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Montana State set for physical playoff clash with North Dakota State on Saturday

MSU NDSU FCS National Championship
Posted at 2:32 PM, Dec 01, 2023

BOZEMAN — No. 6-seed Montana State hosts a familiar foe, North Dakota State, on Saturday in the second round of the FCS playoffs.

The Bobcats had a first-round bye as a national seed, while NDSU handed Drake a lopsided 66-3 loss in the first round.

"Closing out the season with the loss (to the Montana Grizzlies) and the way we played, it was good to have the week off, reset and move forward," Bobcats coach Brent Vigen said in his weekly press conference on Monday. "We’re going to need to play real well come this Saturday against a really good team, and that’s what we aim to do."

Bison coach Matt Entz held his weekly press conference on Monday, as well, explaining why there are positives to both having a bye week versus playing a first-round game.

"The benefits of a bye are you get off legs, a couple extra days of preparation on your opponent," Entz said. "But I also think there’s probably a positive, too, of just staying in the moment, staying in routine."

This week, Vigen stressed with his team to start fast — something the Bobcats do well at home and has been apparent in all their wins this season. slower starts played into their two Big Sky Conference losses to Idaho and Montana.

"Coming out confident, making some plays early, certainly staying on the field on third downs, getting yourself in, you know, those makeable third-down situations," Vigen said. "But then again, understanding that, you know, that if we don’t score our first drive, the game isn’t over."

And physicality wins playoff games. It's another major factor the players understand they’ll need to continue into Saturday.

"I feel we’re just going to have to be physical, just like every other week," Bobcats linebacker Danny Uluilakepa said. "They play a hard brand of football, so we just got to match it."

Cal Poly at Montana State
Montana State linebacker Danny Uluilakepa (30) waits for the snap against Cal Poly at Bobcat Stadium on Oct. 14, 2023.

"I think just physicality and putting in the details," Bobcats offensive tackle Marcus Wehr said. "Just, you know, knowing every formation, every play, just those kind of details and running off the ball."

Marcus Wehr
Montana State offensive lineman Marcus Wehr celebrates during a game against Northern Arizona on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman.

The game is nearly sold out, which means the crowd is going to be a major factor. The noise level in Bobcat Stadium impacts everything down to the ability for the opposing offense on the field to communicate before the ball is snapped.

"We’re going to plan for worst-case scenario and that all 22,000 fans are Bobcat fans and that we’re going to have to deal with it," Entz explained. "So, that’ll start today. We’ll have significant noise with the offense, wherever they go as the week unfolds."

Uluilakepa knows it'll be an advantage getting the Bison at home this year. The last time the teams met, NDSU beat MSU for the 2021 FCS championship.

"Oh, I’m so excited," Uluilakepa said with a smile. "It’s a different environment over here, so coming here to play, it’s a lot harder."

The game kicks off at 1 p.m. Saturday in Bobcat Stadium and can be streamed on ESPN+.