MISSOULA – Saturday will make history as the Montana Grizzlies and Southeast Missouri State Redhawks meet on the football field for the first time.

Additionally, Griz head coach Bobby Hauck has never met any of the SEMO coaches in a long career that has spanned many different levels of college football.

“It’s a bit rare in that regard,” Hauck said.

Needless to say, Montana is in for a long prep week as it prepares for its first-round playoff game on ESPN2.

Outside of the Ohio Valley Conference, SEMO has never been challenged by a Big Sky caliber program. However, against lesser-known competition, the Redhawks did well by going 9-2. They boasted a strong offense all year that carried the defense through the season.

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It was developed by quarterback Paxton DeLaurent, but that could be different this postseason.

One of their biggest weapons, he has missed the last two games with a foot injury and was recently spotted in a hiking boot. They inserted freshman quarterback Patrick Heitert in the starting XI and he’s gone 2-0, but Washington-Grizzly could be a tall order.

Tom Davis, Southeast Missouri State beatwriter who works at semoball.com, spoke to 406mtsports.com to give an inside look at the Redhawks.

He addresses the aforementioned quarterback situation, SEMO’s strengths and weaknesses, and how he thinks it will be fair in Missoula.

This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Q: The two programs will be new to each other, which is also new to the Griz fan base. So before Saturday, what should you know about some of SEMO’s strengths?

A: The offensive was their forte. They load at every position, and I mean loaded. Their starting quarterback, Paxton DeLaurent, was phenomenal, but he injured his foot two weeks ago and hasn’t played since. He’s been called a “game decider” every week, but last Saturday he was in a shoe. Without him, her offense isn’t nearly as overwhelming as it could be. They went to a newcomer in his absence, Patrick Heitert, and he’s serviceable. He did a good job. But he is in no way comparable to Paxton DeLaurent. When you lose a great quarterback, everything else doesn’t get nearly as dangerous. So I’ll say offensive was her forte, with an asterisk.

Q: How much does it change your offense if Heitert then takes over?

A: He can throw and has some mobility, but he’s nowhere near as talented, experienced, or skilled as Paxton DeLaurent. They have two wide receivers, one who will play in the NFL and one who will be at an NFL training camp, but they’re negated without DeLaurent. They are uncoverable with DeLaurent under the middle. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Geno Hess. Eddie George, once a great NFL running back and Tennessee State head coach, said Hess is FCS’ best running back. He’s likely to become Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year. So with Heitert, they will be relying heavily on the running game.

Q: How do you think this game script would change the flow of the game?

A: Well, obviously Montana is going to load up the box and force the freshman quarterback to play with his arm. But I haven’t seen anyone stop Geno Hess yet. However, that was with Paxton DeLaurent playing quarterback, which makes the running back job that much easier. Montana is really good. I don’t care what happened on Saturday. They contain Hess. They’re not going to keep him at 37 yards or anything, it’s just not going to happen, but he’s not going to go to 200. It will be about whether Heitert can play. Head coach Tom Matukewicz said the biggest difference when playing against Big Sky teams is always the offensive line and that the defensive line generally overwhelms them. If they can give Heitert time, he’s fine. If he’s under duress, SEMO is going to have a really long night.

Q: What were some of SEMO’s weaknesses this season?

A: Well, obviously his quarterback experience. But her secondary school was also plagued by injuries for most of the season. They had to turn on inexperienced guys there. I don’t want to paint a picture that their defense is a weakness, that wouldn’t be correct. But when Montana has a good pass attack, it’s something to look out for.

Q: What are some keys for SEMO to be successful on Saturday?

A: Paxton DeLaurent has to play, although I’d be shocked if he does. The offensive line must give each player time to throw. If they can go 50-50 in the run and pass game, they have a good chance. When this offense reaches its full potential, I tell you, it’s something to behold.

Q: What is your prediction for the game?

A: I think Montana will end up winning for a number of reasons. They will stop the running game to some extent and force the freshman quarterback to make plays. Montana is really, really good. They’ll be viewed differently after Saturday’s debacle, but they’re close to being a losing team that played a great schedule. I think they will win by at least two points.

Lucas Semb is the Griz Football Beat Writer for The Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @Lucas_Semb or email him at [email protected]

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