(12) Stephen F. Austin (10-2) at (3) Montana (12-0)
The Sports Network
By Brett Kahn, FCS Assistant Editor
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 5th, 2:04 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Washington-Grizzly Stadium at John Hoyt Field (25,200) -- Missoula, Montana. Surface: SprinTurf. Television: ESPN Game Plan/ESPN360.com. Home Record: Stephen F. Austin 5-0; Montana 7-0. Away Record: Stephen F. Austin 4-2; Montana 5-0. Series Record: Montana (3-0). Last Meeting: 1995 (Montana, 70-14 at Stephen F. Austin). Series Streak: Montana has won all three meetings. Conference: Stephen F. Austin - Southland; Montana - Big Sky. Sports Network Ranking: Stephen F. Austin (12); Montana (3). Playoff Record: Stephen F. Austin (7-4); Montana (28-17). Nicknames: Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks; Montana Grizzlies. Coaches: Stephen F. Austin - J.C. Harper (14-21); Montana - Bobby Hauck (78-16).
GAME NOTES: Montana has beaten Stephen F. Austin in the only three times they've played and will have a chance to advance to the semifinals of the 2009 FCS playoffs for second straight season.
The last time these squads got together was in 1998, in a 49-42 Grizzlies win at SFA. Montana would head to the playoffs that season, only to fall to Western Illinois, 52-9 in the first round.
There was also a 1995 semifinal playoff encounter, where the Grizzlies dominated the Lumberjacks 70-14 in Missoula, MT., on the way to Montana's first national championship.
The top-seeded Grizzlies recovered from one of the biggest deficits in FCS playoff history last week, scoring 34 points in the fourth quarter to beat South Dakota State, 61-48. Montana looked dreadful early in game, falling behind 41-14 and 48-27 before making its comeback.
Montana's offensive explosion in the fourth quarter was paced by quarterback Andrew Selle (2,250 yards passing, 21 TDs, five interceptions), who tossed two touchdown passes in the final frame, finishing the game with 309 yards passing, three touchdown passes and two interceptions. Selle ranks sixth nationally in passing efficiency.
Running back Chase Reynolds (1,193 yards rushing, 18 TDs) was limited in yardage (34 yards), but found the end zone three times, twice in the fourth quarter.
Grizzly All-American wide receiver Marc Mariani (62 catches, 18.6 average, 11 TDs) was the sparkplug for the historical comeback, racking up 389 all- purpose yards and three scores, including a 98-yard kickoff return near the end of the third quarter. Mariani ranks fourth nationally in punt returns (16.3 average) and 11th in all-purpose yards (1,823 yards).
Mariani is joined in the Montana receiving group by senior Tyler Palmer (34 catches, 12.9 average, four TDs).
Montana's defense has been its Achilles heel this season, although the unit had held opponents to under 20 points in the previous four games before the playoffs. However, the defense was put under pressure by SDSU's rushing attack for much of the afternoon.
The Grizzly defense features linebacker Shawn Lebsock (82 tackles), cornerback Andrew Swink (25 tackles, interceptions) and defensive end Jace Palmer (32 tackles, nine tackles for loss, six pass breakups).
SFA earned its first playoff win since 1995 by winning a share of the Southland Conference title and the automatic bid. The Lumberjacks took down Eastern Washington, 44-33, at home in the first round.
The nation's top-ranked scoring offense and second-ranked scoring offense put up 563 yards of total offense, with Payton Award nominee Jeremy Moses (3,920 yards passing, 40 TDs) throwing for 432 yards and four touchdown passes.
Moses spread the ball around to nine different receivers, with Duane Brooks (110 catches, 9.3 average, six TDs), Gralyn Crawford (47 catches, 15.3 average, seven TDs) and Brandon Scott (24 catches, 11.4 average, five TDs) leading the effort. The three combined for 30 catches, 302 yards and three scores.
Wide receiver Aaron Rhea (54 catches, 13.8 average, 11 TDs) missed his second straight game with an ankle injury, but is expected to play this weekend along with Contrevious Parks (45 catches, 10.3 average, five TDs), who also missed the EWU game due to injury.
The Lumberjacks' rushing attack takes a back seat to the air attack, but Vincent Pervis (872 yards rushing, two TDs) played well against the Eagles, compiling 177 all-purpose yards in the win.
SFA's defense struggled against Eastern Washington, allowing a blistering 595 yards of total offense and 33 points, its most this season.
The unit features Buchanan Award nominee Tim Knicky (37 tackles, 15 tackles for loss) at defensive end, All-American linebacker Jabara Williams (102 tackles, eight tackles for loss, seven pass breakups) and defensive tackle Kenneth Charles (43 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, nine sacks).
Both teams are clearly explosive on offense, but the lack of SFA's rushing attack could provide a disadvantage for the Lumberjacks.
Sports Network Predited Outcome: Montana 44, Stephen F. Austin 34.
12/02 18:43:48 ET