FLORENCE — With a season-opening 26-17 win over Western Illinois in hand, the University of North Alabama will travel almost 2,000 miles to face one of the legendary programs in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) at one of the most hostile environments in college football. The Lions will play No. 23 Montana at 8 p.m. Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Montana opened its season with an impressive 31-17 road win at South Dakota and will now host the Lions in their 2019 home opener.
Montana won FCS National Championships in 1995 and 2001 and have won 18 conference championships. The Grizzlies also hold FCS records with 17 consecutive playoff appearances, 19 total playoff trips and 12 consecutive Big Sky Conference championships. Montana’s 119 wins during the 2000s were the most by any college football team in the decade. The Grizzlies’ 93 wins in the 1990s ranked third.
Former Montana coach Bobby Hauck has returned to Missoula and is in his second season at the school where he posted an 80-17 record from 2003-09.
The Grizzlies typically pack their home stadium that seats in excess of 25,000. They have an .890 winning percentage at home since the stadium opened in 1986.
"We are going to be going into one of the best atmospheres in all of college football, and we have to go in prepared for the noise and the fans," UNA head coach Chris Willis said. "We can't become spectators at what's going on around us. We have to be focused and prepared. We can't let the crowd affect us."
North Alabama faced a similar challenge when it traveled to North Dakota State in 2018 to play in front of a capacity crowd at the Fargo Dome. "We handled it well last year, and hopefully we can prepare and handle it well again," Willis said.
North Alabama was impressive in its opener. The UNA defense, which returned just two starters from a year ago, allowed just 10 points. WIU's other score came on a blocked punt for a touchdown.
The UNA offense was efficient, picking up 412 yards with 122 rushing and 290 passing. The Lions also did not turn over the ball, continuing a trend from 2018 when UNA set a school record with just nine turnovers the entire season.
"We played a pretty solid football game," Willis said. "You put in all the pre-season work and you just don't know where you stand because you are going against yourself. But when you line up against a good football team and your kids play just the way they practiced and have success, it's very uplifting. Even though it was a two-point game at one point, I never felt like the game was in jeopardy because of our players' attitudes on the field and on the sideline. Our leaders stepped up. To get that win with this tough schedule that we have ahead of us is huge."
Saturday's game will be broadcast on ABC Montana stations and the Altitude Sports Network (Dish and DirecTV). Fans can also stream the game on pay-per-view at GoGriz.com/watch.