Montana defensive tackle Jesse Sims hasn’t delivered any good-natured trash-talking this week to his school friend and teammate, Eastern Washington tight end Jayce Gilder.
Not yet, anyway.
EWU (3-4, 2-1 Big Sky Conference) visits rival 10th-ranked Montana (5-2, 2-1) on Saturday at raucous Washington-Grizzly Stadium, a game that was controversially shelved last season due to the 13-team league’s unbalanced scheduling.
Now there are two years of pent-up aggression between the Eagles and Grizzlies, amplified by a wild 2017 game in Missoula that resulted in 48-41 EWU come-from-behind win.
So has Gilder sent any pro-EWU messages to Sims to help ramp up one of the conference’s better rivalry games?
“No, I haven’t talked to Jesse,” said Gilder, who has hauled in 14 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns this season. “I might shoot him a text or something. I’m pretty focused on what’s going on. I’ll talk to him after the game.”
Gilder and Sims teamed up 44 miles south of Missoula in the small town of Corvallis, Montana, where they were both two-way standouts. Gilder, a high school quarterback, shared the backfield with Sims, a running back.
After playing for Corvallis head coach Clayton Curley – cousin of former EWU standout tight end and short-time NFL player Dan Curley – Sims had initially committed to Oregon State before opting to stay in Montana.
Gilder wasn’t recruited by Montana or Montana State and became the rare Montana high school product to play for an FCS team not within the Treasure State’s borders.
Gilder walked on at EWU, carved out a starting role, and has since totaled 43 catches for 509 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s a combined 5-0 against the Grizzlies and Bobcats.
Saturday will likely be Gilder’s final time playing football on Montana soil and popping pads with Sims, a three-year starter who wears the program’s No. 37 legacy jersey.
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to that,” said Gilder, whose grandfather played for Montana. “Jesse is a great player and I have a lot of respect for him, and had a lot of respect for him when I played with him.”
Gilder, who will have dozens of friends, family members and former teachers and coaches in attendance, is looking forward to his final stroll through Washington-Grizzly Stadium, a venue that often fills up its 25,217-seat capacity.
“I’ve played games at Washington, Washington State, Texas Tech and North Dakota State, and there’s no environment like that,” Gilder said of Missoula. “It’s right on top of you and loud. Montana fans are really prideful of their team and they’ll let you know about it.”
Eagles excited for ‘Griz Week’
Fresh off a bye week, EWU players had a little more kick in their step at practice Tuesday leading up to their Saturday rivalry game at Montana.
EWU has been locked onto the Missoula squad the last two weeks in the film room. Players and coaches used some of their free weekend to watch a streamed broadcast of resurgent Sacramento State’s 49-22 rout of the Grizzlies at Hornet Stadium.
The Eagles fell 48-27 to Sacramento State – now the seventh-ranked team in the FCS – on Oct. 5 at the same venue.
“It’s Griz week. I love Griz week,” EWU defensive end Jim Townsend said. “Playing in that stadium is something else. You get a different kind of juice. Fans are screaming at you. There’s nothing like it.”
Since 2010, EWU is 7-2 against Montana, a former FCS powerhouse that dominated the Eagles in previous decades.
But the Grizzlies, who’ve missed the playoffs the past three seasons, appear to making strides in returning to their former glory in Bobby Hauck’s second stint as head coach.
Hauck, who returned to Missoula last year after going 15-48 as the head coach at UNLV, previously ran a Big Sky juggernaut in the 2000s. From 2003-2009, the Grizzlies were 47-6, won the Big Sky all seven of Hauck’s seasons, advanced to three FCS national championship games and went 6-1 against EWU.
Hauck’s first season at UNLV in 2010 was the start of EWU’s power shift. The Eagles have won six Big Sky titles, advanced to two national titles games (winning in 2010 and losing in 2018) and appeared in three other FCS semifinal games since.
“There’s no love between us and Montana. They know it; we know it. It’s a pride thing,” EWU senior right tackle Chris Schlichting said. “We haven’t lost to a school from the state of Montana since I got here; they’re two of our bigger rivals.
“We came in and knocked them off a few years ago. We’re the top dogs in this league now. In the 2000s, that was Montana and Montana State. Year in and year out, they were expected to win it, and we kind of stole that crown from them.”
This game often features a pair of ranked teams, but EWU is out of both the media and coaches’ poll during the regular season for the first time since 2011.
Third-year EWU head coach Aaron Best, who is a 1-0 against the Grizzlies as a head coach, doesn’t think rankings or records matter in a game like this.
“It means a little against Montana. It always has and it always will, just on the shear competitiveness of the game,” Best said. “The great players over the years, great games and great memories of this rivalry.
“No matter what our records are, you throw them out, but usually both teams are in the hunt when they’re playing each other.”
Montana standout QB doubtful Saturday
Montana quarterback Dalton Sneed suffered an apparent ankle injury in the third quarter of the Grizzlies’ lopsided loss at Sacramento State.
The senior was on crutches after the game.
“I have some doubts that we’ll have him for Saturday,” Hauck said Monday in a press conference.
Sneed, who went down after the Grizzlies trailed 35-15 at halftime, has paced Montana’s offense. He’s passed for 2,019 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions and rushed for 217 yards and five touchdowns.
Montana will likely look to backup Cam Humphrey, a junior college transfer who started his career at Boise State.
In 12 appearances with Montana over the last two seasons, Humphrey has completed 26 of 54 passes for 423 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Eagles still out
EWU expected to get some players back from injury during its bye week, but some remain shelved.
Two of EWU’s better athletes on defense – linebackers Chris Ojoh and Jusstis Warren – didn’t participate in practice Tusday, both still recovering from injuries.
Ojoh, once EWU’s primary run-stopper and tackler before a Week 3 injury at Jacksonville State, was in sweats.
Warren, a University of Washington graduate transfer and buck linebacker, hasn’t played since Week 1. He started practicing again two weeks ago but is sidelined again.
Ojoh is still listed as a starter on EWU’s depth chart, despite missing the last four games. Warren is no longer on the depth chart.
EWU’s fastest receiver, Dre’ Sonte Dorton, who went down with an injury early against Northern Colorado on Oct. 12, also didn’t practice Tuesday.
EWU rover Tysen Prunty was back in pads, however, after missing the Northern Colorado game due to injury.
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