We’ll see how it plays in Boone, N.C., but the third battle between the Montana Grizzlies and Appalachian State shapes up like the first two.
Both were down to the wire, edge-of-your-frozen-seat-affairs.
Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. showdown – the first not played in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals, and the first outside Montana – will no doubt be warmer and possibly wetter, since rain is likely.
Meanwhile the two winningest FCS teams this century remain, on paper, evenly matched.
“It’s a storied program,” Griz coach Mick Delaney said of the Mountaineers, who won three straight national titles from 2005-07. “I think over the last 30 years they’ve been at or near the top. They’re the only school in the FCS that will challenge Montana for total and weekly attendance.”
“They fill their place up, just like we do here, with rabid fans.”
An overflow crowd that could number 30,000 – the stadium record is 31,531 – will bear witness to a pair of young, talented teams.
“I anticipate that it’s going to be who can stop the run and who can run the football,” said Montana coach Mick Delaney, whose club is coming off a statistically-dominant 35-24 win over South Dakota.
“We expect them on offense to be really good and defensively, they just line up man-on-man. They’re not a big pressure team, or they haven’t been, recently. They’re going to play a four-man front and their backers are big strong guys who play downhill.
“We’ve got to keep their quarterback off-balance a little bit, upset his timing and at the same time keep him in the pocket. He’s dangerous running around.”
Jamal Jackson is a 6-foot-3, rocket-armed junior who has thrown for at least 200 yards in every one of his eight starts. He threw for 300 yards in the Mountaineers’ 35-13 loss at East Carolina last week.
The Mountaineers spread the field, throwing it to a mix of young and old receivers; Tony Washington is the leading target so far. They’ll hand the ball off to senior Steven Miller and, with Rod Chisholm hurt, converted linebacker Michael Frazier and freshman Ricky Fergerson.
They’re all lining up behind a young but talented offensive line, including a sophomore tight end, Drew Bailey, who made his first start last week.
“They’ve got a great offense and he (Jackson) can chuck the rock from anyplace on the field,” said Griz linebacker Josh Stuberg. “They have some really talented wide receivers that we have to try and hold down.
“They remind us of our offense – they run a lot of read-zone action, and spread you out and try to get you in the open field and try to make you miss tackles.”
The Grizzlies allowed just 233 yards in their season opener, with 80 coming on one play-action pass. Delaney saw good and bad upon review of the film.
“On the defensive side of the ball I think you’ll see us tackle a little better,” he said. “We tackled well, but not well enough to beat an Appalachian State.
“But you’re looking at a 230-yard day on offense (for South Dakota). We’ll take that every day and we’ll win 15 out of 16 of those games.”
Another key will be how Montana’s offense, with a freshman quarterback in Trent McKinney, holds up against a Mountaineer defense that played well against East Carolina.
McKinney had an excellent first start, beating pressure with short, quick passes. The running backs – Dan Moore and Peter Nguyen – had a heyday.
The Griz are actually looking forward to ASU’s straightforward approach to D, after facing South Dakota’s blitzing style.
“They’ll line up in the gaps and they’re going to say, ‘We’re coming after you, physically,’ ” Griz offensive line coach Scott Gragg said of the Mountaineers. “It’s going to be more of a battle of wills, a battle of technique and execution.
“This will be a better barometer of where we’re at as an offensive line.”
All non-league contests are measuring sticks. This one just has a little more hype.
Having two nail-biters in the books will do that. The Griz prevailed 19-16 in overtime in 2001, and 24-17 in 2009.
“It’s an eye-opener for us, knowing we’ve played them twice and come out on the losing end,” said App State linebacker Jeremy Kimbrough. “It’s more motivation to come out and play hard and try to get our first victory against them.”
“As a regular-season game, it’s a good test to see who is better,” said App State’s Frazier, who saw extensive action at linebacker in that snowy 2009 semifinal game. “It’s LSU-Alabama, honestly. At our level, it doesn’t get much better than App State-Montana.”
“Our team is really excited about playing them,” Stuberg said. “I remember a few years ago in the playoffs; it was one of the greatest games that FCS has ever seen. It was a fantastic game.”
Another one could be on the way.
Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 523-5247, at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Fritz_Neighbor.