(Montana Sports Information) Montana’s magical postseason run reaches its zenith this week as the new year brings a new opportunity for the Grizzlies.

Not just any opportunity, this week the 2023 Griz have the chance to etch themselves in the history books as national champions as they head to Frisco, Texas in search of the program’s third title.

Ranked No. 2 in the nation after rattling off 10-straight wins, six of which were over ranked opponents, Montana (13-1, 7-1 BSC) enters the title match with a full head of steam, buoyed by a pair of epic overtime wins in in the quarterfinal and semifinal.

They’ll need to all that momentum in Frisco, however, as they collide with the No. 1 seed and undefeated South Dakota State Jackrabbits (14-0, 8-0 MVFC), the defending national champions and winners of a jaw-dropping 28-straight games. That’s right, they haven’t lost since the 2022 season opener – a 7-3 battle royale against the Big 10’s Iowa Hawkeyes.

At times, the Jackrabbits have made it look easy this season as well, pitching three shutouts and averaging nearly 40 points per game. They also eked out a win over Montana State 20-16 at home in September, the same Bobcat team the Griz trounced 37-7 in Missoula.

Common opponents aside, Montana has found a way to get it done this season, and the Griz have reached this point with a healthy dose of two of the program’s calling cards: grit and toughness.

It sets up a national championship game between two of the bluest of FCS blueblood programs and a heavyweight bout that pits strength on strength in all three phases of the game.

SDSU is led by star QB Mark Gronowski who leads the nation in pass efficiency at 182.7 and is averaging an FCS-best 10.08 yards per completion. He’ll have to contend, however, with Montana’s pass efficiency defense which is third in the FCS at 110.25. And consider this: the last four starting QB’s Montana has faced, arguably some of the best in the FCS, have completed an average of just 28 percent of their passes and none have passed for more than 200 yards.

Montana’s defense has also been stellar on third down, forcing NDSU to go 3-for-13, helping lead to UM’s third-ranked 3rd down D percentage which allows opponents to convert just 29 percent of their opportunities. SDSU, however, leads the nation in third down conversion percentage, moving the chains 55 percent of the time.

How ‘bout the run game? The Jackrabbits are led by Isaiah Davis, the nation’s top rusher with 1,491 yards on the ground this season. Well, Montana has been strong against the rush all season, allowing opponents to total just over 100 yards per game – the best rush D in the Big Sky and a top-12 total nationally.

Offensively the Griz are ultra-balanced, are veteran up front, have weapons at receiver and in the run game, and are guided by a dual-threat QB that keeps defenses honest with his arm and his legs. It’s a dangerous unit that will have to contend with the best overall defense in the FCS that allows just over 250 total yards out of SDSU’s opponents.

Special teams? Well, more on that later but every Griz fan knows the name Junior Bergen by now and there’s a reason he leads the nation in return TDs. Counterpoint: the Jackrabbits enter the game with the third-best punt return defense in the FCS, allowing just under three yards per return.

Winning traditions, rabid fan bases, elite talent on both sidelines, the 2023 national championship features the best of FCS football, and two freight trains are set to collide at Toyota Stadium in a game that is sure to provide plenty of fireworks.

Kickoff from Frisco is set for 1 p.m. central time, noon mountain.

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