When the defensive-focused fourth-ranked Football Championship Subdivision team visits the offensive-fueled sixth-ranked school, all the peripheral items seem to fade away. The color of the turf. The crowd. The national exposure.
What matters is the football. And the football between Montana and host Eastern Washington University was worthy of its spot on ESPN2’s Saturday night schedule. All the way to the last play.
Eric Barriere and the Eagles rallied in the fourth quarter for 21 points, the Eastern defense made a final stand as time expired and EWU held on for a 34-28 Big Sky Conference victory.
It was a result matched by the presentation, with veteran Clay Matvick supplying the play by play and former Notre Dame player Rocky Boiman chipping in the analysis.
What they saw
• There was no mystery. The matchup revolved around the Grizzlies’ defense and whether it could control Barriere and the high-powered EWU offense. It was a narrative Boiman embraced early.
“If you like your quarterback to, you know, play it safe and not take any risks, Eric Barriere is not your guy,” Boiman said before the kick.
The problem was for much of Saturday night at Roos Field, Barriere did not have many chances to make any plays, safe, risky or otherwise.
The Montana front seven was dominating Eastern’s offensive line.
As Boiman saw it “the ability to make Eric Barriere uncomfortable” was the difference as the Griz built a 21-10 second-half lead.
Montana’s pressure resulted in Barriere not only being sacked five times – for 54 negative yards – but never getting settled and into rhythm.
It didn’t help that Eastern’s receivers were plagued by drops and the running game struggled to find creases.
“They haven’t been able to block us,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck told sideline reporter Tiffany Blackmon coming out of halftime. For most of the night, he was right.
• That changed, however, late in the third quarter. Eastern’s offensive line began to win enough battles, giving Barriere time. And the senior quarterback took advantage.
“It’s not just the yards,” said Boiman as Barriere’s stats (he had 424 yards at that point, finishing with 422 on 26 of 46 passes) showed on the screen. “You’ve got to be able to make plays when your team needs them.”
In the fourth quarter, he did.
Boiman was asking all game for Barriere to use his legs to negate the Montana pressure. It didn’t happen until the final quarter, a quarter in which EWU gained 187 of its 538 yards.
“The best playmaker, leave the ball in his hands,” Boiman said appreciatively after Barriere had scrambled for two consecutive first downs in a game-clinching drive.
What we saw
• For some reason, Matvick spent the early part of the evening overvaluing Montana’s 13-7 nonconference win over Washington to open the season.
“The greatest win in Montana history,” is how he described it. Twice.
Sure, the Huskies were ranked – inappropriately – 20th in the nation when the Griz invaded Seattle and won.
But there are bigger wins in Montana’s history. At least two of them.
How about their 22-20 win over Marshall in 1995, resulting in their first 1-AA national title? Or their 13-6 decision over Furman in 2001 for the FCS crown? After all, this is a program that has lost the 1-AA/FCS title game five other times, so those two wins have to mean even more.
• One aspect of Big Sky Conference football highlighted by the national TV exposure was the issues with officiating. Most notably, the trouble with marking the football.
In at least five occasions, the ball was marked at least a yard from where a second view via the DVR showed it should have been.
One egregious one came in the second quarter when officials ruled Malik Flowers caught a third-down pass.
Replay examined whether Flowers was inbounds – it looked as if his knee was out of bounds when he gained control – but the call stood. Fine, but Flowers caught the ball at the Montana 43. The ball was marked at the 44, even with replay. It was just one of many misses.
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