MISSOULA – Our latest selection for our top sports story countdown didn’t make Western Montana fans smile. But number three might have been the most talked about. A late season collapse kept Griz football out of the FCS playoffs.
2016 looked so promising in mid-October. Montana sat 5-1 with the only blemish a one-point loss at Cal Poly. And the maroon and silver were fresh off back-to-back 60 point wins at home.
But the schedule got tougher, and the Griz wilted. Montana fell at Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington, not coming close in two straight setbacks. The Griz fell again at Northern Colorado.
They entered the final game of the season needing a win to possibly make the playoffs. But rival Montana State silenced the crowd in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. A 24-17 loss ended the run for the 6-5 Grizzlies much sooner than expected.
“You would like to say you’ve got to learn from this,” said head coach Bob Stitt after the loss to the Cats. “You’ve got to know this feeling, so you never have it again. But for the seniors, that doesn’t help. We’re an 8-3, 9-2 football team. But there’s some young mistakes and some undisciplined mistakes that cost you. We didn’t win enough games this year to make everybody happy. But we’re going to, because we’re doing it the right way.”
The disappointing finish marked only the third time in the past 24 years that the Griz missed the postseason, and snapped a three-game winning streak versus their in-state rivals.
Friday we’ll wrap up our countdown with the top two sports stories of the year in Western Montana.