A Griz/Cat Game Like No Other


In a game that needs no added superlatives, the magnitude of the 122nd edition of the Montana/Montana State rivalry football game – the Brawl of the Wild – simply cannot be overstated.

To the victor go the spoils. The spoils being an outright Big Sky Conference championship trophy, the 306-pound Great Divide Trophy, a likely No. 2 playoff seed and home-field advantage in the postseason, and, oh yeah, bragging rights that every Montanan will lean on for the next 364 days.

For the first time ever, amazingly, it’s also a top-five showdown, with the Griz entering the week ranked No. 3 in both FCS polls and MSU sitting right behind them at No. 4.

Montana (9-1, 6-1 BSC) enters Saturday’s contest on a roll, winners of six straight with three ranked road wins and outscoring their previous three opponents by a combined 108-17.

Montana State (8-2, 6-1 BSC) is also gaining momentum, recovering from a narrow loss at Idaho to earn two dominant home wins over Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington in the last two weeks.

With both teams at the top of the table, it’s a clash of the league’s top offenses – one ground-based and one balanced – as well as two of the stoutest defenses in the country.

It’s a rivalry game loaded with import, high on implications, rich with tradition, and as vitriolic as they come, and it all kicks off at Noon on Saturday, with the eyes of the FCS world focused squarely on Missoula.

Photo courtesy of Grizzly Athletics

IMPLICATIONS: Bragging rights? Sure. A first-round bye in the playoffs? Likely. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Montana and Montana State play this week for all the marbles. With the Griz and Cats both entering the game at 6-1 in Big Sky play, the winner of Saturday’s game will be the outright Big Sky Conference Champion.

With UM at 9-1 and MSU 8-2 overall, a potential No. 2 seed and all-important home-field advantage through the playoffs is also on the table for the winner, having massive implications through the month of December.

While UM is likely to extend its FCS record 27th trip to the postseason in the coming weeks, first things first.

A win for the Griz will give Montana (picked 3rd and 6th in the preseason polls) its first conference title since 2009, when Hauck was in his first tenure at UM. The Griz would then have wins over four then-ranked teams this season and would be in the driver’s seat for a No. 2 overall seed behind undefeated South Dakota St.

A loss for UM would put Montana in the runner-up position on the league table for the first time since 2019.

Just win baby.

POSTSEAON POSSIBILITIES: Montana will learn its playoff fate during the FCS Playoff Selection Show on Sunday, Nov. 19 at 10:30 a.m. (MT), broadcast nationally on ESPNU.

24 teams will be selected for the FCS Championship. The winner of the Big Sky earns one of 10 automatic qualifications, while the remaining 14 will be picked at large.

The first round of the playoffs starts Nov. 25, the second round will be held Dec. 2, the Quarterfinals are set for Dec. 8 and 9, and the Semifinals Dec. 15 and 16. The National Championship is once again set for Frisco, Texas, and will be played on Sunday, Jan. 7 at 2 p.m. on ABC.

WATCH: The Grizzlies will appear on Montana Television Network stations around the state for the final time this season on Saturday, with the Brawl of the Wild available on basic cable and satellite options, as well as free-to-air channels.

This week’s game will be shown on KPAX in Missoula, KAJ in Kalispell, KTVQ in Billings, KRTV in Great Falls, KXLH in Helena, KBZK in Bozeman, and KXLF in Butte. A stream of the game is also available without blackout on ESPN+ throughout North America.

The game can also be seen on Scripps TV channels across the mountain west, including KIVI in Boise, KSAW in Twin Falls, KGUN in Tucson, KCDO in Denver, and via antenna on KSTU 13.2 in Salt Lake City and KNXC 15.2 in Phoenix.

Grizzly Sports Hall of Famer and former NFL head coach Marty Mornhinweg serves as the analyst on the broadcast, while longtime Montana newsman Jay Kohn will provide the play-by-play. Kyle Hansen will report from the sidelines.

Former Grizzly Defensive Coordinator Ty Gregorak will also join the broadcast as an analyst, as will longtime Billings sports reporter Scott Breen, who will report from the sidelines.

WATCH PARTIES: In another great tradition of the Brawl of the Wild rivalry game, the Montana Alumni Association will again host Griz/Cat watch parties around the nation for fans and alums from both schools to gather to watch the game.

Hundreds of parties will be held across 39 states, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands this year. To find the nearest Griz/Cat Watch Party near you, visit the UM Alumni Association’s web page, GrizAlum.org.

LISTEN: “Voice of the Griz” Riley Corcoran is in his eighth season behind the mic at Montana and is once again set to bring you all the Grizzly action over the airwaves on the Grizzly Sports Radio Network and its fifteen affiliate stations around the state.

“Grizzly Gameday” starts two hours before kickoff each Saturday with the official pregame radio show with Ace Sauerwein and Denny Bedard before Corcoran and longtime color commentator Greg Sundberg take over 30 minutes to kickoff.

Griz fans outside the radio footprint can stream all of Montana’s broadcasts on their mobile device LIVE and FREE of charge with the Varsity Network App, powered by Learfield and Sidearm Sports.

ONE HISTORIC SERIES: In one of the oldest and most historic rivalries in America, Montana and Montana State will square off for the 122nd time this week, with Montana holding a distinct series advantage at 73-42-5 all-time, dating back to the first meeting in 1897.

The Griz have been dominant in the rivalry in games played in Missoula at 32-17-1 all-time, and 13-5 inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium. It’s been tougher sledding in recent years at home for UM, however, with MSU winning two of the last three in Missoula. The Griz righted the ship in 2021, however, avenging two straight home losses with a decisive 29-10 victory. More on that later.

• Over the last 20 years, the series has been dead even at 10 wins for each program starting in 2002, which was the year MSU broke “the streak” of 16-straight Grizzly wins.

• In all D-I college football (FCS and FBS) and all the storied rivalries in our game, the Griz/Cat game is the 16th-most played at 121 meetings, and the third-most played in the western United States. Only Stanford/Cal (125 meetings) and Oregon/Oregon State (126 meetings) have been played more frequently west of the Mississippi.

• You’d also be hard-pressed to find a rivalry game as lopsided as Griz/Cat. Only 22 teams in all D-I college football have beaten an opponent more times than Montana has beaten Montana State.

At 73 wins in the series, Griz/Cat is the 23rd-most wins of any team in the nation against a single opponent, and UM’s winning percentage of .624 is the 33rd-best among the top-55 most played games in the country. For reference: Montana sits right behind Washington’s 75 wins over Washington State in the Apple Cup, with the Huskies holding a 75-33-6 advantage.

LAST MEETING: After a 30-yard touchdown pass from Lucas Johnson to Malik Flowers to tie the game 7-7 in the first quarter, Montana State leaned on its rushing attack and took advantage of UM turnovers to rattle off 41 straight points to beat the Griz 55-21 in Bozeman.

MSU scored off Montana’s miscues with quarterback Lucas Johnson throwing an interception and the Griz coughing the ball up twice for a pair of fumbles, one of which was returned for a Bobcat touchdown. The other was forced on the MSU one-yard line to keep the Griz out of the endzone in the second quarter.

The Cats averaged nearly seven yards per carry in the win for 439 total rushing yards while the Griz totaled just 96 yards on the ground.

LAST MEETING IN MISSOULA: Montana had been waiting over 1,000 days since the last Brawl of the Wild played in Missoula, setting up a highly anticipated top-10 matchup in 2021. With the pent-up energy, all Griz Nation needed was a big moment on the field to explode, and the Grizzlies didn’t wait long to deliver.

Junior Bergen caught a 74-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the game, sending a then-record crowd at Washington-Grizzly Stadium into pandemonium.

The defense didn’t allow a touchdown until the final minutes and the offense rolled to a blowout 29-10 victory over the in-state rival. The win ended a four-game streak for the #3 Bobcats in Brawl of the Wild games and brought the Great Divide trophy back to Missoula for the first time since 2015. Montana improved to 9-2 with the win, which ended MSU’s program-record nine-game winning streak in the regular season.

Montana’s 29 points were the most allowed by Montana State all season, while the Grizzlies also held the Bobcats to their season-low total of 10 points. It took a last-minute touchdown on the final drive of the game for MSU to get into the double digits, as the Grizzly defense held Montana State under 100 total yards until the fourth quarter.

The vaunted rushing attack of Montana State which featured the nation’s third-leading running back Isaiah Ifanse and his 120.8 yards per game, was held completely in check. MSU would run for just 96 yards total, as Ifanse, now the University of California’s second-leading rusher, carried it 19 times for just 50 yards.

BUTTE IN THE BRAWL: A history lesson for Griz/Cat newbies. Between 1927 and 1951, Montana and Montana State split the difference and played the annual rivalry game in Butte, America, at the time one of the wealthiest and most cosmopolitan cities in the nation.

The Butte-tough tradition lives on in both Griz and Cat history. Butte may be the only city in America to boast the birthplace and upbringing of six former D-1 head coaches, three each at UM and MSU.

Mining City natives Jiggs Dahlberg (1945), Mick Dennehy (1996-1999), and Mick Delaney (2012-2014) all served as both assistant coaches and head coaches at Montana, with Dennehy and Delaney working as assistants at MSU as well. Jim Sweeney (1963-1967), (Sonny Holland (1971-1977), and Sonny Lubick (1978-1981) all hail from Butte and spent time as assistants and head coaches at MSU as well.

Dennehy and Delaney retired to Butte, while Holland resides in Bozeman and Lubick in Fort Collins, Colo. Even deeper cut: UM head coach Bobby Hauck‘s parents Bob and Elanor were both born and raised in Butte.

The winner of the Montana/Montana State Game will once again take home “The Great Divide Trophy” one of the biggest traveling trophies in all of college athletics, officially checking in at 306.1 pounds.

The trophy also has its roots in Butte, America. A painting of Bear Mountain, located near the summit of Homestake Pass just outside Butte on the Continental Divide at mile marker 139, was used as the inspiration for the bronze trophy by artist Dave Samuelson. The painting hangs in the Governor’s office in Helena and the trophy is designed to last 100 years.

Why Homestake Pass? Montana was originally part of the Idaho Territory until 1864 when the Montana Territory was carved out. The boundary was originally drawn to be the Continental Divide, which runs along Homestake Pass. However, when the separation bill was proposed in the U.S. Congress, Chairman James Ashley of the House Committee on Territories and Idaho Territorial Judge Sidney Edgerton placed the border along the Bitterroot Mountains.

Edgerton then became the first governor of the new Montana Territory. If the boundary between Montana and Idaho had been the Continental Divide, Missoula would have been in Idaho and Bozeman would have been In Montana, another example of the Great Divide between the Griz and Cats.

MADE IN MONTANA: Of the 107 active players currently on Montana’s roster, a whopping 47, nearly half of the team, hail from the state of Montana, and grew up dreaming of one day playing in this game. Of those 47, 12 remained in their hometown of Missoula to play football, and yet seven more hail from the nearby Bitterroot or Flathead Valleys.

WELCOME TO WASHINGTON-GRIZZLY STADIUM: The nation’s eyes converge on “The Mecca of FCS Football” this week and Grizzly Athletics welcomes all those new to Missoula.

Washington-Grizzly Stadium sits at the mouth of Hellgate Canyon, and the Clark Fork River runs through it. The stadium is also nestled at the bottom of Mount Sentinel, the northernmost point in the Sapphire Range of Montana’s Rocky Mountains. Hellgate Canyon separates Mount Sentinel (with the “M”) and Mount Jumbo (with the “L”), the southernmost point of the greater Rattlesnake Wilderness Area of the Garnet Mountain Range.

After five home games and five straight sellouts, Montana leads the FCS in average attendance this season and with 130,437 total fans crossing the turnstiles for an average of 26,087 per game. An expected sellout on Saturday is poised to break its own Big Sky Conference Record for home attendance average (25,652 in 2009).

Montana set a new single-game attendance record on Sept. 13 against Ferris State at 26,978 and set a record for season tickets sold at 18,761 before game one. With few seats remaining, UM could break the Sept. 13 record again this week.

That average ticket number of 26,087 makes Washington-Grizzly Stadium the eighth-largest city in Montana on a Saturday afternoon, closely behind Kalispell’s population of 28,450.

It’s also more average fans this week than UConn, Tulane, Vanderbilt, Air Force, Marshall, San Diego State, James Madison, and Wyoming, to name a few. In fact, UM would be No. 79 out of 133 FBS teams in average attendance, among the top two-thirds of all programs in the nation.

SATURDAY’S STARS: Quarterback Clifton McDowell put up 224 yards of total offense and looked unstoppable in the run game, rushing for three touchdowns in Montana’s 34-7 win at Portland State.

McDowell connected on nine of 14 passes for 127 yards with no interceptions and carried the ball eight times for 72 rushing yards, averaging nine yards per carry. He led Montana once again in a balanced offensive attack, with the team putting up 231 yards on the ground and 258 yards to add up nearly 500 yards of total offense.  

The Texan was key in moving the chains for the Griz too, with UM’s offense converting 9 of 16 third downs and 2 of 2 fourth down conversions while going 5-for-5 in the red zone. His performance earned a nomination for Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week.

The last Montana player to rush for three touchdowns? Nick Ostmo did it against Eastern Washington almost a year ago to the day in Missoula. Ostmo was another standout offensively for UM last week, rushing for 28 yards and a TD and catching three passes for 42 yards, giving him 70 all-purpose yards on return to his hometown.

Junior Bergen also had a solid day in all three phases of the game to total 104 all-purpose yards: 4 rushing, 69 receiving on four catches, and 31 yards on rare kickoff return opportunities. Bergen leads the Big Sky in average punt return yards at 14.4, despite only having 19 opportunities for an attempt on the season and

• Riley Wilson led a Grizzly defense that held the Portland State rushing attack, which entered the game as the second-most productive in the Big Sky, to just 93 yards on the ground Saturday night.

Wilson totaled four tackles, but two of them were sacks, and were both timely in shutting down PSU opportunities, earning him a nomination for Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week.

He now leads the Big Sky in sacks per game with 7.5 on the season, an average of .94 per contest. He also leads the league in tackles for loss, averaging 1.38 per game.

Wilson is just a month removed from earning the Big Sky’s weekly award, the first of his career, after leading the Griz to a win at Idaho. He’s the league’s highest-graded linebacker and the third-highest-graded backer in the FCS this season according to Pro Football Focus at 88.5.

Linebacker Braxton Hill led the Grizzlies in tackles for the sixth time this season against PSU with seven total and a half TFL. The Anaconda native is now second in the Big Sky in total tackles with 83 on the season.

• Kicker Nico Ramos had a perfect day kicking for the Griz at Portland State, going 2-for-2 on field goals, one from 19 yards and the other from 36 yards, while also going 4-for-4 on PATs for a personal haul of 10 points. He earned UM’s nomination for Big Sky Special Teams Player of the Week.

 Eli Gillman was once again excellent for Montana, finishing the game against PSU just three yards shy of his third-straight 100-yard rushing game and his fourth of the season. He totaled 97 rushing yards against PSU and added 22 yards on one catch to lead the Griz with 119 all-purpose yards.

Now with 824 rushing yards this season, Gillman leads all freshmen in the FCS and is the third-leading rusher among all players in the Big Sky Conference with an average of 82.4 yards per game.

He is now a front-runner for the FCS Jerry Rice Award for the Freshman of the Year and was a nominee for the FCS Freshman of the Week award as well.

THE NIGHTTIME IS THE RIGHT TIME: With the win at Portland State, Montana finishes the regular season at 6-0 in night games, coming out of a year having played the most night games in program history unscathed.

Two of those wins (Ferris St. and Sac St.) came at home, improving UM’s record under lights at Washington-Grizzly Stadium to an impressive 13-2 since 2011.

Four of those wins came on the road, however, which marks an impressive reversal of fortune for the Griz in recent years. Montana entered the season at 1-13 in road night games since 2011, and now sits at 5-13 under the lights away from home.

With potential playoff games set to be added to the schedule and the NCAA partnering with ESPN to broadcast the postseason, the Griz could potentially play a third night game at home this year, the most in school history.  

HAUCK’S RECORD: At 125-35 overall record in his 12 years at Montana, head coach Bobby Hauck is now the winningest coach of all time in the Big Sky Conference. He broke the league win record set by former Northern Arizona head coach (and long-time UM assistant) Jerome Souers (123) after the win over Sacramento State.

With a 73-19 conference record, Hauck is now No. 3 on the Big Sky’s all-time win list, recently passing College Football Hall of Famer Chris Ault of Nevada. He needs one more conference win to tie Tim Walsh (Portland State/Cal Poly) who posted 74 wins in his career, and Souers, who totaled 85 Big Sky Conference wins.

• After leading the Griz to a win at Portland State, Hauck is now 12-0 in his UM career in “trap games” – the game before the rivalry game.

• Hauck is now 10-2 all-time against PSU, where his son Robby is now an assistant coach.

Despite it being a cool and wet Oregon evening, there were zero turnovers in the game against PSU last week, leaving Montana at +8 in the season-long turnover margin – the second-best mark in the Big Sky behind Montana State, who is averaging one turnover per game, and a top-11 FCS mark.

The Griz have earned a total of 18 takeaways on the year, 13 of which have been interceptions. Led by Trevin Gradney’s four, those 13 are the most in the Big Sky and the eighth-most nationally.

The game against PSU was the fifth time this year the Griz have been even in turnovers, with the team holding a 4-1 record when even.

GROUND GAME: Montana was efficient in the ground game against PSU, outrushing the Vikings, one of the top rushing teams in the country, 231 to 93. The ground game will be of vital importance this weekend, with Montana sitting at 8-0 when outrushing opponents.

FINDING BALANCE: Despite a strong ground game, Montana remains remarkably balanced under offensive coordinator Brent Pease. The Griz enter the Cat game with 1,928 yards rushing this season and 1,973 passing – a difference of just 45 total yards after 10 games.

MOVE THE CHAINS: The Griz are the fourth-best team in the league at converting forth downs this week but are the best in the Big Sky in both third and fourth down defense, allowing teams to move the chains just 32 percent of the time on third down and 41 percent on fourth. Montana held PSU to just 4 of 11 on third down and without a fourth down conversion last week.