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'Trying to win this sucker': Less than 48 hours away, FCS championship game sinking in for Montana, SDSU

Braxton Hill, Levi Janacaro, Tyler Flink
Posted at 5:43 PM, Jan 05, 2024

FRISCO, Texas — It's less than 48 hours away from kickoff at Toyota Stadium as Montana and South Dakota State get set to line it up for the FCS national championship.

Friday was media day as coaches and players were reflective on their journeys as the moment is beginning to sink in for both programs.

RELATED: FCS championship press conference with Montana coach Bobby Hauck

As players and coaches filed into Toyota Stadium on Friday, the reality of Sunday's championship tilt heightened with every interview as game day inches near.

"It didn't really set in that we were playing in the national championship until we walked off the plane and started practicing here in Frisco," UM senior center AJ Forbes said. "It's been a great experience so far. Everything we've done has been working towards playing in this national championship. I think everyone is pretty locked in, everyone's focused on trying to win this sucker."

On the Grizzly side, Montana is here for the first time in 14 years, and the first time in Frisco.

The lights are brighter than ever, but the Griz are making sure they aren't fazed by the stakes, the outside noise or the task in front of them.

"We know when to have fun and when to lock in," UM senior safety TraJon Cotton. "At all times, we're always thinking about the game of course, but in our free time we're really trying to just enjoy each other. Trying to love on each other as teammates and then when it's practice and walk-throughs and all that we know what we got to do and we're all locked in."

On the flip side, South Dakota State has been here before with two championship game appearances since the spring of 2021.

They know how to approach a game like this and win, and it's about replicating it again.

"Kind of workman like," SDSU senior linebacker Adam Bock said. "That first time you're kind of getting led around like a herd of sheep, you don't really know what's going on. It's definitely been a blessing to be here a couple times and get the feel of it down."

That's why so many of their key players came back — to win and keep the Jackrabbits at the top.

"We all came back for a reason and I think we kind of knew what that was," senior tight end Zach Heins said. "We all came back just because we care so much about each other because at the end of the day it's about winning it's about getting another national championship. Coming back for this last year with my brothers, regardless of how this game turns out it was always worth it to me."

But they know the thrill of victory, as well as the agony of defeat in title games. For SDSU head coach Jimmy Rogers, he remembers both equally for different reasons.

"Those are hard. You do everything you can not to feel that way," Rogers said. "It's not so much winning, it's not letting people down. A lot of the players I've had the opportunity to coach, that's what maybe fuels me more than the hype of a championship.

"It's making sure everybody gets the most out of their God-given ability to be at their best and end on the right note. This senior group means the world to me."

Griz head coach Bobby Hauck has been to three of these before, and lost each one.

But now Montana is back, and the team is going to need its sharpest performance to get the Grizzlies back at the pinnacle of the FCS for the first time since 2001.

"You play every game to win. Each game plan is different. This lead-up and the prep, as I mentioned, is completely different than those games," Hauck said. "The team on the other side is always good. Both teams are good football teams.

"You have to play well to win the game. If you don't play well, there's no way you're going to win it. So you have to go play well and get a couple of breaks, and that's the way it goes. The team we're playing has won 28 straight. They're awfully good."