Speltz Column: Griz vs. SE Louisiana

Montana's Jace Lewis (34) celebrates after a stop on defense during the Grizzlies' football game against Southeastern Louisiana at Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Saturday. The Griz defeated the Lions, 73-28, to set up a quarterfinal showdown with Weber State in Ogden, Utah.

MISSOULA — More than 16,000 hearty fans showed up at Washington-Grizzly Stadium Saturday to see if the Montana football team could get it back to good.

It was bad — real bad — two weeks ago at this time. The players, the coaches, the fans, they were all gut-shot by a surprisingly lop-sided loss in Bozeman.

We all feel a little gut-shot sometimes. The measure of character comes in the response.

Montana did more than put the pieces back together in Saturday's 73-28 home playoff win over Southeastern Louisiana. The Griz put themselves in position for a decade-defining victory next weekend at Weber State.

That, my friends, is the definition of resilience. Instead of moping about or mulling the notion they might never get it back to good this season, Montana's players and coaches immersed themselves in their work. It was obvious in their impressive second-round playoff display.

Early in Saturday's game, you wondered how Montana would handle a questionable personal foul call on a punt that opened the door for Southeastern Louisiana to take a 7-0 lead. Coach Bobby Hauck looked as mad as George Brett coming out of the dugout in the infamous pine tar incident of 1983.

Hauck's crew responded in a way you'd expect a Hauck-coached playoff team to respond, reeling off 24 straight points. It reminded us all once again why Bobby has a dazzling record in the FCS playoffs. It has nothing to do with luck.

"Oviously the history here is, this is where we want to get our program," Southeastern Louisiana coach Frank Scelfo said. "We want to be getting a bye in the first round and doing those things that Montana has done for a long period of time. When you look at the great programs around the country at the FCS level, this is one of them."

Suddenly everything seems back in place for Griz football.

Quarterback Dalton Sneed has returned to mid-season form despite a gimpy leg, showing he's one of the best passers in the country and reaffirming it was a joke he was voted honorable mention all-Big Sky Conference. The Griz receiver corps is clicking once again after struggling for a while when Sammy Akem went down with an injury. Marcus Knight is lights-out at running back.

Hauck has the special teams making big plays once again, as evidenced by Saturday's 81-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Malik Flowers. Montana's pass defense was even decent Saturday, although there's still work to be done.

It really is impressive when you stop and think. Most folks around these parts, including this sports columnist, figured the Grizzlies would have a hard time matching last season's 6-5 record because the 2019 schedule looked so tough. Now here we are, still enjoying this never-say-die team with its biggest game in eight years looming next weekend.

Kudos to the Grizzlies and their fans for the way both came to play Saturday. By my count Southwestern Louisiana had five false start penalties.

The manner in which the 2019 Griz dominated what was probably their final home game, that's what I'll remember about the group.

And the idea the team will be playing for a spot in the FCS semifinals at Weber State? That pleasant surprise far outweighs the unpleasantness of two weeks ago in Bozeman. 

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Bill Speltz is Missoulian Sports Editor and has served as Sunday columnist the past 13 years. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at bill.speltz@missoulian.com.

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