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FCS Football Rankings as of September 20, 2021

1 Sam Houston (24) 2-0 696 1
2 James Madison (3) 3-0 667 2
3 South Dakota State (1) 2-0 636 3
4 Montana 2-0 586 5
5 North Dakota State 3-0 583 4
6 Eastern Washington 3-0 508 6
7 Villanova 3-0 490 T-9
8 Southern Illinois 2-1 455 T-9
9 Jacksonville State 2-1 447 11
10 UC Davis 3-0 403 12
11 Delaware 2-1 399 7
12 Montana State 2-1 385 13
13 North Dakota 2-1 381 14
14 Northern Iowa 2-1 354 15
15 Weber State 1-2 313 8
16 Southeastern Louisiana 2-1 295 16
17 East Tennessee State 3-0 290 17
18 Missouri State 1-1 209 19
19 Monmouth (N.J.) 2-1 199 20
20 Austin Peay 2-1 143 21
21 Richmond 2-1 126 18
22 New Hampshire 3-0 105 23
23 Chattanooga 1-2 99 22
24 Central Arkansas 1-2 67 24
25 Kennesaw State 2-1 67 NR
Dropped Out: Furman (25)

Others Receiving Votes: Rhode Island, 28; South Dakota, 24; VMI, 23; Furman, 22; Northern Arizona, 19; Murray St., 13; Nicholls, 12; Alabama A&M, 10; Stephen F. Austin, 9; Gardner-Webb, 7; Illinois St., 6; Princeton, 6; Fordham, 5; Duquesne, 4; Harvard, 3; Jackson St., 3; Florida A&M, 1; Holy Cross, 1; UT Martin, 1.

MISSOULA, Mont. – Montana opened its Big Sky Conference slate on Tuesday night with a 3-0 loss to rival Montana State (25-20, 25-23, 25-17), playing in front of more than 1,000 fans inside Dahlberg Arena.

For a Montana team that had non-conference success behind its efficient attacking – the Grizzlies led the Big Sky and ranked in the top 25 percent nationally for hitting percentage entering the week – it was Montana’s downfall on Tuesday.

Montana hit .052 as a team, its lowest team hitting percentage since September 2019. None of the Grizzlies’ eight attackers hit better than .125, and none had more than six kills.

“We’re not going to win games if our pins don’t produce,” head coach Allison Lawrence said. “Our offense is something that we’ve relied on, and it’s pretty disappointing that immediately it felt like it wasn’t there tonight.”

Montana had just three fewer kills than Montana State (35 to 32), but gave away 42 points off of errors, including 27 attack errors. That was partially a credit to MSU, which recorded 12 blocks, but Montana also made a rash of unforced errors.

Early in the season, the Grizzlies’ depth was a team strength, being able to sub for ineffective production without missing a beat. On Tuesday, though, none of Lawrence’s options were working.

“We aren’t a team that can do well with just one piece working,” Lawrence said. “Our offense is balanced, and our numbers show that we’re pretty even across the board. Tonight, across the board, we didn’t produce.”

Montana did see some success from the service line – six aces compared to just three errors – and from its back-row defense, out-digging MSU 38 to 29. Senior defensive specialist Kelsey Nestegard and sophomore setter Carly Anderson had two aces apiece, while senior libero Sarina Moreno (8) was one of five players with six or more digs.

Despite playing relatively poorly, the Grizzlies had opportunities in each set – but never were able to play consistently from start to finish.

Their best opportunity came in the second set, when Montana jumped out to a 5-1 advantage and led 7-3 moments later.

MSU, though, used a 9-0 scoring run to take a 12-7 lead it would never let go of. Still, Montana made the set interesting, using a 3-0 run to force a Bobcats timeout at 21-18, and then getting within a point at 24-23, before falling on the next point.

The Grizzlies again started strong in the third set, scoring five of the first seven points, before fizzling out. The turning point happened to be a point in which the Grizzlies challenged – and won – to go on top 8-4. After the challenge, though, MSU went on an 8-1 run to take control of the set.

“I think MSU served really well and put us in some one-option situations out of serve-receive, and then we didn’t swing well in bad-ball situations,” Lawrence said. “It felt like we would have a passing breakdown and then a hitting error and then a momentum shift, and we never were able to fully grab the momentum back.”

Montana will have a short turnaround, traveling to Northern Colorado to play the Bears on Thursday night (6 p.m., ESPN+). UNC was picked to finish No. 2 in the Big Sky preseason poll and already wins over Northwestern of the Big Ten, a 9-1 Denver team and three Mountain West schools.

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