Griz Defense Plays Big Role in Win Over Eastern Washington - News, Sports and Weather

Griz Defense Plays Big Role in Win Over Eastern Washington

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Grizzly defense proves its mettle against Eagles

The last four times Montana and Eastern Washington met on the field, the Eagles walked away victorious. Eastern scored a combined for a total of 147 points in those four games, dating back to 2012.

On Saturday, the Grizzly defense, led by a talented group of seniors who had never defeated Eastern in their careers, shut down one of the best offenses in the country in a blowout Montana victory.

In the team meeting on Friday night, Derek Crittenden made a point in emphasizing the defense started fast. Montana allowed a chunk of yards on the Eagles’ first drive, Ty Gregorak’s defense stepped up when needed.

“Early I thought they were moving the ball decently against us, but it was nice to see us buckle down,” Gregorak said. “I really thought, ‘Man are we going to give up another opening drive?’

The Eagles drove all the way to the Montana 28 before Reilly Hennessey mishandled a fourth down snap and Crittenden scooped up the fumble. The Grizzlies would only allow three first quarter points, and the offense scored on back-to-back drives to give Montana an early lead, which forced Eastern to take to the air.

“It was key being able to get up early on them, because we forced them to throw the ball,” defensive-end Tyrone Holmes said. “Our cover guys did a great job covering, and that was key in allowing us time to get to the quarterback.”

In the first drive of the second quarter, the Eagles went for it on fourth down, but Homes and Crittenden sacked Hennessey to force a turnover on downs.

On the next Eastern drive, Yamen Sanders made perhaps the biggest play of the game, breaking free on a safety blitz to crush Hennessey, forcing a fumble that Herbert Gamboa returned for six.

Eastern received the ball coming out of the halftime break and fumbled after just two plays, which Montana turned into three points. Kendrick Van Ackeren intercepted Jordan West on the first play of the next drive, returning it all the way to the Eastern two-yard line.

Later in the third quarter, JR Nelson intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown for the second straight game, giving Montana their second defensive touchdown of the game.

Markel Sanders added a fourth quarter interception, as Montana forced a season high six turnovers in a game decided by momentum built off of big plays.

“It was just a huge momentum game where it seemed like we had it for most of the game,” Holmes said. “The guys were making plays and it was fun to be out there, because we know how hard each other works during the offseason so it was fun seeing those big plays.”

When fans see the 57 points on the board, they may assume that the offense ran the ball up and down the field against a weak Eastern defense. In reality, the defense is largely responsible for the high point total on Saturday.

“Frankly, the turnovers created points for us, that’s the thing,” Gregorak said. “It’s such a momentum game, and turnovers can make or break you, and I thought we helped this team win because of the turnovers.”

Kendrick Van Ackeren made the most of his return to the field, as he finished with a game-high 16 tackles, including half a sack. He also nearly returned his interception for a touchdown, and just missed on another interception at the end of the first half.

Tyrone Holmes continued his dominating season, taking advantage of the pass-heavy Eastern offense and recording three sacks to extend his FCS-leading total to 14.

The three-sack performance also moved Holmes into fourth on the all-time sack list at Montana with 30.5, and he also moved up into sixth on the tackle for loss list with 42.5.

The 16 points were the fewest the Montana defense allowed against Eastern since the win in 2011. It was the first win against the Eagles for the senior class, and it came during their final regular season game at home.

“I’m mostly proud of our seniors. We have so many seniors, whether they are a starter, or they are Connor Lebsock and they come in when they’re needed, I’m just so proud of this class,” Gregorak said. “They’ve helped us win a lot of games in their four or five years here and I give them all the credit, my hats off to them.”

The Montana defense stepped up their game in impressive fashion on Saturday, and they are playing well as they have all season as they prepare for the final week of the season.

“We were hitting and flying around today. I’d love to get a couple of those scores back, but only giving up 16 points against Eastern? Not perfect by any stretch, but going into Cat week we are playing pretty darn good.”

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