Weber State football welcomes Montana in crucial Big Sky showdown

Wednesday , October 25, 2017 - 5:23 PM

BRANDON GARSIDE, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — In their quest for a Big Sky Championship and return to the FCS Playoffs, there is no room for error for the Weber State Wildcats.

After last week’s action, including Southern Utah’s upset win over Eastern Washington, the Wildcats (5-2, 3-1 Big Sky) are one of five teams with only one loss in conference play. Northern Arizona stands alone in first place, still unbeaten in the league.

“It’s a tight race for the championship,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said. “This is one of those years where you better take care of business. We already had one hiccup. You can’t have two this year and think you’re going to have any shot at the title. Not this year.”

The road gets rougher before it gets smoother in the last stretch of the regular season, starting with a home matchup Saturday afternoon against the No. 24 Montana Grizzlies (5-2, 3-1). UM is also one of the five teams with one Big Sky loss, dropping their conference opener to Eastern Washington one month ago.

There was uncertainty surrounding the Griz before the season. They were picked sixth in both the coaches and media preseason polls, but freshman quarterback Gresch Jensen plays more like a veteran than a first-year player and leads the Montana offense to a Big Sky best 39.1 points per game.

Jensen has the third-best pass efficiency rating among Big Sky quarterbacks at 155.5 and throws for an average of 232.9 yards per game.

“They do a great job of getting the ball down the field,” Hill said. “I really like their quarterback and the poise he has in the pocket. When he gets pressured, he knows how to get away from it.

“It’s a very good Montana team, in my opinion, so we’ve got our work cut out for us. I like the matchup, it’s going to be a fun game with two good teams.”

Defensively, the Grizzlies have the worst passing defense in the Big Sky, allowing 304.7 yards per game. That secondary will also be without junior safety Justin Strong, who will not travel with the team to Ogden after being arrested on assault charges last weekend.

Montana head coach Bob Stitt calls Weber State’s secondary the best his team has faced since Washington and has respect for all three facets of the Wildcats’ game.

Although there are high stakes in this weekend’s game, Stitt hopes his players don’t let it get to their heads.

“If you try to look into the big picture, then I don’t think you’re going to go out and play as well mentally and maybe play a little bit tight,” he said. “If we get the same effort that we’ve gotten from our guys the first several weeks, that gives us a chance to win. If we just play good football, the other things are going to take care of themselves.”

Montana leads the all-time series 40-14 and 18-7 in Ogden. The last meeting was 2015, when Weber State won 24-21 in overtime for their first win in Missoula in 28 years.

Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Stewart Stadium. The game will be streamed live on PlutoTV channel 235 and on WatchBigSky.com. A radio broadcast will air on 1430 AM KLO with Steve Klauke and Bo Bolen on the call.

Contact Brandon Garside at bgarside@standard.net, on Twitter @BrandonGarside and on Facebook.com/BrandonGarsideSE.

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