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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sky teams set out to bag Grizzlies

The Big Sky Conference is a strange animal – particularly in football, in which league coaches annually gush about the unprecedented balance among the nine teams competing for the regular-season championship.

Then Montana goes out and wins another one.

That simple scenario has played out for 11 consecutive seasons, with the Grizzlies having won six outright titles and shares of five others. There is little in the way of early evidence to suggest the 2009 race will stray much from the conference’s standard story line.

UM (2-0) opens defense of the 2008 title it shared with Weber State at home against Portland State (1-1) on Saturday. The fourth-ranked Grizzlies, after being selected as the preseason title favorites in two polls, are expected to launch another title run with a sixth straight win over the Vikings.

But coaches throughout the league continue to warn against anointing the Griz this early.

“Obviously, Montana is a team that has proven itself over the last many, many years, so they’ve got to be the favorite going into the thing again,” Weber State coach Ron McBride said. “But I think (the race) is really wide open, because there are a lot of good teams in the Big Sky.”

McBride’s Wildcats (0-2), after finishing 7-1 against conference foes last fall, are ranked 13th nationally among Football Championship Subdivision teams and will open conference play at home against Idaho State (0-2) this weekend. Weber was picked to finish second in the Big Sky by coaches and media members. Eastern Washington (1-1), which traveled to Ogden, Utah, and knocked off the Wildcats 33-26 in the 2008 regular-season finale for both teams, was picked to finish third by the coaches and fourth, behind Montana State (1-1), by the media.

“The league is going to be difficult, well-balanced and tough to predict again this year,” EWU coach Beau Baldwin said. “Just like last year, any team is capable of beating any other team on any given Saturday.”

Lights out

Montana coach Bobby Hauck still doesn’t know what caused last Saturday night’s late-game power outage that delayed the Grizzlies’ 17-10 non-conference road win over UC Davis at Aggie Stadium for almost 20 minutes.

The blackout came with 57 seconds left in the game and Davis lining up to run a fourth-down play from Montana’s 12-yard line. When the lights came back on, the Grizzlies’ Trumaine Johnson picked off a pass in the end zone to preserve the win.

“I’ve never been in that situation before and I didn’t ask for an explanation on what happened,” Hauck said. “The only thing I asked was, ‘When are (the lights) coming back on?’ ”

Efficient leader

Portland State’s Drew Hubel took the term “efficient” to a new level early on in the Vikings’ 34-10 win over Southern Oregon last Saturday.

On PSU’s second play of the game, the junior quarterback tossed a screen pass to Aaron Woods, who hauled it in and raced 96 yards for a touchdown. On the Vikings’ next possession, Hubel connected with Lavonte Kirven on a long post pattern that resulted in a 91-yard scoring play.

Hubel completed 14 of 23 passes for 370 yards and four touchdowns in the game.

Quick kicks

The crowd of 84,749 that showed up in Oklahoma’s Memorial Stadium last Saturday to watch the Sooners dismantle Idaho State was the largest to see a Big Sky team play. … Defending league co-champion Weber State has lost its first two games – on the road against Wyoming and Colorado State – by a combined margin of eight points, while committing a combined total of eight turnovers. … Northern Arizona, after allowing a BSC record-low 658 rushing yards last fall, gave up 365 in last weekend’s 34-17 loss at Arizona. … Montana State, which drilled Division II Dixie State 61-7 two years ago, had to come from behind in the third quarter last Saturday to hold off the Red Storm 23-20 in Bozeman. … Trevyn Smith’s 73 rushing yards in last Saturday’s 24-23 road loss to Colorado State gave Weber State’s senior running back 4,198 for his career and moved him past Eastern Washington’s Jesse Chatman (4,173) into fifth place on the Big Sky’s list of career rushing leaders.

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