MISSOULA — After a blowout loss to Montana State, the Montana Grizzlies were firmly on the bubble for the FCS playoffs.
But after Montana fans collectively held their breath, they let out a sigh of relief when the Griz heard their name called during Sunday’s selection show.
And the question changed from will Montana make the field — to how far can they go?
As of Friday afternoon, Montana was favored by a touchdown against Southeast Missouri in the first round.
A win would mean a trip to Fargo to face defending FCS champion North Dakota State.
Although the Bison have won nine of the last 11 FCS titles, they lost two games this season and had a number of players enter the transfer portal following the regular season.
So a deep run is a distinct possibility for the Griz.
For more on their postseason prospects, we turn to the last group of guys to win a national championship at Montana, the 2001 Grizzly football team.
“Obviously, (the 2022 team) is very lucky they have another game to play because you could start Monday and look at another team rather than live that game that they played last Saturday in Bozeman for a full year,” said former Griz quarterback John Edwards.
“So they do have an opportunity for redemption. It's a great thing to have something to turn your focus to and start moving on. So hopefully that is beneficial to them, because those are hard losses to get over," Edwards continued.
The 2001 team would know something about hard losses. Montana also advanced to the 2000 national championship game, where they lost to Georgia Southern on a late touchdown.
They put the sting of defeat behind them, and won it all the next year. Something this year’s team will try to do in a much shorter time frame.
“It’s really hard to get a national championship game. So there was nothing guaranteed and that was the end of the (2000) season. So we had a lot of time to think on it and work at it,” said former wide receiver TJ Oelkers. “Montana this year, they got six days to get ready and lick those wounds and come out playing on Saturday.”
Even with four conference losses, members of the 2001 championship team believe this year’s Griz have a legitimate chance of making a deep postseason run.
“You've made it to the playoffs and Montana has a puncher’s chance,” Oelkers said. “You know, I think they were third in the preseason. They have guys they were highly ranked. They had a great run to start the year.”
“And they've been there. They've done that. They've won big games. They've lost big games. But yeah, stay within yourselves and stay in your bubble and go to work,” Edwards said. “And maybe the ball starts bouncing your way a little bit more and a little luck can get you down the road a little bit.”