MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) – The University of Massachusetts football team had to do more than get ready to meet second-ranked Montana on the football field this week.

They had to figure out how to deal with the nearly 24,000 screaming fans who bought tickets to Friday’s Division I-AA semifinal game against the Montana Grizzlies.

“Well, we are just going to have to prepare our guys the best we can for it,” UMass coach Don Brown said. “Hand signals, silent cadence, but it will certainly be tough to assimilate during practice week.

“But … on the positive side, we had a great crowd at our place last week. It was extremely loud. To be honest with you, our guys feed off that high energy type stuff.”

More than 23,800 tickets for Friday night’s game sold out before noon Wednesday.

“It will fun in our stadium Friday night,” said Montana coach Bobby Hauck. “I’m sure the atmosphere will be electric. I anticipate a wild scene.”

On the field, in just the second game played under the lights in Washington-Grizzly Stadium, two balanced teams with potent offenses and stingy defenses will fight for a spot in the national championship.

Atlantic 10 champion UMass (12-1), which has a school-record 11-game winning streak, is led by sophomore quarterback Liam Coen, who averages 197 yards passing and has thrown 25 TD passes this season.

Tailback Steve Baylark averages 128 yards rushing and has scored 13 touchdowns while Brandon London averages 59 yards receiving and has caught nine touchdown passes.

Defensively, the Minutemen allow their opponents just 11.9 points per game and hold them to 271 yards in total offense.

“Their balance on offense is troubling,” Hauck said. “They’ve got the player of the year in their league at running back; they’ve got the quarterback who’s ranked No. 1 in the nation in passing efficiency. They’ve got the best tight end we’ve seen to date. They’ve got a big receiving corps.

“They’ve got a defense that’s one of the top-scoring defenses in the nation, which is a statistic that matters,” Hauck said. “So it’s a pretty daunting task to get ready for the game.”

Big Sky Conference champion Montana (12-1) comes in with a 12-game winning streak and a 5-0 record in home semifinal games.

Quarterback Josh Swogger averages 210 yards passing and has thrown 17 TD passes. Montana has three receivers averaging between 51 and 64 yards per game. Craig Chambers has eight TD catches, Eric Allen has five, and Ryan Bagley four.

The Grizzlies also spread out the running game, but redshirt freshman Thomas Brooks-Fletcher has rushed for more than 100 yards per game in each of the playoff games.

Montana’s defense holds its opponents to 15.8 points per game and 251 yards of total offense.

Brown said Montana is sound on offense.

“Has an outstanding quarterback in Josh Swogger – a real strong-armed guy. I think he has a good handle on what the coach is trying to get done. They play a myriad of running backs, all very talented and all have a great understanding of what is going on.

“Three very, very good receivers. Really impressed with Eric Allen, Ryan Bagley and Craig Chambers.”

“They are very stingy on defense,” Brown said. “Just a very balanced football team with no weaknesses, so we are going to have to be at our best to have a chance …”

The Grizzlies have held their playoff opponents to just three field goals in beating McNeese State 31-6 and Southern Illinois 20-3.

UMass beat Lafayette 35-14 in the first round and New Hampshire 24-17 in the quarterfinals.

The winner advances to the championship game on Friday, Dec. 15, in Chattanooga, Tenn., against the winner of Saturday’s semifinal between top-ranked and defending national champion Appalachian State and fourth-seeded Youngstown State.


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