“It’s time for a new coaching staff. What a mess!”
“We are going to struggle with at least 4 more conference games this season. Realistically probably looking at 6-5.”
“Absolutely embarrassing. There was nothing Montana about this game.”
“Y’all are garbage”
Those were the online replies after Montana lost at Northern Arizona to drop to 3-1.
“Uhhh guys is North Dakota State washed?”
“If you can’t beat simple opponents like UND, you have no business playing at the FBS level. Also Entz should be on the hot seat. Regression every year”
“Respect what NDSU has been able to do. Simply amazing. But, this shows that programs rise and fall.”
Those were the online replies after North Dakota State lost at North Dakota to drop to 4-2.
At one point this season, Missoula and Fargo were in disarray. The football teams, pressured to perform at the highest of FCS levels every year, were struggling. Job statuses were being called out. Outside fan bases were piling on, licking their chops as the loudest fans in the subdivision were being humbled. Dirt was being shoveled on their seasons for multiple weeks, by its own fans, other fans, and local/national media.
They will meet in what will be one of the most epic playoff semifinal scenes in quite some time.
No. 2 seed Montana escaped a scare last night, beating No. 7 seed Furman 35-28 in overtime. Today, the unseeded Bison demolished No. 3 seed South Dakota 45-17.
The teams you’ll see next weekend are simply not the same teams that took the field earlier this fall.
Montana was a mess in September.
The Grizzlies beat non-scholarship Butler 35-20 in a game that was one possession for most of the contest. They then beat Utah Tech 43-13. The next week, they barely beat a good D2 Ferris State team 17-10. Then came the 28-14 loss at NAU, a debacle of a performance that saw concerning levels of effort and execution. Some voters, including this writer, were befuddled on why Montana was getting Top 25 votes at this point, and a 28-20 win over Idaho State the following week didn’t calm the waters.
But Montana began to get better every week.
Clifton McDowell started the season splitting QB reps. Then he took over the starting role and was a fine, serviceable QB. And then he just got better with every game, turning into a playmaker with his arm and legs.
The offensive line, billed as the best unit Montana has had for a while, started to play to its potential and with more of an edge.
The uber-talented wide receivers started to make plays.
Eli Gillman turned into a force at running back.
And the defense started to generate the level of pressure that Montana predicates its play on.
Montana now looks like a championship-level team.
NDSU was labeled, and rightfully so at the time, the worst team in the Dakotas. It was 4-2 at one point, and 6-3 later on with no ranked wins and losses to USD (a 24-19 final but a multi-score deficit for most of the game), UND (a 49-24 butt-kicking), and SDSU (a 33-16 final that was worse than the final score showed).
The Bison just didn’t look like the Bison until, really, the final two weeks of the regular season.
They weren’t getting a push on the o-line, and running backs were being held to under 100 yards every game. Now, that push is there.
The wide receivers weren’t game-changers. Now, they are.
The d-line wasn’t strong up the middle and the pressure off the edge was lacking. Now, they’re wreaking havoc.
The inexperienced defensive backs were underwhelming besides safety Cole Wisniewski. Now, they’ve developed and are solid.
The linebackers were OK. Now, they’re flying around and making impact plays.
NDSU now looks like a championship-level team.
To say in October that the Bison will be playing in the national championship game would have been a take hotter than Cam Miller’s PFF grades.
To say in early October that Montana will be playing in the national championship game would have been a take hotter than the blitz packages the Griz dial up.
By the end of next weekend, one of those former hot takes will become reality.