MISSOULA — When Montana quarterback Reese Phillips lay on the field with his injury, offensive lineman David Reese went to find the Grizzlies' next man up — Gresch Jensen.
Reese, a senior, wanted to tell the redshirt freshman Jensen something important.
"This is your football team now."
Jensen finished the game against Savannah State completing 11-of-15 passes for 178 yards with three passing touchdowns. He added two carries for 6 yards and a rushing touchdown as well in a performance that earned him an FCS Freshman of the Week honorable mention nod.
But Jensen's first start on Saturday comes against a formidable conference foe — No. 11 Eastern Washington.
Montana coach Bob Stitt isn't overly worried about his redshirt freshman quarterback, as he says there's something different about Jensen.
"He made a couple checks on Saturday that ... (were) just not something that's normal with a freshman that's in his first game with serious reps," Stitt said. "He's different with his preparation and the confidence is there. You still gotta wait and see how he deals with the big stage. It's gonna be fun on Saturday but he thrives in that type of environment."
With Phillips out, the next-man-up mentality has hit home again for the Grizzlies. Jensen is now the starter, Caleb Hill is now the second-string man and the third-string guy is a name Montana fans are familiar with, though Stitt joked about taking the job himself.
"Well, I'm thinking about warming it up,' Stitt joked. "I used to do some wildcat back in high school. We might have Makena (Simis) take some snaps. He's a guy that knows all our stuff. We don't ever think we'd have to get to him but Makena would probably be our three.
"Which he did a great job (in 2015). He had the school record until Chad got that from him, throwing six touchdowns in a game, so I think he's very capable. Although, he's playing really, really well at H (wide receiver), so he'll get some snaps in some drill work, but we're not gonna pull him out of H and mess with him. We plan on Gresch and Caleb being the guys for the entire year and we'll be great with that."
Mentality for Eastern
With Eastern Washington having a new head coach and a new offensive coordinator, as well as on-the-field personnel changes, Montana has new things to prepare for.
One change in particular is the absence of Eastern Washington's dominant wideout in Cooper Kupp, who now plays for the Los Angeles Rams.
Reese, a senior who's preparing for his fifth game against the Eagles, summed up what the game will be like without Kupp in few words.
"It'll be a lot better," Reese said with a smile.
Reese said the mentality of the team changes from here on out as well.
"We have to keep an even higher bar when it comes to conference play," Reese said.
Stitt echoed that sentiment.
"You'd like to be a little sharper, a little more focused and a lot of times you're going to go into a game and there's a possibility of a ton of guys playing and these games are gonna be different," Stitt said of conference play versus playing nonconference teams. "It's gonna be our front-line guys and our strong back-ups that are gonna be getting the reps."
This is the first time Montana has played Eastern Washington in September since 2012. Montana lost that game in Cheney, 32-26.
When Montana played Eastern Washington last season, the Grizzlies lost 35-16. Montana's last win in the rivalry came in 2015 when the Grizzlies stomped the Eagles 57-16 in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
"This is what we've been waiting a long, long time for," Stitt said of the first conference game. "We've been preparing for this and we've talked about it every day in offseason, spring ball, fall camp. It's here now. Now's the time to get it done."
Stitt gave an update on Phillips as well on Monday.
"Everything went good," Stitt said in reference to Phillips' surgery. "He's just got some major stuff that he's gotta recover from. It's gonna be a while. He sent the team a text last night and (quarterbacks) Coach (Andrew) Selle read it to the offense what he wanted our offense to do and what he wanted them to get done. He'll be with us all the way. We'll get him to the game on Saturday and it'll be great to have him around. He's got a little bit of a long haul as far as recovery."