Griz Advance to set up Blue Blood Battle with Bison

Montana got a big-time dose of momentum on Saturday, scoring 31 unanswered points in the second half to beat Southeast Missouri 34-24 in the opening round of the FCS playoffs in Missoula.

Now the Griz will need every drop of momentum they’ve got.

This week Montana travels to Fargo for a titanic battle between FCS blue bloods when the Grizzlies take on the No. 3 and defending national champion North Dakota State Bison.

It’s a matchup of the most successful teams in the FCS this century, and an intriguing matchup of strength-on-strength. NDSU’s always potent power run game versus Montana’s nationally ranked defense. NFL prospects versus NFL prospects on both sides of the ball. Winning tradition versus winning tradition. Raucous fanbase versus raucous fanbase.

All eyes will be on Fargo as a rematch almost a decade in the making highlights the second round of the playoffs, and both teams will need a peak performance to come away with a win.

Kickoff from the Fargodome is set for 1:30 p.m. MT, 2:30 p.m. CT.

THE MATCHUP: Despite only nine all-time meetings between Montana and North Dakota State the football history between the two programs runs deep, with the first matchup being played over a century ago in 1914. Since then NDSU has built a 5-4 lead in the overall series with all four of UM’s wins occurring in Missoula, and the Griz sitting 0-2 in trips to Fargo.

There is a high-stakes history between the two powerhouse programs as well. Two more of Montana’s losses came when the pair competed for a national championship in 1969 and 1970.

The last meeting between the two was in the 2015 FCS Playoffs in Fargo, where the Carson Wentz-led Bison got revenge on UM after the Griz earned one of the most epic wins in program history to open the season on a last-second score from Joey Counts.

The stakes will be high once again as NDSU makes a run at an unprecedented tenth national title in 12 seasons. Standing in the way is Montana, however, rejuvenated with the momentum of a historic comeback win.

North Dakota State (9-2, 7-1) finished second in the Missouri Valley this season, falling to top-ranked South Dakota State 21-23 in a rare loss in the Fargodome. The Bison’s only other loss of the year came at the hands of the Pac-12’s Arizona Wildcats, and it was a nail-biter, 28-31.

With Montana playing two MVFC teams in the nonconference slate, the Griz have two common opponents to compare results with. UM beat South Dakota 24-7, while NDSU beat them 34-17. UM beat Indiana State 49-14, NDSU beat the Sycamores 31-26.

Montana’s got the No. 9 scoring offense in the country, averaging 37 points per game. NDSU’s scoring defense is No. 5 in the nation, allowing 17.4 points per game.

NDSU has the No. 4 rushing offense in the country at an average of 261 yards per contest, while Montana is top-10 in team tackles for loss and has only given up over 100 yards rushing four times on the year.

Montana’s moved the chains with the No. 8 ranked first-down offense, while NDSU is allowing the third-fewest passing yards in the country and has the second-best third-down defense.

With the weight of history behind it, Saturday is indeed a clash of the FCS titans.

IMPLICATIONS: It’s win-or-go-home time for both programs in the “Sweet 16” round of the FCS Playoffs. The winner of the UM/NDSU game will advance on to face the winner of No. 6 Samford versus Southeastern Louisiana in the quarterfinals, set for either December 9 or 10. Southeastern Louisiana defeated Idaho in a 45-42 nail-biter last week to advance to the second round. Montana defeated SELA 73-28 in the second round of the 2019 playoffs in the only previous meeting with either team.

The winner of that quarterfinal will advance to face one of four teams competing in No. 2 Sacramento State’s side of the bracket in the semifinal, set for December 16 or 17. The Hornets host Richmond in the second round, while Furman faces No. 7 Incarnate Word.

The FCS National Championship game will be air live from Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Sunday, January 8 at 2 p.m. on ABC.

WATCH:  The ESPN+ streaming service will be the only place to watch the Griz take on the Bison this week from Fargo. No over the air, cable, or satellite broadcast will be available. The NCAA own and manages all broadcast rights to playoff events, and partners with ESPN to distribute those games. Each of the eight games in the second round of the playoffs will be streamed on ESPN+.

Connor Onion will once again provide play-by-play for a UM game for the second-straight week, while former six-year NFL vet and UCLA All-America tight end Charles Arbuckle will serve as analyst on the broadcast.

LISTEN: “Voice of the Griz” Riley Corcoran is in his seventh season behind the mic at Montana and is once again set to bring you all the Grizzly action over the airwaves on the Grizzly Sports Radio Network and its fifteen affiliate stations around the state.

Your “Grizzly Gameday” starts two hours before kickoff each Saturday with the official pregame radio show featuring Denny Bedard and Scott Gurnsey, who then throw to Corcoran and color commentator Greg Sundberg 30 minutes to kickoff. Bedard and Gurnsey will also wrap up the day’s action with the official post-game show.

Griz fans outside the radio footprint can stream all of Montana’s broadcasts on their mobile device LIVE and FREE of charge with the Varsity Network App, powered by Learfield and Sidearm Sports. Fans can download the app for iPhone or Android use for instant access to free gameday audio streams and the Coach Hauck Radio Show and receive push notifications to remind them of games starting or upcoming audio broadcasts as well.

COACHES SHOW NOTE: The Grizzly Coaches Show returns to the banks of the Clark Fork River this week, once again airing LIVE at 6:30 p.m. from FINN at Missoula’s DoubleTree Hotel. After a one-week hiatus due to the Thanksgiving holiday, Corcoran and Coach Hauck will break down the win over SEMO and give an exclusive preview of the NDSU matchup. The Football Coaches Show will continue to air each week until the end of the season.


POSTSEASON QUICK HITS: Montana’s 2022 postseason run extended the program’s FCS record for most overall playoff appearances to 26. Here are some other Griz playoff quick facts:

• The Griz are now 35-23 all-time in the postseason. Those 35 wins are the third-most FCS playoff victories ever and the second-most among teams still competing in the FCS. The most playoff wins belong to Georgia Southern (45), followed by NDSU (41), Montana (35), and Youngstown State (28).

• After defeating SEMO last week, UM is now 32-7 all-time in playoff games (.820) at Washington-Grizzly Stadium dating back to the first playoff appearance in the facility against Jackson State in 1989.

• Montana’s record of 26 playoff appearances is followed by Eastern Kentucky and UNI with 22, Furman with 19, and Delaware with 18.

• Montana has made 14 appearances in the Quarterfinal round of the FCS/1-AA playoffs, the second-most in tournament history behind Georgia Southern’s 17 appearances. North Dakota State has made 12 appearances in the quarterfinal. A win Saturday would see the Griz make their third-straight trip to the round.

• Montana holds the record for most consecutive playoff appearances at 17 set between 1993-2009. New Hampshire is second with 14 between 2004-2017, while NDSU is still building in third on the list with 13 from 2010 to the present.

• Montana is 7-4 all-time against teams from the Missouri Valley Conference in the postseason. The last time the Griz played a team from the Valley in the playoffs? 2015 at NDSU, a 37-6 loss. UM is 0-1 in the FCS playoffs against the Bison, and 0-3 against them all-time in the postseason.

Montana and North Dakota State played two years straight in the 1969 and 1970 Camellia Bowl, at the time the College Division National Championship Game. Missing many key starters, Montana fell in both of those games, 3-30 in 1969 and 16-31 in 1970.

Head Coach Bobby Hauck is 2-1 against the Valley in the playoffs, falling to Western Illinois in 2003, and defeating Southern Illinois in 2006 and South Dakota State in an epic 2009 comeback.

ROBBY’S RECORD: With a season-high 15 tackles against SEMO, Robby Hauck became the Big Sky Conference’s all-time leader in tackles on Saturday. The 15-stop effort was the second-best of his career, and the most since posting 17 tackles against Cal Poly’s triple-option as a freshman in 2018.

With 110 to his name this season (the second-most in the league in 2022) he moved passed EWU’s Ronnie Hamlin’s previous Big Sky record of 473 and Montana State’s Kane Ione’s previous record of 471 set between 2000-2003.

With more football to play, and a run-heavy offense on-deck at NDSU, Hauck is now poised to climb the FCS record books. Currently at No. 10 all-time in the FCS, if Hauck manages his season average of 9 tackles per game in Fargo he could move into sixth all-time. Boomer Grigsby of Illinois State holds the FCS record with 550 stops in his career from 2001-04. Only 13 players at the FBS level have ever posted more tackles than Hauck as well.

FCS Career Total Tackles

Player Team Years G Solo Ast. Total
Boomer Grigsby Illinois St. 2001-04 44 325* 225 *550
Garrett Dolan Houston Christian 2013-17 50 254 281 535
Donald Payne Stetson 2013-16 44 317 209 526
D.J. Smith App State 2007-10 56 246 279 525
Scott Lewi Saint Francis (PA)  2007-10 43 206 *318 524
Liam Ezekiel Northeastern 2001-04 44 218 271 489
Lee Russell Western Ill. 2000-03 48 317 163 480
Nick Rick Eastern Ill. 2000-03 47 298 180 478
Christian Rozeboom South Dakota St. 2016-19 53 241 235 476
Robby Hauck Montana 2018-22 52 201 273 474

• As a finalist for the Buchanan Award, Hauck is not only getting it done on the field, he’s excelling in the classroom too. Last Wednesday he was one of 15 standouts named as a finalist for the Stats Perform Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete Award. Already this season he’s been named a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy and an Academic All-District selection by College Sports Communicators (CoSIDA). Hauck is working toward his MBA as a grad student this season and posted a 3.95 undergrad GPA with dual degrees in Management Information Systems and Business Administration.

BOBBY’S RECORD: Speaking of Hauck: head coach Bobby Hauck is UM’s winningest coach of all time and is on his way to becoming the winningest coach in Big Sky history, with only three conference teams having beaten him more than twice.

• Now with 116 victories as UM’s head coach, Hauck needs just 9 more to break Jerome Souers’ Big Sky record 123 overall wins.

• With 67 wins in Big Sky play, Hauck needs two more wins to pass Nevada Hall of Famer Chris Ault’s Big Sky total of 68, eight more to pass Tim Walsh’s total of 74, and 19 more to pass Souers’ record total of 85 wins in conference play.

FLOWERS POWER: Malik Flowers cemented his name among the best kickoff returners in FCS history Saturday, tying the all-time record for return touchdowns with seven in his career, a record set just last year by Weber State’s Rashid Shaheed, now starring for the New Orleans Saints.

One more kickoff return for a TD this season will net him sole possession of BOTH the all-time FCS AND FBS record for career returns. Three players are tied at the top of the FBS record book with seven return TDs, and there is a Montana connection with one. Bobby Hauck was Rashaad Penny’s special team’s coach at San Diego State from 2014-17, and saw the future Seahawk rack up seven during that time as well.

Not only that, Flowers is closing in on history in other major kickoff return categories as well.

After passing Shaheed’s total against SEMO, Flowers (now with 2,604) needs just 41 more total kick return yards to break the Big Sky record for most in a career, currently held by Weber State’s Bryant Eteuati (2,644).

With 142 yards on four returns against SEMO, he upped his career average yards per kick return to 28.93, the best mark in Montana history, the sixth-best average in Big Sky history, and a top-11 average in FCS history. He’s now had three seasons with 500-plus return yards, and is on track for his third 600+ yard season, despite most teams avoiding kicking to him at all cost.

Terrence Hold of Austin Peay (2007-10) holds the FCS record for most return yards in a career with 4,683 on 191 returns.

Flowers’ career kickoff return stats:

2018 11 22 607 1 95 27.6 55.2
2019 14 32 879 2 100 27.5 62.8
2020-21 2 2 70 0 51 35.0 35.0
2021 12 16 488 2 99 30.5 40.7
2022 12 18 560 2 100 31.1 46.7
Total 51 90 2604 7 100 28.9 51.1

NCAA FCS Career Average per return
(Minimum 1.2 returns per game; minimum 30 returns; player must have concluded his career)

Player Team Years KR Yards Yds/R
Xavier Roberson Southeastern La. 2012-15 65 2,106 *32.4
Scotty McGee James Madison 2006-09 71 2,166 30.5
Lamont Brightful Eastern Wash. 1998-2001 65 1,949 30.0
Juwan Petit-Frere Southeastern La. 2017-19 50 1,491 29.8
Michael Armstead San Diego 2018-19 45 1,337 29.7
Troy Brown Marshall 1991-92 32 950 29.7
Cedric Bowen Ark.-Pine Bluff 2001-04 38 1,124 29.6
Fabian Truss Samford 2010-13 85 2,493 29.3
Charles Swann Indiana St. 1989-91 45 1,319 29.3
Rashid Shaheed Weber St. 2017-21 88 2,560 29.0
Malik Flowers Montana 2018-22 90 2,604 28.9

FORD’S NO FLY ZONE: Justin Ford was also one of Montana’s three players on the Buchanan Award Watch List at the start of the season, but was not included as a finalist for the honor as a senior. Why not? Largely because no opposing quarterbacks have dared throw his way, limiting his opportunities to improve on his NCAA-best 9 interceptions from a year ago. Call it the ultimate form of respect.

Including Montana’s win over SEMO, UM’s opponents have completed 223 passes against the Grizzlies this season for 2,333 yards. Only 12 of those passes have been caught by Ford’s man for a minuscule total of 163 yards. In fact, in three different games this season his opponent has been shut out with zero catches.


Braxton Hill: The junior from Anaconda had his best day in a Grizzly uniform against SEMO with a career-high 14 tackles and a half-sack, beating his previous career high of 10 tackles set on game one this season against Northwestern State to earn Big Sky Player of the Week honors.

The linebacker is fifth on the team in tackles with 65 this season and fourth in sacks with three in 11 games played.

Lucas Johnson: Don’t count him out. After leaving with injury twice in the previous two games, Lucas Johnson stormed back from a slow start against SEMO to post yet another big day for the Griz under center. With 306 over the air on Saturday, the senior from San Diego became the first Grizzly QB to throw for 300 yards in a game since Cam Humphrey dished for 335 at Portland State back in 2019.

It was his season high, and the sixth time this season he’s thrown for 200+ in a game.

Johnson now ranks second in the Big Sky and 16th in the FCS in points responsible for at 168 this season with seven rushing touchdowns and 21 TDs through the air.

Junior Bergen broke free for his second punt return touchdown of the season, going 58 yards to the house against SEMO last week. Only four other players in the FCS have returned two punts for a score this season, tied for the most in the country.

Bergen now has a Big Sky-best 299 return yards on the year, and is averaging 15 yards per attempt, the fourth-best average in the FCS, despite only playing in 10 games.

• At an average of 18 points, Hill, Johnson, and Bergen have all helped lead the Griz to the fourth-best scoring margin in the FCS this week, a half-point better than both Montana State and North Dakota State. UM trails only Incarnate Word (30.2), Jackson St. (27.5), Sac St (19.7), and Holy Cross (19.2) in scoring margin.

The Griz have the No. 9 scoring offense in the nation with 444 points, and the No. 8 scoring defense in the FCS, allowing just 228 scored against them.

KEEPING IT CLEAN: SEMO was pinged for 11 penalties for 110 yards against the Griz on Saturday while UM kept it fairly tidy with just four flags for 35 yards. The Redhawks’ 11 penalties were tied for the most of any opponent for the Griz this season, while their 110 yards were the most given up by an opponent.

Montana is 6-4 when having fewer penalties than its opponent this season and enters the week as the third-least penalized team in the Big Sky Conference, trailing league leader UC Davis by just five flags with 50 on the year.

Meanwhile, Montana leads the Big Sky in opponent penalties, with the opposition posting 93 against the Griz. UM is also top-10 in the FCS in fewest penalties per game, averaging 4.17.

THE TURNOVER BATTLE: Heading into game 12 of the season, Montana leads the turnover battle by a slim margin, and is winning the points off turnover battle 55-45. The Griz are +1 on the all-important season-long turnover differential, taking 11 interceptions and five fumbles to giving away eight INTs and seven fumbles. UM is 3-1 over the last four games, but has lost or been even in turnovers in each one.

ON THE DEUCE: Montana’s game against SEMO marked the first win for the Grizzlies on ESPN 2 since 2019. UM has played five games in that period on “the deuce” since partnering with the Big Sky, and the Griz have been jinxed in most, going 1-4 in primetime. Earlier this season UM suffered an overtime loss to Sac State on ESPN 2, but rebounded to even the score against SEMO on the network.

ESPN and the NCAA have partnered to broadcast the FCS Playoffs. Each second-round game this week will stream on ESPN+, but future round games are likely to be aired on ESPN 2. UM’s 2019 and 2021 quarterfinal games both aired on the network.

HOME SWEET HOME: Saturday’s win over SEMO marked No. 220 for the Griz inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium, giving UM an unprecedented .862 winning percentage inside the friendly confines with a record of 220-35 since 1986.

At the end of the regular season, Montana finished second in the FCS in attendance averaging 25,298 fans per game, over 100-percent capacity of Washington-Grizzly Stadium for the year.

Montana posted its fourth-straight sold out home game of the year against EWU, with 25,403 fans packing the place. It’s the first string of four-straight sellouts for UM since 2015 when the Griz started the season with a bang, beating NDSU in front of 26,472 fans.

13,390 Griz fans braved the cold and late kickoff time to see UM beat SEMO, the most by far of any first-round playoff game this season and roughly on-par with Montana’s last two Thanksgiving weekend first round playoff games. In 2015 UM’s cold first round game against South Dakota State drew 14,575, and in 2014 14,018 braved a blizzard against San Diego. Both were daytime kickoffs.

Despite the cold and the late start, Montana vs SEMO drew more than 8,400 more fans than the next highest-attended game (Gardner-Webb vs Eastern Kentucky), and more than 10,500 than the lowest-attended game (Elon at Furman).