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After historic win, Montana Grizzlies shift focus to Western Illinois

Cam Humphrey, Sam Taimani
Posted at 2:38 PM, Sep 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 19:37:08-04

MISSOULA — It’s game week once again at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, and the Grizzlies come in off of that historic win over the University of Washington. But for now, Montana has put that victory in its rear-view mirror as they get set to welcome the Western Illinois Leathernecks.

It had been a long time coming for Montana to play a game in the fall, and even though the Grizzlies shocked the college football world, there was no doubt in their locker room heading into Washington.

"It’s great to go get that win and I don’t think we had doubt before that game," Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. "We played pretty well this spring and 2019 season was good but I didn’t think there were doubters going into the game, there certainly isn’t now."

"That was definitely one of the coolest experiences of my life winning that game and seeing the Griz in the media all weekend long," added UM linebacker Marcus Welnel. "It’s cool, it’s good for the Griz to be back like that."

Even as the game wore on, UM's players said they saw their physicality begin to wear the Huskies down.

"We definitely noticed it and that comes from being physical at practice," UM offensive lineman Dylan Cook said. "You can’t just be physical for half the practice, the coaches will notice and they’ll call that out so practicing hard and being physical all of practice is really what we take pride in and that helped us when it came to the fourth quarter. We know how to finish and we can see when other teams start to get on their heels and that’s when we really start to attack."

That confidence will carry into this week as Montana gets set for its home opener on Saturday.

The Grizzlies' two spring games were held with a limited capacity crowd earlier in 2021, but this year UM is allowing full capacity again for fans and tailgating. No mask or vaccination requirements are required for those who attend the game.

While the Grizzlies were firing on all cylinders against Washington last Saturday on the defensive side of the ball, Hauck said there are still plenty of areas his team can improve as they refocus their attention to the opponent ahead.

"You know we’re into the season, we’ve got a ton of things we need to work on," Hauck said. "We got to be more consistent on offense, got to be better on third down, got to finish drives in the end zone. Got to tighten our man coverage down, we left some yards out there in the kicking game and in the return game so there’s things we have to do and have to do better and that’s what this week’s going to be about."

Hauck specifically said that UM needs to get better on third and fourth down after the Washington game. The Griz were 2-for-13 on third down conversion attempts and failed on their lone fourth down attempt. Offensively the Griz had just 10 first downs and 232 yards of total offense, something Hauck said he wants to see improved.

It's also a milestone game for the Grizzlies, as Bobby Hauck enters with 99 wins as the head coach at Montana, with Saturday's contest his possible 100th victory, should Montana prevail.

UM and Western Illinois clashed in 2018 when Hauck returned to Montana, with the Leathernecks winning a close 31-27 contest in Illinois.

The Grizzlies hope to rectify that result from three years ago in front of a normal capacity crowd at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, something that hasn't happened since December of 2019.

"I’m super excited, I can’t wait to see Wa-Griz going crazy. That 6 o’clock kickoff, fans got enough time to warm up for that one so it should be crazy coming out of that tunnel," Welnel said.

"Yeah I seriously can’t wait, just get chills thinking about it," Cook added. "It’s going to be loud it’s going to be rocking, we’re ready to go, ready to give them a show."