MISSOULA — Sandwiched between last week's top-10 game against Sacramento State and next week's Brawl of the Wild is this Saturday's matchup at Portland State for the Montana Grizzlies.
It has all the makings of a trap game, but the Griz are poised and ready to make sure that doesn't happen.
Sitting at 8-1 overall and 5-1 in Big Sky play, Montana has two regular season games left. And the Griz have everything in front of them with the postseason right around the corner.
"We have a choice to make about continuing to improve and take care of our business, and that's kind of what we try to emphasize around here on a weekly basis and hopefully we will," UM head coach Bobby Hauck said.
"This is why I came to the University of Montana, to be in this position to play in big games every weekend," senior safety TraJon Cotton added. "This is kind of what I expect."
A win over the Vikings would likely lock Montana into a top-eight seed and a first-round bye in the FCS playoffs. Winning the final two games could result in a top two or three seed, meaning multiple home playoff games.
But the task at hand now is Portland State, a team that is 4-5 overall and 3-3 in Big Sky play and in the middle of the pack, but sports one of the best run games and scoring offenses in the Big Sky.
"The thing that stands out the most is they're a physical team, and then the fact that they have the ability to control the game with their run game," Hauck said. "Their run game has been overpowering in a lot of weeks and we're worried about that."
It's a unique meeting too. Hauck's son, Robby Hauck, the UM and Big Sky record-holder in career tackles and former All-American safety, is in his first year as an assistant coach with PSU as the nickelbacks coach and a special teams assistant. Meanwhile, Cooper Barnum, a junior linebacker for the Griz, is the son of long-time Portland State head coach Bruce Barnum.
Winners of five straight games, the Griz have found their identity and rhythm down the stretch, and it's about continuing that this weekend.
"It's been good, just constant improvement each and every day, watching more film, practicing harder and things like that," Cotton said. "Everybody just really wants to get better and it's just making us grow as a whole."
"The reason is there's a willingness to take correction and get coached and then practice to get better, and then most of the positions we've stayed fairly healthy so those things have been the contributing factors," Hauck added.
And through the ups and downs of the early part of the season, the Griz, never wavered, as they found a confidence and self-belief that is hard to manifest but is one of the most important mental elements of all.
As others doubted what they could do, the Griz believed they'd win and have done just that, and now control their own destiny.
"I think that confidence is hard to get sometimes, and a lot of times it's false bravado," Hauck said. "If you have true confidence, then you probably perform better. I think a lot of it is the way our guys are trained."
"Playing football, you've got to have that confidence that you're the best player and that you're going to beat your opponent," Cotton added. "Got to win your one-on-one battles, so I feel like we all have that and I feel like our teammates kind of bring that out of us as well."
Montana and Portland State kick off at 7 p.m. (MT) Saturday. The game will be broadcast statewide on the Montana Television Network's CBS affiliates.