#7 Griz Host #3 Cats in Brawl for the Ages

In a game that already stirs the soul of Montanans from Eureka to Ekalaka (and for that matter, from sea to shining sea), the Griz/Cat rivalry doesn’t need much to bring fans to full fervor.

The hype, the implications, the physicality, the emotions – they’re all turned up to 11 every season as the snow begins to fall around the Treasure State.

The 2021 Braw of the Wild, however, has all that and more. Much more.

On Saturday, the 120th edition of the Montana/Montana State game returns after a two-year layoff and returns to Missoula for the first time in three years.

The long-awaited and much-anticipated grudge match features two bitter rivals with top-10 rankings, Big Sky Championship and post-season implications, and a battle royale for a bronze trophy requiring linemen to lug off the field in a celebration that lasts for 365 more days.

At high noon on Nov. 20, No. 7 Montana (8-2, 5-2 BSC) and No. 3 Montana State (9-1, 6-0 BSC) meet at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, with each team boasting one of the nation’s top defenses and each holding big-play ability on offense.

The Griz have not allowed a touchdown in over 10 quarters of play after shutting out Northern Colorado two weeks ago and keeping NAU out of the end zone. The last touchdown scored against UM was in the second quarter against Southern Utah.

It’s the Grizzlies’ second stretch of stifling defense this season. Following Dylan Morris’ 1-yard score for Washington on the opening drive of the season, UM’s defense went 10 more quarters without allowing a touchdown until the fourth quarter of the Cal Poly game when UM had the game in hand the reserves were on the field.

Meanwhile, Montana State has some stingy D this season, ranking second nationally in scoring defense at an average of just 11.6 points allowed per contest.

On paper, we’ve got a defensive battle in the 2021 Brawl, but in rivalry games like this, something’s got to give.

THE MATCHUP:  Riding momentum of a four-game win streak and working its way back to health, the Grizzlies enter Saturday’s game playing some of the best defense in the country while finding its footing on offense with a rotating cast of characters.

Defensive Coordinator Kent Baer‘s Grizzly defense ranks third nationally in rush defense, fifth nationally in scoring defense, and second nationally in red zone defense after the string of shutouts.

But Montana State comes to Missoula with one of the top running attacks in the country, led by Isaiah Ifanse, who currently sits third nationally with 1,208 yards on the ground, an average of 120.8 per contest.

The best rushing team vs the best rushing defense. Again, something’s got to give.

The Cats have, however, given up the fifth-most yards over the air in the nation this season at 160 per game. Compare that to a Grizzly defense who has had eight interceptions in eight-straight games (by one player – more on that later), and MSU QB Matt McKay might have his hands full.

Like it often does, however, Saturday’s game is likely to come down to the fronts. Led by a veteran O-line, Ifanse and MSU is a run-first type unit. But the Griz have outrushed teams in nine of ten games so far this season, controlling the ground game with a veteran O-line of their own.

Something’s got to give.

IMPLICATIONS: With at least eight wins each under their belts this season, both Montana and Montana State appear to be destined for the FCS playoffs once again, but exactly who earns a bye and who plays in the first round is yet to be determined.

A win for Montana likely means a first-round bye as one of eight seeded teams, while a loss likely means a first-round matchup over Thanksgiving weekend.

A win would also likely extend Montana’s FCS record 24 playoff appearances in program history.

Montana State and Sacramento State each enter the weekend undefeated in league play, meaning Montana could play spoiler for an outright conference championship Saturday as the No. 11 Hornets take on No. 10 UC Davis at Davis.

All will be revealed on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. (M.T.) on the FCS Selection Show on ESPNU.

Five teams from the Big Sky are represented once again in this week’s national polls, giving the league five possible playoff contenders for the first time.

WATCH: Emmy Award-winning Big Sky Conference broadcast partner ROOT Sports will televise the Montana/Montana State game to a national audience in conjunction with its regional AT&T Sports Net affiliates. ESPN+ will also stream the game outside of the ROOT Sports and AT&T Sports Net footprint.

ROOT Sports NorthwestAT&T Sports Net Rocky Mountain (which includes the Las Vegas market), and AT&T Sports Net Pittsburgh are available to watch on DirecTV, and Spectrum Cable.

In Missoula, ROOT is available on Spectrum cable channel 60 and HD channel 560, and on DIRECTV channel 687 and 688. To see if ROOT Sports is available in your area, visit their channel finder page. To see if AT&T Sports Net Rocky Mountain or Pittsburgh are available in your area, visit their channel finders HERE and HERE.

New this year, DISH Network has made the decision to no longer carry ROOT Sports or AT&T Sports Net. Meaning Saturday’s game will not be available on DISH.

STREAMING: The game will air live on the ESPN+ outside of the ROOT Sports/AT&T Sports Net footprint only. The ROOT Sports/AT&T Sports Net footprint encompasses much of states like Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Inside the footprint, ROOT Sports has made the decision to black the game out on ESPN+.

Streaming options are also available through DirecTV and fuboTV, with subscription required.

Television broadcast and streaming rights for Montana’s 2021 slate of league games, including the UM/MSU game are owned and managed by the Big Sky Conference.

Veteran broadcaster Tom Glasgow will have the play-by-play, with analysis from Taylor Barton.

WATCH PARTIES 🎉: From Alaska to Florida (and a few sites overseas!) Montana alumni and friends will gather to watch the 120th edition of the Griz/Cat game at one of over 80 locations. Through the Montana Office of Alumni Relations, Griz/Cat watch parties are coordinated by local hosts around the nation.

To find the nearest Griz/Cat Watch Party to you, visit the UM Alumni Relations website.

LISTEN:  “Voice of the Griz” Riley Corcoran and long-time analyst Greg Sundberg will bring you the action live from Washington-Grizzly Stadium on KGVO Missoula, the flagship station of the Grizzly Sports Radio Network, and its fifteen affiliates around the state.

New in 2021, Griz fans have a better than ever way to stream all of Montana’s radio broadcasts on their mobile device LIVE and FREE of charge with the Varsity Network App, powered by Learfield and Sidearm Sports. Live audio web streams can also be found at GoGriz.com/Listen.

Fans can download the app for iPhone or Android use for instant access to free gameday audio streams plus the Coach Hauck Radio Show, and receive push notifications to remind them of games starting or upcoming audio broadcasts as well.

COACHES SHOW: The Bobby Hauck radio show returns this week, broadcast live across the state from the banks of the Clark Fork River at the show’s new home of FINN in the DoubleTree Hotel in Missoula, each Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Admission to watch the live broadcast at FINN is free, with a special coaches’ show menu available.


MADE IN MONTANA: The annual Griz/Cat game puts Montana born-and-bred student-athletes at the center of the Treasure State universe for one day a year, highlighting the pride and passion of hometown heroes from border to border.

This year’s UM squad features a total of 52 Montanans set to suit up for the Griz with 11 from Missoula, while Montana State lists 39 Montana natives on its roster.

PASS THE BUCK: Montana linebacker Patrick O’Connell was added to the Buck Buchanan Award watch list for the FCS Defensive Player of the Year last week, joining fellow Grizzly Jace Lewis on the list midseason.

O’Connell, from Kalispell, lead the Big Sky in sacks and ranks third nationally with 11.5 to his name after getting in on at least one in nine of this year’s ten games to date.

In addition to Lewis and O’Connell, this week’s game will feature three of the Big Sky Conference’s six total Buchanan Award candidates, with MSU QB-turned-linebacker Troy Anderson also earning a place on the watch list.

Montana’s Dante Olson won the Buchanan Award in the last full season of FCS football after his record-breaking 2019 campaign.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Robby Hauck doubled-up on weekly honors Monday, named both the Stats Perform FCS Defensive Player of the Week and the ROOT Sports Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week after a big game at NAU.

The conference and national accolades are the first of Hauck’s illustrious career and come on the heels of a game-high 14-tackle performance against the Lumberjacks – his third-straight and sixth overall double-digit tackle total of the season.

He lived in the Lumberjack backfield with that season-high 14 tackles (seven solo, seven assisted), and helped seal the Griz win with a strip-sack in the third quarter that led to a scoop-and-score touchdown for Patrick O’Connell and the Grizzly defense – one of two touchdowns on the day for the unit.

Hauck’s 14 tackles were the third-most in the Big Sky on week 11, now placing him third in the conference in total tackles this season behind MSU’s Troy Anderson and Cal Poly’s Matt Shotwell with a team-high total of 101 stops which ranks him eleventh nationally.

Hauck now moves into sixth place on Montana’s all-time leading tackler list after passing Mike Rankin (1985-88) and Jordan Tripp (2009-13) with 337 career tackles. He’s also just 29 stops away from surpassing his 2019 season total of 129 tackles, and needs just 61 more stops to become Montana’s all-time leading tackler – still with a year left to play.

SATURDAY’S STARSCole Grossman, a tight end, had his best game yet in maroon and silver at NAU, coming up with big play after big play.

Grossman posted a game-high 93 receiving yards on just three grabs, totaling 40 yards after the catch. All three of his catches would eventually lead to points for the Grizzly offense as well.

The freshman entered the game having scored a TD in three-straight games for UM in the previous three weeks, and was about five yards shy of a fourth-straight at NAU.

Grossman enters his first Montana/Montana State game as UM’s third-leading receiver this season with 30 catches for 406 yards and four-total touchdowns, the second-most on the squad.

Cam Humphrey led the offense to 427 yards of total offense at NAU, completing 21 of 37 passes while only taking one sack for his best throwing performance of the year.

In seven games this season Humphrey has been steady for the Griz, averaging 200 yards of total offense per game with 1,321 yards in the air while completing 111 of his 176 passes.

Defensively, Jace Lewis had a monster game for the Grizzly defense with 10 tackles (eight solo), a season-high two sacks, and four total tackles for loss. The senior from Townsend has now put up nine or more tackles in five games this season and is second on the team in TFLs with 13.5.

BUILT FORD TOUGH: Amazing, unlikely, unbelievable, inconceivable, jaw-dropping, rare, holy-cow-how’s-that-possible… All words that come to mind considering cornerback Justin Ford’s streak of eight straight games with an interception.

With eight picks in eight games Ford, a junior, leads the nation in interceptions, and when we say nation, we mean all of D-I football (FCS and FBS).

Ford is now three picks away from tying Karl Stein’s school and conference record of 11 INTs in a single season, set back in 1969. Stein, a Grizzly Sports Hall of Famer, also had nine pics in the 1970 season to sit third on the UM table, while former head coach Mick Dennehy sits second at 10 set in 1972.

Ford does, however, now hold the school record for most interceptions in a season by a cornerback, with Stein and Dennehy each playing safety.

KILLER CORNERS: Omar Hicks Onu, Ford’s counterpart at field cornerback for much of the season, has also been on lock in his senior campaign.

The Oregon State transfer ranks third in the Big Sky in pass breakups with 10, and is tied for fourth in total passes defended at 12. With his national-best eight INTs, Ford ranks second in the Big Sky in total passes defended with 14.

This makes Montana one of two teams in the league with a pair of top-5 leaders in passes defended, alongside UC Davis’ Jordan Perryman (3) and Jaylin white (5).

MONEY MACIAS: Senior kicker Kevin Macias earned an honorable mention for the Stats Perform FCS Special Teams Player of the Week Monday following a career day at NAU.

Playing in his home state of Arizona for the first time as a Grizzly, Macias had a career-day at NAU, going 3-3 on both field goals and PATs, highlighted by a career-long 49-yard field goal attempt that looked like it could have been good from 60.

That 49-yarder was one of the top-25 longest kicks in Montana history, beating his previous career-long by a single yard – a 48-yarder at Idaho in October. But adding the extra yard puts him at another level in the history books. No player has kicked a longer field goal for the Griz since 2013 when Ben Worst slotted one from 50 yards against Oklahoma Panhandle in Missoula.

Macias also handled the bulk of Montana’s kickoff duties at NAU, netting 195 yards on three kicks, with touchbacks on all three.

He earned Montana’s Big Sky Player of the Week nomination for Special Teams with the most made field goals of any kicker in the league last Saturday.

BOOM-CHINI: Freshman punter Brian Buschini continued on his record-setting pace at NAU last week, using the thin air at 7,000 feet and the calm wind of the Walkup Skydome to his advantage, averaging 50.7 yards per punt on seven attempts.

Buschini, from Helena, is currently having the best season for a punter in UM history, averaging 46.5 yards per punt, nearly two full yards more per attempt than Mike Rice’s school record 44.69 yards per attempt.

SPECIAL SPECIAL TEAMS:  A coach Hauck-led team is a team that is likely to shine in the area of special teams, and not just in kicking or punting.

Montana’s punt coverage team continues to lead the nation with an average punt of 44.08 yards. Similarly the Grizzlies’ kickoff return unit is ranked second nationally with an average of 29.33 yards per return, despite very little opportunity for a return from UM’s opponents for weeks.

RECORD WATCH: With six catches at NAU, Samuel Akem passed Shalon Baker to move to No. 5 on the all-time receptions list at UM, now with 183 grabs in his career. He also needs just two more catches to pass Jamaal Jones and move into fourth all-time. Jerry Louie-McGee broke the school record in 2019 with 230 catches.

Akem also passed Raul Pacheco on the career receiving yards list, now with 2,546 yards to his name placing him at No. 7 all-time.

With 10 tackles at NAU, Jace Lewis jumped up the all-time tacler list as well, passing legends like Brock Coyle, Caleb McSurdy Jason Crebo, and Todd Ericson to move into a tie at No. 13 with Shawn Lebsock at 294.

He also moved into UM’s top-10 all-time in tackles for loss with four at NAU, now tied with fellow Buchanan Award finalist Trey Young at 34.5. Lewis also moved into the Top-25 in school history for sacks with a pair at NAU, bringing his career total to 12 to tie him at No. 22 on the list.

Patrick O’Connell climbed the all-time TFL and sack lists with one sack and 1.5 TFLs against the ‘Jacks. The junior has now totaled 27.5 TFLs to pass JP Kanangata’a on the TFL list and passed Josh Buss on the sack list, now with 18 in his career.