It’s unlikely a team will go into the FCS playoffs as wounded and battered as the Montana Grizzlies after their rival Montana State Bobcats grabbed the College GameDay spotlight and slammed the Griz with 439 rushing yards in a 55-21 win close the regular season.
That ended a 7-4 season with no wins over ranked teams, but Montana’s name still popped up during Sunday’s FCS selection show — and as the saying goes, all you need to do to win is have your name in the hat . The Grizzlies’ road to redemption begins Saturday with a late night kickoff against Southeast Missouri State at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in a game televised nationally on ESPN2.
The Redhawks defeated Murray State 52-22 on Saturday and finished the regular season 9-2. Despite a 5-0 conference record, they didn’t know they’d won the Ohio Valley Football Conference’s automatic bid for the playoffs until later that night, when a coin toss between SEMO and UT-Martin went in SEMO’s direction (both finished) . with identical 5-0 conference records). Ironically, that coin toss might have sent the Griz into the playoffs as well. If UT-Martin had won the OVC’s automatic bid, the Redhawks would likely have taken a vacant spot ahead of Montana.
MASCOT: Redhawks. The teams at SEMO changed their names from the “Indians” in 2005.
POSITION: Cape Girardeau, Missouri
FAMOUS ALUMNI: Slim booty. Cedric the Entertainer; Kerry Robinson, who features prominently in Buzz Bissinger’s book Three Nights in August about the Tony La Russa Cardinals; Dan Connolly, who was a second-team All-OVC for four straight years before beginning a solid career with the Patriots.
LAST MEETING: Saturday’s meeting will be the first between the two teams. SEMO lost in the FCS playoffs in 2018, 48-23 at Weber State and in September 2019, 38-17 to Montana State.
Tom Matukewicz (ninth season at SEMO, 50-51, 51-51 overall)
This is the third time that Matukewicz has reached the nine-win mark in his nine seasons with the Redhawks. The other two were back-to-back years in 2018 and 2019, including the first (and still only) FCS playoff win in school history, a triumph over Stony Brook in 2018, and a Conference title in 2019. She achieved the latter in this year with a 5-0 win by the OVC, the only loss coming in the season opener against Iowa State and a narrow 28-23 loss to ASUN/WAC auto bid winner Eastern Kentucky.
Matukewicz got his first big break under former Minnesota head coach and current New Mexico state head coach Jerry Kill, after Kill followed from Emporia state to southern Illinois to northern Illinois throughout the 2000s. When Kill left NIU for the Minnesota job, Matukewicz took over as interim head coach and led the Huskies to a victory in the 2010 Humanitarian Bowl, which explains the slight discrepancy between his SEMO and the overall records above. He then spent another year as an assistant at NIU before serving as defensive coordinator at Toledo for two years and taking over as chief of staff with the Redhawks in 2014.
Matukewicz has now guided SEMO to three of the four FCS playoff appearances in the school’s history. Two of the others ended in losses to Big Sky teams (Eastern Washington, 2010; Weber State, 2018).
PLAYERS TO WATCH – OFFENSE
RB Geno Hess (5-8, 222, Sr.)
Hess is a legitimate contender for the Walter Payton Award, having entered the season after back-to-back All-OVC selections and ranking third in the nation with 1,569 rushing yards (142.6 per game) and placing first (with Sac State QB Asher O’Hara). with 19 touchdowns. He was last week’s international of the week for 327 total yards and four touchdowns against Murray State and has 10 touchdowns in his last three games.
QB Paxton DeLaurent (6-5, 215, Sun.)
After two seasons at Central Methodist University, DeLaurent was more than useful in his debut season with 2,407 yards (267.4 per game), 19 touchdowns and five interceptions for the Redhawks. He has missed SEMO’s last two games with a foot injury and appears a doubt for Saturday. The backup is freshman Patrick Heitert, who has been thrown for 221, no touchdowns and a pick in the last two games as the Redhawks leaned on Hess.
WR Ryan Flournoy (6-2, 197, Jr.)
With previous stops in Central Missouri and Iowa Western CC, Flournoy has emerged as one-half of a good receiver tandem for SEMO (Johnny King has 65 catches for 774 yards and six touchdowns). Flournoy stands out a little more as a big-play threat with 50 catches for 823 yards and seven touchdowns. He had 15 for 256 and a score in the Redhawks’ lone FCS loss to Eastern Kentucky.
PLAYERS TO WATCH – DEFENSE
LB Bryce Norman (6-0, 226, Sun.)
Norman was a freshman All-American in 2021 and a preseason All-OVC selection in 2022 and has justified those selections by leading the Redhawks with 108 total tackles. Nobody else on the team has more than 76.
S. Lawrence Johnson (6-0, 196, Sr.)
An all-rounder with strong safety, Johnson is second on the team in tackles (76), first in tackles for loss (7 1/2), tied first in sacks (4), and first in pass breakups (8).