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Montana hopes to use win over Idaho as a 'springboard' with Southern Utah coming to town

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Griz vs. Idaho

Montana senior linebacker Jace Lewis (37) tackles Idaho quarterback Gevani McCoy (18) during the Grizzlies' 34-14 win over Idaho on Saturday at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho. The No. 11 Griz return home to host Southern Utah at noon Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula.

MISSOULA — As Montana players marched around with the Little Brown Stein, kissed the rivalry trophy and posed for photos with it after the win over Idaho on Saturday, head coach Bobby Hauck remarked that it looked like they treated the Stein as if it was the Super Bowl trophy.

The thing about the Super Bowl is it’s the final game of the season. The 11th-ranked Griz still have four more regular-season games remaining, starting with a home game against Southern Utah on Saturday, so they can’t treat the rivalry win as if it was the culmination of their season.

They’re now just two wins away from the seven-win threshold for playoff qualification as they improved to 5-2 overall and 2-2 in conference play. So, staying focused and finding motivation going forward is easy for junior safety Robby Hauck.

“Winning. Simple as that,” he said. “Winning is hard to do. I don’t think really anybody on the outside quite understands how hard it is to win and how much time and preparation goes into each week.

“So, anytime you can celebrate and win a game, shoot, I think almost every game’s like winning the Super Bowl if you win because it is extremely hard to do. So, it was good to be able to celebrate for about 24 hours and then get on to this next one.”

The win came in the first of three road games during a pivotal four-game stretch for the Griz. It was a must-win game for them after they lost to Sacramento State on Oct. 16, their second conference loss in three weeks, hurting their chances of winning their first Big Sky title since 2009.

The Griz got a glimmer of hope that a shared conference title still might be out there when then-No. 2 Eastern Washington was upset by unranked Weber State on Saturday. But there are still two teams that are undefeated in Big Sky play and two one-loss teams ahead of UM in the standings.

All the Griz can do, for now, is focus on winning all four games left on their schedule. Bobby Hauck felt the win over Idaho could be a jumpstart to a strong close to the regular season.

“Obviously, happy to beat Idaho and win in convincing fashion and retain the Little Brown Stein, so that was great,” he said. “I thought it was a physical game. I enjoyed watching our guys play in it.

“It’s a great springboard into this week against Southern Utah, who, they’re a good team. They’re always a tough team. I think they’re very sound in what they do. They’re well coached. They’re physical. I’m sure they’re hungry to win.”

Southern Utah has been trending downward with a 1-7 overall record and 0-5 mark in the Big Sky in its final season in the league before leaving for the Western Athletic Conference. The Thunderbirds have been outscored by 17.7 points per game after they lost five spring games by a total of 15 points.

This will be the Grizzlies’ last home game until Nov. 20, when they host rival Montana State (7-1) in the Brawl of the Wild. They go on the road to Northern Colorado (3-5) on Nov. 6 and to Northern Arizona (3-4) on Nov. 13.

Bobby Hauck is 15-0 as the Griz head coach against SUU (3-0), UNCo (5-0) and NAU (7-0). He improved to 4-0 against Idaho on Saturday.

“We have a high noon kickoff on Saturday against Southern Utah, and we need our fans to pack it in,” he said. “It’s going to be a great day in the stadium. It’ll be our last home game for a few weeks. We need folks there. On top of that, it’s Military Appreciation Day, which makes it a special day for everybody.”

Still waiting

Montana defensive tackle Alex Gubner was ejected for targeting in Saturday’s game, but the play couldn’t be reviewed because the replay system wasn’t working at the Kibbie Dome.

Bobby Hauck said Monday afternoon that he was still waiting for clarification from the Big Sky about the situation. Given that the ejection came in the second half, Gubner would have to sit out the first half this weekend if the targeting call stands.

“We haven’t heard back from the conference yet,” he said. “So, hopefully our conference will do right by that kid. And we should know soon. If they don’t, then we can talk more about that at that time.”

Targeting is defined by the NCAA as a player making “forcible contact against an opponent with the crown of their helmet” or “forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent.”

Bobby Hauck said immediately after the game that he was unsure if the call was targeting or not. In his understanding, targeting has to be confirmed by replay review to be enforced.

According to the NCAA’s 2021 Football Rules Book, it says under the penalty section of targeting that “the disqualification must be reviewed by Instant Replay (Rule 12-3-5).”

Under the subsection “for games in which Instant Replay is not used,” it’s noted that “if a player is disqualified in the second half, the conference has the option to consult the national coordinator of football officials, who would then facilitate a video review. Based on the review, if and only if the national coordinator concludes that the player should not have been disqualified, the conference may vacate the suspension. If the national coordinator supports the disqualification, the suspension for the next game will remain.”

A request for comment from the Big Sky on Sunday wasn’t returned by Monday night.

Poll position

Montana remained at No. 11 in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25, which was released Monday morning.

The Griz also stayed as the fourth-highest-ranked Big Sky team in the poll. A season-high six conference teams are ranked this week as Weber State re-entered the poll after it upset then-No. 2 Eastern Washington on Saturday in Cheney, Washington.

Montana State (7-1) is the top-ranked league team for the first time this season at No. 6, moving up two spots. Eastern Washington (7-1) dropped five places to seventh. UC Davis (7-1) moved up one spot to ninth. The Griz (5-2) stayed in the same spot. Sacramento State (5-2) moved up four places to 15th. Weber State (3-4) re-entered the poll at 23rd.

Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at frank.gogola@missoulian.com.

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