HARRISONBURG, VA - The Griz are getting ready in Virginia for Friday's big quarterfinal showdown against James Madison University.
Montana and James Madison will meet for just the third time ever with the 2004 national championship and 2008 semifinals the previous two meetings. It's high stakes when these two schools get together, and on Friday night, it will be no different, as it's win or go home for both of these programs.
The Grizzlies lost the 2004 national championship to James Madison in Bobby Hauck’s second year coaching the team, but in 2008, the Griz exacted their revenge in Harrisonburg when the Grizzlies topped JMU 35-27 to stun the Dukes who were the top-ranked team in the nation at the time.
"We were kind of a young team that entered the season without much regard for it and had gotten better through the season,” Hauck recalled. “We played well. I also remember their head coach, Mickey Matthews, a good friend of mine, and he was pretty disappointed because that was the best team he had at JMU. So, it was a fun night, it was a good performance by us."
The two programs perennially have been some of the best in the FCS. But it could be the last time they meet for some time, as James Madison heads up to the FBS level next year.
This year, it's a battle of some of the best defenses in the country. JMU is riding a seven-game winning streak, and in that stretch has allowed over 20 points just three times. The Dukes also lead the country in turnover margin with a +21 mark, a stat they'll try to add to against UM's offense.
"I think our team has hit quite a bit of a stride and you know at this point it's win or go home so I think that's enough motivation for our team to keep competing and go out there and get a win,” said Griz wide receiver Mitch Roberts.
Offensively, quarterback Cole Johnson leads the Dukes with the highest passing efficiency in the country, with over 3,000 yards on the year, 37 touchdowns and just two interceptions. As an offense, JMU averages 442 yards and 41 points per game, and they'll go toe-to-toe with the Grizzly defense that has been Montana's strength this year.
The Grizzlies are 4-1 on the road this year and come in on a six-game winning streak of their own, and after big wins at home over Montana State and Eastern Washington, UM prepares for Friday Night Lights on the national stage again with a spot in the semifinals on the line.
"It's going to be a challenge. Us as a team, that's what we're looking forward to is a challenge and every team that's still playing right now is really good and that's what we're expecting so we're going to prepare as such and then we'll go out and do what we do,” observed Griz linebacker Patrick O’Connell.
Kickoff is at 5 p.m. on ESPN2. Because of the 5 p.m. kickoff, Friday's UM men's basketball game against Yellowstone Christian has been moved to 3 p.m.