the middle. Maybe it was sound and fury signifying nothing, or maybe it was legitimate dysfunction.
“They’ve grown up,” offered UM coach Mick Dennehy. “You’d have to say the coaches did a great job of keeping them together, but it’s usually easier to do with young kids. If they were older kids getting pounded, you’d lose them. But you can tell at many, many positions that guys have paid a price to make sure what happened last year didn’t happen again.”
Part of what happened last year was a 63-7 stomping from the Grizzlies.
“Last year, I told (then coach) Don Read at the end of the game that I really apologized for not being more representative,” Kramer said. “It was a heartfelt apology. I don’t think we have to apologize today.”
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