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Eastern Washington University Football
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Montana will start redshirt freshman QB against EasternWashington

Montana freshman quarterback Gresch Jensen in action last weekend. (The Missoulian)
Montana freshman quarterback Gresch Jensen in action last weekend. (The Missoulian)

Montana football will face a few defining moments on the football field this season, but nothing like this.

Early in the second quarter of Saturday’s one-sided win over Savannah State, there was Montana quarterback Reese Phillips writhing on the turf at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

The scene wasn’t for the squeamish. The crowd of 22,228 fell silent as Phillips’ ankle was contorted, his left foot point in an utterly unnatural direction from multiple fractures.

“It breaks my heart and I know it does for everybody else in our football program,” Montana coach Bob Stitt said.

So where do the Griz go from here?

Backup Gresch Jensen, a redshirt freshman from Auburn, Wash., was the quarterback of the future. Suddenly the future is now. On Saturday under the lights at Washington-Grizzly, Montana will host 11th-ranked Eastern Washington in the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams.

Against Savannah State, Jensen finished the job Phillips began, leading the Griz to a 56-3 win.

“Gresch did a nice job of running what we do,” coach Bob Stitt said. “But he also had some nice checks in there. … He did a couple times where he got us into something nice and put the ball where it needed to go.”

The debut of Jensen is just one more variable for two teams that are still unsure how good they are. Both have been overmatched one week and overwhelming the next.

Eastern opened with blowout losses to Texas Tech and North Dakota State, but made the most of a transcontinental trip to New York; the Eagles rolled past Fordham 56-21 to give coach Aaron Best his first win.

The Griz own dominating wins over Valparaiso (45-23) and Savannah State sandwiched around a 63-7 loss at FBS power Washington.

Given that schedule, the Griz are right where everyone expected them to be: 2-1 going into Big Sky play. However, expectations are unusually low this year for Montana, which was picked to finish sixth in the conference race.

A win over defending league champ Eastern would help take the pressure off the beleaguered Stitt, now in the third and final year of his contract.

The Griz are winning thanks to some big playmakers on offense. Last week, running back Alijah Lee, had 74 yards on 10 carries with two touchdowns. Wide receiver Samori Toure had 111 yards on five receptions and wide receiver Keenan Curran had four receptions for 70 yards with two touchdowns.

Once again, the Griz have a solid front seven. Last week, they combined for eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss against two different quarterbacks.

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