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Sports >  EWU football

Eastern Washington-Montana rivalry filled with plenty classic games

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 29, 2021

By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

Jack Sendelbach was a member of Eastern Washington’s special teams units in 2016, and he doesn’t remember many details of what happened that year on the afternoon of Oct. 29. But he does remember the atmosphere the last time the Montana Grizzlies played at Roos Field.

“I just remember the environment was a lot of fun,” the Eagles’ senior linebacker said Tuesday. “Obviously, gameplan wise, I don’t remember a lot.

“It has been a while. … It’s good to have them back.”

In a conference like the Big Sky, which has 13 teams, playing an eight-game schedule each year inevitably leads to irregularities in when and where teams play each other.

The rivalry between Eastern Washington and Montana has certainly been impacted. In the four-plus seasons since the Grizzlies played at Roos Field, the Eagles visited Missoula twice, winning there in 2017 and losing in 2019.

That 2019 matchup was the only time senior Eric Barriere has played against the Grizzlies. He threw for 264 yards and a touchdown, was sacked three times and didn’t throw an interception.

Unless the teams meet in the playoffs, as they did in 2014, this will be Barriere’s final opportunity to beat Montana (3-0, 1-0 Big Sky), one of four teams he hasn’t defeated since he became starting quarterback midway through the 2018 season. Montana State (which visits Cheney on Nov. 6), Weber State (which does so Oct. 23) and Sacramento State (not on their schedule this season) are the others.

“I mean, I want to beat every team (we play), but obviously I want to beat (Montana) pretty bad, with everything going on this season and what we’re trying to accomplish,” Barriere said Tuesday. “I was a part of it in 2017 when we beat them there. I experienced the craziness.”

Both programs have been good for a long time.

While this is the first time that both are ranked inside the top nine nationally heading into their game – Montana is ranked fourth, Eastern (4-0, 1-0) sixth – this is the 17th time both will enter the matchup ranked among the Top 25 FCS teams in the nation.

Montana coach Bobby Hauck acknowledged the success of both programs during his news conference this week, pointing out that Eastern’s winning history goes back much further than Beau Baldwin, Eagles coach before current head coach Aaron Best.

“They were pretty good with Paul Wulff before that, and Dick Zornes before that, and Mike Kramer between those two,” Hauck said. “They’ve been good for a long time.”

While Montana leads the overall series history 28-17-1, the Eagles have won seven of the previous 10, including the previous five games played at Roos Field, all featuring a pair of ranked teams.

Former Eagles wide receiver Shaq Hill played in the previous three home games. He said he could tell the intensity of the rivalry based not just on the way the teams played but also how the fans traveled for it.

He remembers cars and RVs clad in Montana logos arriving Wednesday and Thursday before the game.

“It’s always crazy,” Hill said, and for the team, “It’s a whole demeanor change, because nobody wants to lose to them.”

Here’s a look back at those previous matchups at Roos Field.

Oct. 29, 2016: No. 3 Eastern Washington 35, No. 16 Montana 16

An announced crowd of 10,931 watched the Eagles take a 21-10 lead into halftime with a pair of Cooper Kupp touchdown catches, both thrown by Gage Gubrud.

Kupp and Hill each scored a touchdown in the third quarter to give Eastern a dominant 35-10 edge.

Montana outgained Eastern 540-455 and held the ball for nearly 10 more minutes. But the Grizzlies started six of their drives inside their 20-yard line; that happened to the Eagles just twice.

The Eagles also used some trickery: While Kupp led the team with eight receptions for 140 yards, he also completed a 54-yard pass to Gubrud in the second quarter that set up Tamarick Pierce’s 2-yard touchdown run that gave the Eagles the lead for good, 14-7.

Dec. 6, 2014: No. 4 Eastern Washington 37, No. 12 Montana 20

A 40-yard interception return by Todd Raynes with under 2 minutes left sealed the victory for the Eagles, who advanced to the quarterfinals with this victory over the Grizzlies.

Vernon Adams Jr. threw one touchdown in the first quarter and ran for another just before halftime to help the Eagles to a 13-3 lead at the break. The Eagles opened the second half with a touchdown drive, and the Grizzlies never got closer than 10 points.

Eastern’s progress was slower but methodical: It gained 394 yards of offense at a clip of 4.9 per play, but it held the ball for 10 minutes more than Montana. The Eagles also were plus-2 in turnovers and recorded four sacks. Quincy Forte had 128 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.

Nov. 8, 2014: No. 5 Eastern Washington 36, No. 11 Montana 26

One month but just two games earlier, the Eagles hosted and defeated the Grizzlies in a game Eastern led from late in the first quarter on. Roos Field’s third-largest crowd – announced at 11,339 – watched Adams throw for 410 yards and four touchdowns on 25 of 37 attempts. He was sacked five times but did not throw an interception.

Kupp and Hill each had eight receptions and a touchdown to go with 134 and 114 yards, respectively.

Herbert Gamboa had 10 tackles and three sacks for the Grizzlies, who took an early 3-0 lead, fell behind by as many as 23 and then got back within a touchdown after a field goal with 5:56 left in the game.

Eastern responded to that kick with a 10-play, 58-yard drive that ended with a 34-yard Tyler McNannay field goal with 28 seconds left to clinch the victory.

Sept. 29, 2012: No. 7 Eastern Washington 32, No. 21 Montana 26

Eastern Washington trailed by nine points midway through the fourth quarter but rallied to score two touchdowns in the final 3 minutes to beat Montana.

After Adams found Brandon Kaufman for a 30-yard touchdown with 2:19 left, Hill recovered the ensuing onside kick at midfield, and the Eagles’ offense took the field again, trailing 26-24.

Five plays into the drive, Adams connected with Ashton Clark for a 20-yard touchdown, and a successful 2-point conversion gave the Eagles their 32-26 lead.

Sept. 18, 2010: No. 18 Eastern Washington 36, No. 6 Montana 27

In the Big Sky opener for both teams, in a season that would ultimately end in an FCS title for the Eagles, Mike Jarrett kicked a winning field goal with 4 seconds left – followed by a Renard Williams defensive touchdown on the ensuing Montana drive – to clinch an early victory for the Eagles.

The announced crowd of 11,702 was the largest at Roos Field.

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