MISSOULA — Football is back in Missoula this weekend as the Big Sky Conference champion Montana Grizzlies had the first week off from the FCS playoffs, but are now set to host Delaware in the second round at Washington-Grizzly Stadium with a 7 p.m. kickoff on Saturday night.
After a week off and reeling in a number of postseason awards, it's back to business for No. 2-seeded Montana (10-1).
"Earning the bye, it's a good deal," said senior defensive tackle Alex Gubner who was named the Big Sky defensive player of the year last week. "You get to recharge. You know, we play very physical games. So, you know, we didn't have it last year, but past years we have. I don't really sway either way. I mean, last year, we got to keep playing football. That's fun. I think when we have the bye now it's just getting locked in again, you know, we had a few days off. So just getting refocused."
That starts with the Delaware Blue Hens (9-3) of the Coastal Athletic Association, who won a shootout over Lafayette in the opening round to advance as the Blue Hens trailed 28-7 in the first half but rallied to win the game, 36-34.
"It was a crazy back-and-forth game," UM head coach Bobby Hauck said. "You know, we had watched both teams on film last week to get a jump on it. And, you know, we thought Delaware was the better football team. And so it's kind of shocking the way the game started. But it just goes to show you when you you turn the ball over and do those sort of things in particular on your own end and you can get behind fast. So I think it shows what a quality team Delaware is that they're able to overcome that and get the win."
It's interesting prep for Montana, who is seeing an unfamiliar opponent on the other side of the country to start the playoffs. It's the first time the programs have met since their first and only meeting back in 1993 in Missoula in the playoffs.
The film is there, but without common opponents or recent games, it can be tricky when prepping, especially for a team like Delaware that has been hit by the injury bug of late.
"I think it's more than you don't have a feel for the league," Hauck said. "You know, in our league, we've got so many teams, we go a couple years without playing people. And then in this day and age, with the transfer portal and people hopping in and out of programs, there's not a lot of continuity year to year in terms of personnel. Scheme is scheme. We watch the film, but it's more about getting a gauge on where the league is. And that's kind of hard to do."
It's win-or-go-home time for Montana, but Hauck said there's no nerves knowing the season is on the line each game, saying the Griz have embraced that mentality already.
"I think you approach it the same way," Hauck said. "We lost our first conference game, so we've kind of been in that mode since September, where if we wanted to win the Big Sky championship we had to win. Which, you know, we were able to do, and yeah, I think the playoffs are exciting because you know, if you don't win the season's over and crazy things happen in the playoffs, but it's enjoyable."