MISSOULA — Montana coach Bobby Hauck felt his team should’ve been in the playoffs last year in the first season of his second stint at Montana.
One year later, the Griz have returned to the postseason for the first time since 2015.
“One year too long,” Hauck said during his Monday press conference.
One year and one week to be specific, the latter being the byproduct of the Griz earning a first-round bye by putting together a regular season that Hauck has said has the program a year ahead of schedule.
Coming off the bye, sixth-seeded Montana has turned its attention from itself to its opponent, the Southeastern Louisiana Lions out of the Southland Conference. The teams will kick off at 1 p.m. MT Saturday in Washington-Grizzly Stadium, with the game streamed on ESPN3.
“Certainly, it’s exciting to have playoff football back in Missoula with the big second-round game against Southeast(ern) Louisiana,” Hauck said. “I think our fans need to rise up this weekend. Playoff football’s always fun, so we need a great Saturday in the stadium. Southeast(ern) Louisiana’s obviously a really good football team.”
Montana enters the postseason with a record of 9-3 overall and the No. 7 ranking in the STATS FCS Top 25. The Griz had a chance to win a share of their first Big Sky title since 2009 and earn the conference’s auto bid into the playoffs heading into their most recent game, but they ended up finishing third in the league and were an at-large selection in the program’s 24th all-time postseason appearance, an FCS/I-AA record.
The Griz still got a bye week in the first round, which was much needed after a 48-14 loss at Montana State to close the regular season on Nov. 23. The focus was on the players healing up after the rare 12-week regular season that comes around every several years.
“We just went back to work,” Hauck said. “That’s what you do. Win or lose, you go back to work and get ready. I think with our health being as bad as it was and is, I think that the ability to not play on Saturday was great for us. It would have been hard to limp out there last Saturday. So, a little bit of practice, some lifting, a couple of days off (were) probably really good for us.”
Hauck and some of his coaches are well versed in FCS playoff football. He led the Griz to seven consecutive postseason appearances and three trips to the national title game in his first stint at UM from 2003-09.
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None of the Griz players, though, have played in the playoffs at this level, but Hauck believes they’ll be ready to perform.
“I think they’ll be excited to play, which is the critical thing,” Hauck said. “I know they all came in yesterday — on Sunday afternoon (the coaches) were talking about it — and stopped in to make sure we were working as coaches, I suppose. But they’re excited to play, and that’s what’s important.”
SELA, on the other hand, had to play in the first round and is coming off a 45-44 win over Villanova in which it erased a 17-point halftime deficit. The Lions are unranked in the current STATS FCS Top 25, while Nova is the eighth-ranked team.
SELA improved 8-4 with the win in its first playoff appearance since 2014 and just the third in program history. The Lions are coached by Frank Scelfo, the Southland coach of the year in his second year.
“They had a great win against Villanova last weekend,” Hauck said. “It was fun to watch. It was an exciting game. A lot of great plays on both sides of the ball.
“I think that coach Scelfo and his staff do a really nice job of coaching their team. They seem to be a team that coaches and plans to attack what you do well and take advantage of you rather than being a ‘Hey, we do what we do’ type outfit, which I think is, I mean, you have to know what you’re doing to be able to do it that way. That seems to be their system.”
The Lions, playing at a warm-weather school, operate a pass-heavy attack that ranks fourth in the FCS in pass offense (345 yards per game), fourth in total offense (484.5 yards per game) and eighth in scoring offense (37.7 points per game).
The defense is fifth in both tackles for loss (8.7 per game) and sacks (3.4 per game). They rank 44th in points allowed (25.8 per game) despite being 75th in total defense (398.8 yards per game).
“They’re good up front on both sides of the ball as well as being extremely skilled in all the skill position players,” Hauck said. “It’ll be a real test for us.”