Big Sky in FCS playoffs: Central Arkansas at Montana; MSU hosts New Hampshire

Dec 2 2011 - 2:17pm


On the basis of nicknames alone, the two Football Championship Subdivision playoff games being held in Montana this weekend sound pretty even.

The Central Arkansas Bears are taking on the Montana Grizzlies at noon on Saturday, while it's a cat fight in Bozeman between the Montana State Bobcats and the New Hampshire Wildcats. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.

Both teams visiting Big Sky Country come in with a pass-first offense and strong quarterbacks who have each thrown for more than 3,000 yards this season.

Central Arkansas quarterback Nathan Dick averages 274 yards passing and has thrown 30 touchdown passes. Jesse Grandy has eight TD receptions while Dominique Croom has seven. Jackie Hinton and Terence Bobo each have four touchdown runs.

"He's a big, strong football player that throws the ball really well," Montana coach Robin Pflugrad said of Dick, adding that Central Arkansas is probably the best overall team Montana has faced as far as being multi-dimensional.

"They run a hurry-up system, so our defense will be extremely challenged," Pflugrad said.

The Bears (9-3) bring an eight-game winning streak into Washington-Grizzly Stadium for the team's first matchup against fourth-seeded Montana (9-2), which has won its past seven games.

"This is a great team and a great program and a great venue," said Central Arkansas coach Clint Conque. "If we go up there and throw it around and kick it around and have a bunch of penalties, we'll get worn out. If we played a good, solid game, we can obviously live with the results afterward."

The Bears' three road losses came to top-ranked and unbeaten Sam Houston State of the FCS along with Sun Belt Conference champion Arkansas State and WAC champion Louisiana Tech.

"If we don't show up to play, this is definitely a team that can beat us," said Montana offensive lineman Jon Opperud.

Defensively, Seth Allison leads the Bears with 100 tackles this season while Jestin Love has five interceptions and Jermayne Lett has five sacks.

Montana is led by quarterback Jordan Johnson, who averages 179 yards passing and has 15 touchdowns this season, despite struggling with some injuries. Jabin Sambrano has seven touchdown catches while Dan Moore has rushed for seven scores, followed by Jordan Canada with five TD runs.

Caleb McSurdy leads the Griz with 114 total tackles while Bryan Waldhauser has 11 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks.

Pflugrad said Johnson was extremely healthy against Montana State and very healthy against Weber State, when he passed for 299 yards and six touchdowns.

"It's very important for us to keep him healthy," Pflugrad said.

New Hampshire quarterback Kevin Decker comes into Bozeman averaging 279 yards passing and has 20 TD passes this season, including seven to R.J. Harris. Decker has rushed for another nine scores while Dontra Peters has run for seven.

Decker is very creative, said MSU coach Rob Ash. "He can run around in the pocket and find receivers. Whatever it takes to make a play, he'll do it."

However, Decker also has thrown 14 interceptions and lost three of five fumbles.

Montana State will look to make things tough for Decker as the team is seventh in the nation with 38 sacks this season, including 10 by Brad Daly and seven by Zach Minter. Jody Owens leads the team with 87 tackles.

The Wildcats had a strong schedule, winning five games against ranked FCS teams while losing to two ranked teams and Toledo of the FBS. They are coming off a bye week after defeating No. 11 Maine 30-27.

Defensively, Matt Evans leads New Hampshire with 154 total tackles, including 82 solo stops, while Chris Houston has five interceptions and Brian McNally has 7.5 sacks.

Montana State (9-2) had its nine-game winning streak snapped in a 36-10 loss to rival Montana two weeks ago.

The Bobcats are led by quarterback DeNarius McGhee who averages 215 yards passing per game and has 22 touchdown throws, half of them to Elvis Akpla. Cody Kirk averages 112 yards rushing and has 14 touchdown runs.

"It all starts with their run game over there and DeNarius is a guy who directs traffic very, very well," said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. "He is a kid who has great physical presence and very good scrambling ability. When he scrambles, what we've seen on tape and what we appreciate about the guy, is he doesn't scramble without a purpose. He uses it as a way to extend plays and make plays longer."


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