Montana, Weber State make final playoff push

BY foxsports • November 18, 2016

(STATS) - Just a month ago, it appeared Montana had all but locked up a berth in the FCS playoffs.

Heading into the final week of the season, however, its playoff outlook is looking quite precarious.

Weber State entered the final weekend of October making a strong case that it belonged in the playoff field, but now it's going to need a win - and some help - to earn an at-large berth.

"We've got to win it," Weber State coach Jay Hill said of Saturday's game against Idaho State. "It's a one-game season right now late in the year."

A win would improve the Wildcats' record to 7-4, give them a third-place finish in the Big Sky and put them squarely in the playoff conversation.

"We've got a lot riding on it," Hill said. "We've got a chance to win seven games for the first time in a long while and we all know the implications of playoffs. We want to get to that seventh win."

The Wildcats last won seven games in 2009, which was also the last time they made the postseason. The playoffs looked like a pipe dream after consecutive defeats to North Dakota and Northern Arizona, but last week's 22-15 victory over then-No. 16 Cal Poly has given Weber State new life.

The Wildcats came out with an inspired effort, limiting a Mustangs team that came in second in the FCS in rushing at 370.4 yards per game to a season-low 190.

The defense now looks to bottle up the Big Sky's worst offense.

Idaho State (2-8, 1-6) is averaging 360.5 yards and things aren't much better on the other side of the ball. The Bengals have surrendered an average of 47.8 points during a six-game losing streak and have dropped 11 of 12 in Big Sky play.

It's been a similar story for Idaho State in its series with the Wildcats, as Weber State has won 12 of the last 13 matchups.

Though it's been another trying season for the Bengals, they put up a fight at Montana two weeks ago.

Idaho State piled up 520 yards and led 31-27 midway through the second quarter before eventually falling 62-44.

That lackluster performance by the Grizzlies marked their only win in their last four games.

Montana (6-4, 3-4) was No. 10 in the Oct. 17 STATS Top 25 poll but has spent the last month playing its way out of the postseason. While losses on the road to Big Sky preseason favorite Northern Arizona and No. 3 Eastern Washington are understandable, last week's 28-25 setback at Northern Colorado was deflating. The Grizzlies rallied from nine points down in the fourth quarter to take the lead, only to allow a 75-yard touchdown drive with 3:35 left to fall to the Golden Bears for the first time in 14 meetings.

"We didn't really feel like we lost the game," Montana coach Bib Stitt said, "we gave it away."

So now the Grizzlies' season comes down to Saturday's home matchup with rival Montana State in the 116th edition of the Brawl of the Wild.

Montana prevailed 54-35 at Montana State last season for its eighth win in the last 10 meetings. Brady Gustafson, second in the Big Sky in passing with 2,593 yards and 24 TDs, threw for 353 yards and four scores as the Grizzlies racked up 537 yards.

The Bobcats (3-7, 1-6) are second in the Big Sky in scoring defense this year, allowing 25.9 points per game, but aren't getting the same production from their offense. They had averaged 22 points during a six-game losing streak before beating UC Davis 27-13 last weekend.

Although Montana State is in the midst of its worst season since going 0-11 in 2000, Stitt knows the Bobcats would love nothing more than to knock off their archrivals and eradicate any playoff talk.

"(This game) has so much significance amongst our team and our state and our fans," Stitt said. "You don't have too much motivating as far as players go to get them ready. They know what's on the line."

What's on the line is a fourth straight trip to the playoffs - something Stitt is trying to avoid thinking about.

"I just want to focus on a win and let other people worry about that," he said. "We think we have a very good football team and our record is an indicator."

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