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118th Brawl of the Wild: Grizzlies look to defend home turf against Bobcats

On the heels of one rivalry win, the Montana Grizzlies enter the biggest rivalry of the year this week, one nearly every Montanan near and far has circled on their calendar – No. 25 Montana State.

Washington-Grizzly Stadium plays host to the 118th edition of the “Brawl of the Wild,” one of the oldest rivalry series’ in the west, dating back to 1897.

There have been some epic games played over those 118 years, and the 2018 matchup is shaping up to be no different, with the cross-state teams carrying identical records, identical postseason aspirations, identical dislike for one another, and leaving identical bragging rights for Montanans everywhere hanging in the balance.

Nowhere are those bragging rights more important than in the head coach’s chair at the University of Montana, where Bobby Hauck has become the winningest coach in UM history, picking up his 86th win last week at Idaho, with the Brawl of the Wild

“I grew up in Montana, I went to this University, so it’s a big game. It’s a rivalry game,” said Hauck.

“It’s what’s good about college football, generally speaking. Teams that don’t have a traditional rival are missing out on something pretty cool, and we do. We actually have a couple of them, we played one last week, but certainly, the in-state rivalry game is the top one for us, and we’re lucky we have a great rivalry.”

THE GAME: The 118th Brawl of the Wild, presented by Town Pump, kicks off at its traditional noon timeslot on Saturday, Nov. 17, with early weather forecasts predicting sunshine and temperatures in the low 30’s.

The Montana Grizzlies enter Saturday’s game on a two-game win streak and holding a 6-4 overall record, and a 4-3 record in Big Sky Conference play. The Montana State Bobcats enter the game also with a two-game win streak in hand, and the same 6-4 (4-3 BSC) record, with both teams needing a win to keep playoff hopes alive.

Montana has perhaps a bit more spring in its step, however, after hanging over 100 points on its previous two opponents, both road games that have given the Griz their first winning season on the road since 2013 (3-2). UM’s previous win was a rivalry win as well, a 46-27 dismantling of the rival Idaho Vandals at the Kibbie Dome.

Despite the extra juice heading into the rivalry week, Hauck and the Grizzlies are keeping as even-keeled as possible.

“Our preparation is uniform, week in and week out. My opinion is every time the Grizzlies play it’s a big game, so our preparation is uniform through the season, and it won’t differ any this week,” said Hauck. “But the difference is everybody’s attention in our home state is focused on Missoula, Montana this Saturday.”

HAPPENINGS: Fans will want to enter the sold-out Washington-Grizzly Stadium and get in their seats as early as possible on Saturday, with a full schedule of pregame activities in store.

CAN THE CATS: The annual “Can the Cats” food drive is once again in full swing, the annual friendly competition between Montana and Montana State fans that helps support local food banks. Donations will be collected at all entrances to Washington-Grizzly Stadium, with final totals counted and announced at halftime.

On Thursday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m., Griz fans can also help Can the Cats at the Montana vs. Weber State Volleyball game, where five cans will get you free entrance into the game.

The Grizzlies are the two-time defending food drive champions, having raised a grand total of 394,078 pounds of food in 2017.

SENIOR DAY: Join Grizzly Athletics is saying thank you to the following 11 seniors who will be honored before kickoff at Saturday’s game. Playing their last regular-season game as a Grizzly are:

#6    Keenan Curran    WR    Federal Way, Wash.
#10    Reid Miller    S    Hollidaysburg, Pa.
#12    Caleb Hill    TE    Brenham, Tex.
#24     Alijah Lee    RB    Los Angeles, Calif.
#30    Evan Epperly    S    Kalispell, Mont.
#35    Eric Williams    KP    Missoula, Mont.
#42    Josh Buss    LB    Boise, Idaho
#55    Kyle Davis    DT    San Diego, Calif.
#57    Shayne Cochran    LB    Culbertson, Mont.
#96    David Shaw    DT    Spring Grove, Pa.
#99    Reggie Tilleman    DE    Genesee, Idaho

BRAWL OF THE WILD SERIES HISTORY: The Grizzlies enter Saturday’s game holding a commanding 72-39-5 all-time lead in the Brawl of the Wild series, but needing a win to right the ship and break a two-game losing streak to the Cats.

While the Griz hold a comfortable series lead, the overall tally between the two is much closer in the decades since joining the Big Sky Conference, with UM leading 30-24 since 1963.

GAME OF STREAKS: Montana has had nine 3+ game win streaks in the overall series, five six+ game win streaks, and two 10+ game win streaks, including the longest streak in the series of 16 games between 1986-2001. Montana State has had five 3+ game win streaks, two 6+ game win streaks, but no streaks of 10 games or more.

BY THE NUMBERS: Over the course of the rivalry, Montana has outscored Montana State 2,332 – 1,572, a 760-point differential. When Montana wins, the average margin of victory is 17.662 points. When Montana State wins, the average margin of victory is 14.395.

LAST MEETING: Montana lost back-to-back games for the first time since 2002-03 in Bozeman last season when the Cats ran out to a 14-3 lead in the second quarter thanks to touchdowns from Troy Andersen and Nick LaSane, before finishing the half with a 21-13 lead.

The 23-31 loss put an end to UM’s 7-4 season which saw the Griz go four-deep on the quarterback depth chart, keeping them out of the playoffs for a second-straight season.

IMPLICATIONS: Both Montana and Montana State enter the game in the same predicament when it comes to the 2018 postseason: Lose and go home. Win, and… “so you’re tellin’ me there’s a chance!”

After a slew of upsets around the FCS last week, the Griz and Cats are each still in the mix for a playoff berth, despite having four losses each.

With three teams from the Big Sky Conference (#3/4 Weber State, #4/3 Eastern Washington, and #9/11 UC Davis) likely to earn a playoff spot (if not a first-round bye), the Griz will need some specific results to fall their way if they the league is to pick up an at-large bid.

Montana fans will want to keep a close eye on the Weber State (8-2) at Idaho State (6-4) game, with the Bengals needing a win to advance after getting upset at Cal Poly last week.

North Dakota (6-4) also has a shot at an at-large bid if they defeat Northern Arizona (3-6) in Flagstaff this weekend. If Montana and UND both win, North Dakota’s head-to-head advantage over UM could keep the Griz out.

No. 18 Nichols State could also play a factor in UM’s chances at the playoffs, with the Colonels earning a win over Kansas to open the season and leading the Southland Conference. As the only 7-3 team in their league, a loss would create a traffic jam atop the standings that could open the door for UM.

Long story short: Griz need a win.

WATCH: The Brawl of the Wild game is the featured game of the week on the Big Sky’s premiere broadcast partner, ROOT Sports.

ROOT Sports is available to millions of viewers nationwide on select cable packages, DirecTV (Ch. 687), DirecTV’s Audience Network (Ch. 101), and DISH Studio (Ch. 102).

The Audience Network is also part of DirecTV’s streaming service, DirecTV Now (available in limited areas, and compatible equipment necessary). No standard web stream (GoGriz.com, PlutoTV, or WatchBigSky.com) of the game is available for games broadcast on ROOT Sports.

Veteran broadcaster Tom Glasgow will provide the play-by-play call, with Jason Stiles serving as an analyst in the booth and Jen Mueller on the sidelines.

LISTEN: “Voice of the Griz” Riley Corcoran and Greg Sundberg will bring you the Brawl of the Wild action on the Grizzly Sports Radio Network, with Denny Bedard and Scott Gurnsey hosing the Statewide Pregame Show live from the GSA Tailgate.

Fans from Polson to Plentywood can tune in to hear the live call on one of 15 radio stations statewide. You can also hear a digital stream of the game live worldwide via GoGriz.com/listen or via the TuneIn app on your computer or smartphone.

GRIZ TRACKS

OFFENSE IS ROLLING: After sputtering along in three-straight losses, Montana’s offense found warp speed in its two road wins over Southern Utah and Idaho, putting together 1,050 yards of total offense and 14 touchdowns on the board in eight quarters of football.

Getting out of the gates quickly has been a focal point for Hauck and the Grizzlies all season, and nowhere has that been more evident than the last two games where UM scored a combined 34 first-quarter points and 32 in the second quarter.

Dalton Sneed has been the catalyst for Montana’s offensive explosion, with the dual-threat QB rushing for a combined 181 yard and passing for 543 more. The junior is now the second-leading quarterback in the Big Sky in total offense on the season, averaging nearly 303 yards per game.

“I think our offense is definitely clicking, and I think all three facets of the game have come together and I think we’ve shown what kind of team we can be when we play fundamental, sound football and work together as a team,” said Sneed.

Montana eclipsed 4,000 yards of total offense on the season against Idaho as well, moving to 4,341 yards, edging out its opponents which have totaled 4,203 so far this season.

MILES OF MILESTONES: A week after crossing the 100 win and 50 Big Sky win plateaus, Bobby Hauck passed an even more significant milestone at Idaho: his 86th win as a Grizzly head coach.

86 wins moves Hauck ahead of the legendary Don Read’s win total of 85, making him the winningest coach in Montana history. Hauck now has a win percentage of .803 (86-21), while Coach Read finished his storied career with a .702 win percentage (85-36).

No other coach in Grizzly history even comes close in the win count, with the next-most wins coming under Jack Swarthout (1967-75), who had a combined record of 51-41-1.

MADE IN MONTANA: The Grizzlies will take the field Saturday loaded with talent from the Treasure State, with 42 of the 101-man roster hailing from Montana, and 10 of those especially close to home as Missoula natives.

TOUCHDOWN SAM: Wide receiver Samuel Akem continued his impressive scoring streak at Idaho last week, hauling in a pair of touchdowns for the fourth-straight game and the fifth time this year to put his season total at 12.

The sophomore standout set a new career-high against the Vandals, hitting 130 yards to go along with his pair of scores, bolstered by a pair of 40+ yard receptions.

His 72 points off touchdowns this year makes him the fourth-leading scorer (by TD) in the Big Sky, and the ninth-leading overall scorer.

FRESHMAN PHENOM: Jerry Rice Award Candidate Robby Hauck had one of the defensive plays of the game for the Grizzlies last week at Idaho, appearing out of nowhere to make a diving pass deflection in the end zone that put a halt to an Idaho scoring drive just as time expired in the first half. Trailing 36-6, the pass breakup stymied any momentum the Vandals were gathering heading into the locker room.

Hauck has more total tackles than any other freshman in the country with 85 and is also the only underclassman among the Big Sky’s top-5 tacklers.

QUICK HITS:

Playing in front of, essentially, his hometown crowd, senior captain Reggie Tilleman posted a sack and a new career high of 2.5 TFLs.

Kicker Tim Semenza made his 20th career start at Idaho, and went 1-1 on field goals (40 yards) and 5-5 on PATs to stay perfect on the day. At 26-33 in his career, his 78.79 field goal percentage remains the most accurate in Grizzly history.

RECORD WATCH: Junior linebacker Dante Olson is now officially the No. 1 tackler in Montana single-season history with 10 against the Vandals. His 2018 tackle total (with at least one game to play) is 133, passing legends like Colt Anderson, Tim Hauck (129 each) and Kendrick Van Ackeren’s school record of 130.

Olson now has exactly 200 career tackles to his name, needing just one more to enter Montana’s top-40 leaderboard.

BUSS’ STOPS: Josh Buss moved up on a pair of Montana’s all-time defensive leaderboards with six tackles, a sack, and two quarterback hurries at Idaho.

With that haul, Buss passed Andy Petek and Mike Murphy on the all-time tackle for loss list, and now sits tied at No. 4 with Kroy Bierman with 45 career TFLs.

He also passed current safeties coach Shann Schillinger, former #37 Loren Utterback, Chad Lembke, and Sean Dorris to move up to No. 21 on the all-time tackles list with 263 on his career. He could move into the top-15 with a solid game against the Cats and potentially into the top ten with a playoff appearance.

Buss’ sack against the Vandals moved him up to No. 11 on the all-time sack leaderboard with a career total of 17.5, passing the career marks of Jace Palmer, and Dustin Dlouhy.

JERRY’S WORLD: Jerry Louie-McGee inched up the all-time pass reception yards list with a modest 15-yards at Idaho, passing Jabin Sambrano to slot in at No. 23 with 1793 career yards.

Playing in front of an essentially hometown crowd at Idaho as well, he made the 30th start of his career.

SCOUTING THE CATS: Montana State’s offense is centered around Andersen, the do-everything Swiss Army Knife of a football player that has seen time at QB, running back and linebacker in his career.

Andersen leads the Big Sky in rushing with 7.9 yards per carry, and is one of only four QBs in Big Sky history to run for over 1,000 yards in a season with a total of 1,092 in 2018.

“He’s a good athlete, and he’s a good player. We’ve got to go play, that’s what it’s about. But they’ve got 10 other guys out there too that are helping him, so we’ve just got to go play hard, and hopefully, we play well,” said Hauck.

Head coach Jeff Choate has not been shy about leaning on Andersen and company’s rushing abilities, however.

The Dillon, Mont., native has accounted for 1,841 yards of total offense, as compared to Montana’s Dalton Sneed, whose balanced attack has given him 654 yards rushing and 2369 yards passing for a total offensive output of 3023, the second-most in the Big Sky and eighth-most nationally.

Defensively, the Cats rank fourth in the league in total D, allowing just under 400 yards per game, while the Griz have allowed just over 420 yards per contest.