MISSOULA — Rematches in college football are a rarity, primarily coming in conference title games at the FBS level and in the playoffs at the FCS level.
Yet, for the second consecutive fall season, Montana is playing the same Big Sky team for a second time in the same season. This time, the Griz will play Eastern Washington in the second round of the FCS playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula.
This is the 48th meeting between the teams, and it might be the biggest of them all because the winner heads to the quarterfinals. It’s only the second playoff matchup between the teams, and the combined ranking of nine in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25 (EWU is fourth, UM is fifth) is the lowest in series history after they combined for a total of 10 in the regular-season meeting.
The rematch gives the Griz and head coach Bobby Hauck the chance to reevaluate their game plan from the first matchup, which they lost, 34-28, on Oct. 2 in Cheney, Washington. He said he hasn’t seen EWU make too many wholesale changes because they’ve had regular success this year, although they did fire their offensive coordinator in early November.
“There’s some decisions to be made on how much you’re going to include the first game in your game planning,” he said. “And then what games: Are you going to include early-season games, late-season games, what are you going to include in your game plan? So, that’s kind of probably the art of getting the best plan together in terms of playing a team a second time.”
Hauck has rematched a team six times, going 3-3 overall and 2-2 as a head coach. The team that won the first game has never won the second game.
As UM’s head coach, the Griz lost, 41-29, on the road at Sam Houston in the 2004 regular season and then beat the Bearkats, 34-13, at home in the semifinals. In 2005, the Griz beat Cal Poly, 36-27, at home in the regular season but lost to the Mustangs, 35-21, at home in the playoffs. In 2008, Montana had a 45-28 road loss to Weber State in the regular season and beat the Wildcats, 24-13, in the quarterfinals at home. In 2019, UM beat Weber State in the regular season at home, 35-16, but lost to the Wildcats on the road in the quarterfinals, 17-10.
As a grad assistant in 1988, UM beat Idaho at home in the regular season, 29-17, but lost to the Vandals in the playoffs on the road, 38-19. As an assistant at San Diego State in 2016, the Aztecs fell on the road to Wyoming, 34-33, but rebounded with a 27-24 road win in the Mountain West championship game.
Senior cornerback Omar Hicks Onu is new to the FCS playoffs after beginning his career at Oregon State in the FBS, which plays bowl games. The beauty of a rematch in the playoffs is he has a better feel for what to expect while trying to prolong his final season as much as possible.
“It’s actually pretty cool because when you watch them on film and you haven’t played them yet, it’s kind of like, ‘OK, when we play them, I wonder how it’s going to feel being out on the field, how fast they really play, how strong they are,’” he said. “So, since we actually have a feel for them now, it’s going to be a whole lot, I’m not going to say easier, but it’s going to go a whole lot smoother.”
Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere is excited for the rematch with Montana, a team which he called “a rival” after the first-round playoff win over Northern Iowa on Saturday.
Hauck made sure to note on Monday that the Griz have only one rival, Montana State.
“Eight times this year you’ve referred to the other team as the rival,” he said to no one in particular during his press conference. “We have one rival. We beat them last game.”
Hauck was then reminded other teams call Montana their rival.
“Well, we are,” he said. “We’re everybody’s rival, but we have one rival.”
It’s a little hard to call it a rivalry recently because the Eagles have won seven of the past nine games in the series. EWU head coach Aaron Best, a former Eagles player and assistant coach, called it a competitive rivalry when talking about the series history.
The Griz still lead the series, 28-18-1, but they’ve gone 20-14 since the Eagles joined the Big Sky in 1987. The 14 losses are UM’s most against any conference team in that stretch.
The Griz will look to get back in the win column by trying to carry over their strong play from their 29-10 win over Montana State on Nov. 20. That was their fifth consecutive win after they started the season 4-2.
“It was a fun game playing against our one rival, Montana State,” Hicks Onu said, drawing a hearty laugh from Hauck. “It was fun because the energy from the jump was there. Just from the first snap to the last, we just wanted to kick their butt, and I think we handled that well. We’re just going to take that momentum, and we’re going to go into this week, and we’re just going to handle business like we’ve been doing for the last few games.”
Hauck has made his distaste for night games clear over the years, but his teams have had some success in them when playing at home.
The Griz are 3-1 in night games at Washington-Grizzly Stadium when Hauck has been the head coach. They’re 3-0 in those games since he returned for a second stint as head coach, beating Northern Iowa in 2018, North Alabama in 2019 and Western Illinois in 2021.
However, Hauck’s Griz teams are 1-5 in playoff games at night, with the only victory coming at James Madison in the 2008 semifinals. The Griz are 1-5 all-time against current Big Sky teams in the playoffs, with the lone win coming in the 2008 rematch against Weber State.
Overall, Hauck is 12-9 in night games as the Griz head coach. His teams are 9-5 on the road and 0-3 at neutral sites.
Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at email@example.com.