Xavier Lewis has played in Tiger Stadium, both for LSU and as an opponent.
Pat Allen has experienced the sidelines in the Rose Bowl and the CFP Championship Game.
So the two Southeastern Louisiana seniors are well qualified to pass along to their teammates what it’s like in a hostile, and big-time — by FCS standards — environment Saturday when the Lions visit sixth-seeded Montana in a second-round game.
“You’ve got to block out the noise and focus on what you have to accomplish,” said Lewis, a safety who spent two years at LSU before transferring to SLU last season. “The crowd’s not going to be a factor unless we let it be.”
And it can be.
Montana is the FCS home attendance leader at 23,544 in 25,217-capacity Washington-Grizzly Stadium, a facility that combines its design and its location — at the base of two mountains and the mouth of Hellgate Canyon — to create an enhanced level of crowd noise.
The Grizzlies’ attendance numbers are especially impressive considering that the population of Missoula is about 74,000.
A majority of those at Montana games live more than three hours away, a reflection of the state being the country’s third least-densely populated, ahead of only Wyoming and Alaska.
But when you’ve made a record 24 FCS playoff appearances, 17 in a row at one stretch, you are likely to have a solid fan base.
“We are very relevant in the state of Montana,” Montana athletic director Kent Haslam said. “We’re the largest university in the state, and we don’t have any professional sports anywhere near us.
“So our fans have really high expectations, and they show those expectations by supporting us at a great level. Many young men and women grow up being a Griz (almost half of the roster is from Montana), so you get people very invested and pretty passionate about this place.”
Montana coach Bobby Hauck can attest to that.
A Missoula native and Montana graduate, though he did not play football there, Hauck was the Grizzlies' coach from 2003-09, winning the Big Sky Conference title every year.
After leaving for UNLV (where he was fired after winning only 15 games in five seasons) and then spending three seasons as offensive coordinator at San Diego State, Hauck returned to his alma mater in 2018.
Montana had gone through three coaches in the interim and, as a result of NCAA sanctions, had lost scholarships helping level the playing field in the Big Sky Conference, which already was making big financial commitments to keep up with the Griz (the Big Sky has four of this year’s eight national seeds).
Montana was 6-5 last season and improved to 9-3 this year, although the Grizzlies lost their “Brawl of the Wild” finale to arch-rival and No. 5 national seed, Montana State, 48-14, which cost them a share of the conference title.
“A lot of blood, sweat and energy has gone into this place,” Hauck said. “For most of the players from this state, Montana is not a fallback plan for them, but a goal, which is pretty unique on the FCS level.
“That’s why I came back, wanting to fix things. I like to think we’re doing that.”
And then there’s the weather, although the Lions are catching somewhat of a break Saturday. Kickoff temperature is predicted to be 40 degrees with a chance of rain.
That’s better than typical December conditions in Montana, where the average high is 31.
To Allen, who spent two seasons at Georgia before transferring, it’s just another thing to block out.
“If you stand around shivering thinking about how cold it is, it’s going to get to you,” he said. “You just embrace it, no matter what it is, and focus on what you have to do on the field.
“If you believe in yourselves, it won’t matter. Do what you’re supposed to do which is to go out and play football.”
Which is what SLU is traveling to the Big Sky country for.
The Lions (8-4) are coming off a 45-44 opening-round victory against Villanova in which the winning points came on Chasson Virgil’s 8-yard, fourth-down pass to CJ Turner with 2:56 left.
The pass was Virgil’s last one of the day. He threw for 474 yards, third-most in school history, including going 23 of 27 for 294 yards and three TDs in the second half, rallying SLU from a 31-14 halftime deficit.
It was SLU’s second straight one-point game, the first being a 28-27 loss to rival Nicholls State that cost the Lions a share of the Southland Conference title.
As a national seed, Montana (9-3) drew a first-round bye last week, which gave the Grizzlies a chance to recover physically and mentally from the Montana State game.
The Griz is led by All-America linebacker Dante Olson, a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award for the outstanding defensive player in the FCS. Olson has a school-record 152 tackles.
A balanced offense is led by Big Sky Newcomer of the Year Marcus Knight, who has 20 rushing TDs, third-most in the FCS.
“This is a team with very good, physical athletes on both sides of the ball,” Scelfo said. “And they have a lot of great support at home.
“So we’re going into a tough environment. But nobody wants this thing to end.”
That includes Lewis.
“I watched some Montana games on YouTube, and the crowd up there is just electric,” he said. “But I think that’s just made us more intense in practice this week.
“We can’t wait to get up there and play them. It’s a great feeling to be where we are.”