MISSOULA – By the end of Montana’s fourth offensive play of the game Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, it was apparent the Eastern Washington defense was not going to get the fast start it wanted against the Grizzlies’ offense.
On that fourth play – and Montana ahead 7-0 – Nick Ostmos ran 80 yards through the middle of Eastern’s defense for a touchdown, the second of his four first-half scores.
At that point, the rout was only getting started.
“A standard zone play that a lot of offenses have,” Montana offensive lineman AJ Forbes said of the play. “We picked up what they put in front of us.”
Eastern Washington’s season – 2-8 overall and 1-6 in Big Sky games – has been defined by precisely that inability to stop the unspectacular.
Against a 16th-ranked Montana team playing for a spot in the FCS playoffs, the Eagles simply were no match, losing 63-7 in what tied for the most lopsided defeat in the 49 all-time matchups between the programs.
“We just ran into a really good team playing really good football at the end of the year,” EWU coach Aaron Best said. “We just didn’t give them our best shot today.”
Eastern’s first five drives lasted just 18 plays, gained 47 yards and ended in five punts.
The Eagles sustained their next drive 46 yards and reached Montana territory. It ended on fourth down when a scrambling Gunner Talkington was tripped up from behind at the 31-yard line.
They went three-and-out on their next possession. In the final minute before halftime, Wyatt Hawkins’ 37-yard field-goal attempt hooked wide left.
All the while, on the other end of the field, Montana was having its way with a tired, undermanned Eastern Washington defense.
“Their offense is a simple offense,” EWU junior defensive tackle Josh Jerome said. “We knew they were going to keep it simple. We knew what they were gonna do. And we just didn’t take advantage of what we knew. And we didn’t tackle.”
Montana scored touchdowns on six of its seven first-half drives. Ostmo scored four , one shy of the Grizzlies’ single-game record, and finished the game with 146 rushing yards and another 61 receiving.
Montana amassed 604 yards of offense, third most in program history, one week after it gained 595 in a 57-0 shutout of Cal Poly.
“We just thought it was a great effort: offense, defense, kicking,” UM coach Bobby Hauck said. “I think everybody got to play. The punter (Patrick Rohrbach) even got in once today, unlike last week.
“It was just an outstanding effort by our guys to go out and take that win and throw the punches early, just flat go after them.”
The outcome was a stark contrast to the programs’ two games last season. Eastern beat Montana 34-28 in Cheney during the regular season but lost the playoff rematch 57-41 in Missoula.
In those games the Eagles leaned on an explosive offense to keep them in games. But this year’s iteration simply hasn’t been the same. While last year’s team averaged 44 points per game, this year’s has managed barely half that (22.6).
The Eagles’ defense has been historically bad, ranked among the bottom four in the FCS in a number of categories, including touchdowns allowed (60) and rushing yards allowed (3,025).
Montana moved the ball at will and didn’t force any turnovers.
For the third time this season, the Eagles won the turnover battle but still lost the game; between 2010 and 2021, the Eagles were 63-1 when winning the turnover battle.
Eastern’s lone takeaway came on an interception by sophomore Marlon Jones Jr., his team-leading third of the season.
While Montana (7-3, 4-3) heads to Bozeman next week to play rival No. 3 Montana State with a playoff spot still not quite secured, Eastern Washington, guaranteed its first losing season since 2006, will head home to host Northern Colorado (3-7, 2-5) hoping to salvage a victory in its season finale.
“We’re not used to (losses),” Best said. “We’ll wrap this up, look at this (game), and we’ll try to send the seniors off with a win next Saturday at home.”
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