BOZEMAN — Montana and Montana State will find out where they sit in the playoff bracket when the FCS selection committee reveals the 24-team field at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time Sunday on ESPNU.
Because the Bobcats came into the game ranked eighth in the STATS FCS Top 25 poll, it’s reasonable to assume they should be a lock for a top-eight seed, especially after dismantling the third-ranked team in the country.
Montana, on the other hand, was looking to wrap up a top-three seed with a win but will have to hope the committee thinks it's still worthy of a seed.
“I’m glad both teams are in the playoffs,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. “I’ll be interested to see how that all comes out tomorrow. But, you know, we've just got to simmer in this one for 24 hours and then we've got to get on to the next one.”
Montana’s résumé includes wins over then-No. 3 Weber State, then-No. 4 UC Davis and Big South champion Monmouth. The Griz lost to then-No. 15 Sacramento State, FBS Oregon and No. 8 Montana State, although the recency bias of a 48-14 loss could potentially hurt them.
“It’s not one game,” Hauck said about what he’d tell the committee about why his team should be seeded. “I mean, they know. We’ve been a pretty dominant football team this year. So, we’ll see what they think.”
Montana State beat two ranked teams in then-No. 12 SEMO and No. 3 Montana. The Cats’ losses came to Sacramento State and North Dakota, which both moved into the rankings after those wins, and to FBS Texas Tech.
“I don’t think we need to make a case,” Montana State coach Jeff Choate said. “I think we’re a nine-win Big Sky team that just beat the No. 3 team in the country soundly. That résumé will speak for itself.”
Montana State heads into the postseason having won four games in a row.
“It’s always good to go into the tournament hot,” Choate said. “Coming off a victory can give you some momentum and hopefully can be a catalyst for us to continue our run. I think this is a really good football team, and I think if we play like we did today I think we’ve got an opportunity to make a nice run in the playoffs.”
Montana, on the other hand, is coming off a loss. The Griz haven’t lost back-to-back all season and will have to rebound this week if they don’t get a bye, or in two weeks if they do land in the top eight.
“The message to the team was we've got to play better than this game. That was it,” Hauck said.
The loss won’t be forgotten by Montana.
“Oh, it’ll be a big thing. We won’t be moving past it,” Hauck said, before being asked if that’s the case even with the playoffs about to begin, to which he added, “It’ll be hard to do.”
(Still) running wild
The Bobcats’ formula for beating the Grizzlies in the past three years was concocted with a productive, almost unstoppable running game. MSU averaged 306.3 yards in those previous victories.
That formula didn’t change at all this year.
Led by Isaiah Ifanse’s 171-yard, three-touchdown effort, Montana State rushed for 382 yards on 62 carries to subdue Montana. The Bobcats averaged 6.2 yards per attempt.
It is MSU’s highest single-game rushing total in the history of its rivalry against the Griz. It's also the most Montana gave up on the ground this season, surpassing the 247 Oregon put up.
“We were getting 4 yards on inside zone pretty much at will,” Choate said. “The only time they really gave us any problems was on short yardage and some sub-package.
“Dante (Olson) — being a really smart, good football player — identified some tendencies and kind of jumped some gaps and hit us a couple times. But we controlled the line of scrimmage, and that’s how you win games.”
In their now-four-game winning streak over Montana, the Bobcats have rushed for a combined 1,301 yards — an average of 325.3 yards per game — and 17 touchdowns.
MSU’s seniors 4-peat
To win four (or more) in a row against Montana is not something that occurs at Montana State very often. Before this year, it had only happened four times in history — 1899-03, 1956-59, 1963-68 and 1972-77.
But the Bobcats’ current senior class, in particular a group of 11 who have played their entire careers at MSU, completed the four-peat with a dominant 48-14 victory over the Grizzlies.
Running backs Logan Jones and Karl Tucker II, cornerback Damien Washington, punter Jered Padmos, safety Brayden Konkol, linebackers Walker Cozzie and Josh Hill, left tackle Mitch Brott, receiver Kevin Kassis, defensive tackle Derek Marks and defensive end Marcus Ferriter captured that rare feeling on Saturday.
All but Jones went 4-0 in their careers against the Griz.
“It’s surreal, man,” Marks said. “Like coach (Jeff) Choate said, I don’t think you can quantify it. But I don’t know what’s better, beating them four years in a row or knowing there’s seniors on that team who have never beaten Montana State."
“It’s a great feeling. We’re winners. We’re state champs four years in a row. And man, it feels great. I don’t know if I can put it into words right now, but it’s awesome.”
Clawing at the Cats
Choate became just the second coach in the 119-game history of the Brawl of the Wild to start his career 4-0 against the Griz. The only other coach was Jim Sweeney, who went 5-0 from 1963-67.
Hauck, on the other hand, lost back-to-back games against Montana State for the first time. He lost in his first year, in 2003, and again in 2005. He went 5-2 in that tenure at Montana before returning in 2018 and losing that game.
"We've got to get better," Hauck said about Montana's standing in the conference, which ended up being a tie for third behind co-champs Weber State and Sacramento State. "We’re close. Been pretty dang good."
Choate won his ninth November game in a row. Hauck lost in November for just the second time in 16 games, going back to his previous stint at UM.