On the road again: Montana set to rekindle rivalry with Idaho

After snapping a three-game slide in emphatic fashion at Southern Utah, the Montana Grizzlies (5-4, 3-3 BSC) return to the road this week bolstered by momentum as they head over the Bitterroot Mountains to face their newest old rivals, the Idaho Vandals (4-5, 3-4 BSC).

For the current crop of Grizzlies, playing the Vandals might bring with it the same familiarity as playing, say, Hawaii. After all, some of them were still in diapers last time the two former bitter rivals squared off in 2003.

But that all changes this week as the “Little Brown Stein” is up for grabs once again, and one of the oldest rivalries in the West is rekindled with the return of the Vandals to the Big Sky Conference.

“When you talk to some of the older fellas that have been part of this program, this game was a huge, huge, game in these parts for a long time. So, we’re aware of that, and we’re certainly excited to play this game again,” said Montana head coach Bobby Hauck.

And as if the rivalry needed more storylines, both teams enter Saturday’s clash coming off big wins and looking to finish the season on a high note as they both make a final push for a long shot at a postseason bid and look to capture bragging rights until 2019 when Idaho returns to Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

THE GAME: Montana enters the game coming off a 57-14 dismantling of the defending Big Sky champion Southern Utah Thunderbirds last week, snapping a three-game slide and stocking the coffers with confidence headed to Moscow.

“We’re a young team getting better,” said Hauck. “Certainly, it was good to go on the road and win convincingly like that. We played pretty well in all three facets of the game.”

The Vandals are also playing some of their best football of the season, remaining undefeated inside the Kibbie Dome (16,000) this season with a wild 31-27 upset over the North Dakota Fighting Hawks.

“They’re real sound in everything they do, so you can tell they’re well coached. Both sides of the ball and in the special team area they do everything right. They play well in terms of execution at home, they’ve been better there,” said Hauck.

“I can tell they’re coached tough, and they’re a tough football team. It starts up front for good football teams, and they’re good on both sides of the ball up front.”

Kickoff from Moscow is set for 4:40 p.m. (MT), 3:40 p.m. (PT).

THE LITTLE BROWN STEIN: Since 1938, the winner of the Montana/Idaho rivalry game has taken home the “Little Brown Stein” a wooden traveling trophy that was created by UM’s John T. Campbell that year.

The Grizzlies have held the Stein since 2000, with four-straight wins over the Vandals, each coming while Idaho was an FBS program (Idaho moved up to FBS/D1-A in 1996, and return to the FCS in 2018). The Griz and Vandals last played for the Stein in 2003, a 41-28 win for UM in Missoula.

SERIES HISTORY: Saturday’s game marks the 85th meeting between the two schools, with Idaho leading the all-time series 27-55-2, dating back to the first meeting in 1903.

In the past 30 years, the Grizzlies have won nine of 14 meetings between the two rivals dating back to 1988, and have won eight of the last 10 meetings.

Montana is 15-25 at home against Idaho, but just 11-29-2 in Moscow. Since it opened in 1975, the Griz are 4-10 inside the Kibbie Dome.

LAST MEETING: In 2003 (Bobby Hauck‘s first season as head coach at UM), the Grizzlies defeated the Vandals 41-28 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium to pick up a win over the, then, FBS foe and retain the Little Brown Stein for the fourth-straight year.

Montana entered the game suffering a rash of injuries at quarterback, so Hauck and the Griz decided to mix it up.

Starting freshman quarterback (and current Flathead High School head coach) Kyle Samson for the first time in his career, the Griz came out and attacked the Vandals with a triple-option attack – an entirely new playbook for the week, intended to catch Idaho off guard.

Boy did it ever.

On the first play from scrimmage, Jefferson Heidelberger broke loose for an 80-yard touchdown run (still tied for the second-longest TD run in UM history), and Montana never looked back en route to the third win of Hauck’s career.

Current Grizzly running back coach Justin Green led all rushers with 122 yards and a touchdown in that game as UM ran all over Idaho with a total of 344 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

Defensively, Blake Horgan, Brent Meyers, and Jonny Varona forced three fumbles leading directly to 14 points off turnovers for the Griz.

HAUCK MILESTONES: 97 wins and 15 years since that last triple-option win over the Vandals, Hauck and the Griz will take on Idaho with the coach seeking the 101st victory of his career.

As big as 100 wins in a career and 50 wins in Big Sky play are, the real milestone for the 37th head coach of Grizzly football comes after the next win. That number: 86.

With the win at Southern Utah, Hauck picked up his 85th win as a head coach at Montana. He’s now tied with the great Don Read who had 85 wins in his storied career. One more win will now make Hauck the winningest coach of all time at the University of Montana.

WATCH: The Montana/Idaho game is the second of three-straight Griz games to be broadcast on the ROOT Sports Network as their Big Sky Game of the Week.

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

LISTEN: “Voice of the Griz” Riley Corcoran and Greg Sundberg will bring you the action live from the Kibbie Dome on the Grizzly Sports Radio Network.

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.

HAPPENINGS: The Grizzly Scholarship Association will be hosting a tailgate party for Griz fans planning to make the trek to Moscow. The GSA tailgate will be on the west side of North Kibbie Dome field and will open at 1:30 p.m. local time. Look for the Griz flag flying proudly.

GO GRIZ SOCCER: The University of Montana soccer team defied the odds to win a Big Sky Championship over the weekend and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. The Griz will face Washington State in Pullman (just eight miles from Moscow) in the opening round of the tourney on Friday, Nov. 9, at 7 p.m. (PT).

GRIZ TRACKS

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Montana is 2-2 on the road this season following last week’s win at SUU. A win at Idaho could give the Grizzlies their first winning season in road games in the last five years, with the last winning season on the road coming in 2013 (5-1).

FLOWERS POWER: Freshman returner Malik Flowers was about a fingernail away from breaking loose for a kick return touchdown against Southern Utah, instead settling for one return that went for 35 yards.

That return was his first since the Portland State game, with both North Dakota and UC Davis avoiding kicking to him at all costs. Despite the starvation of the ball, Flowers remains the No. 1 kick returner in the Big Sky, and No. 13 nationally with an average of 27.4 yards per return (19 returns for 520 yards).

LOCAL RIVALRY: Montana has four players on the roster who hail from the Gem State, making Saturday’s rivalry game against Idaho that much more intense. While Josh Buss and Esai Longoria come from southern Idaho in the Boise area, two other Griz are from right down the road.

Record-setting receiver Jerry Louie-McGee hails from Coeur d’ Alene, just 84 miles north of the Kibbie Dome, and is originally from Worley, even closer to UI at 57 miles. Senior D-end Reggie Tilleman essentially grew up right around the corner in Genesee, Idaho, 16 miles south of the Kibbie Dome.

TOUCHDOWN SAM: Sophomore receiver Samuel Akem continues to emerge as one of the most prolific receivers in the nation, and is on pace to make an early entrance into the UM record books.

“Sammy” caught two more touchdowns against SUU, the fourth time this season he’s hauled in a pair of scores in a game, and the third straight game he’s caught two TDs.

Akem not only leads the team in receiving yards (602 yards) but leads the Big Sky conference in touchdown catches with 10 this season, ranking him at No. 8 in the nation.

With 12 TD catches on his career, the Broken Arrow, Okla., native needs just one more to enter UM’s single-season TD list (led by Joe Douglass’ 18 in 1996), and UM’s career touchdown top-25 list (led by Marc Mariani’s 29 TDs, ’06-’09)

THE NEED FOR SNEED: Junior quarterback Dalton Sneed was superb at SUU, throwing for a career-high 323 yards and five touchdowns of 21 completions against the T-Birds while adding 52 more yards with his feet.

The last time a Grizzly threw five touchdowns in a game? Jordan Johnson at North Dakota in 2013.

EGBO: Making his first career start, cornerback Josh Egbo made an impact at SUU with a career-high four tackles.

RECORD WATCH

CURRAN MOVES UP: With two touchdown catches and a game-high 91 yards receiving at SUU, senior Keenan Curranmoved up UM’s all-time rankings. He moved to No. 19 on UM’s career receiving yards list with 1,897 yards, passing Travis Walker (1,868) and Brian Salonen (1,882).

Curran also improved to 20 career touchdown receptions, now tied at #10 all-time with Jeremy Watkins, and passing Hall of Famer Matt Wells and Jabin Sambrano (19).

JERRY’S WORLD: Jerry Louie-McGee bounced back from a recent slump with five catches for 81 yards and a TD at SUU. “Mr. Electricity” was back to his usual, dynamic self and has inched closer to becoming UM’s all-time leader in pass receptions.

Louie-McGee now sits at No. 6 on the career reception list with 171 catches, passing Jeremy Watkins and Scott Gurnsey. He needs 22 more catches to become UM’s all-time leader, and break Raul Pacheco’s record of 192 (95-98).

BUSS’ STOPS: Josh Buss is now tied at No. 22 with Grizzly safety coach Shann Shillinger on UM’s career tackle list with 257 stops. He is now also tied at No. 6 with Andy Petek on UM’s all-time TFL leader list with 45.

DANTE’S INFERNO: The nation’s leading tackler, Dante Olson, continues his march to become the single-season record holder for tackles at UM. Olson had a relatively quiet game at SUU with four tackles, and now has 123 so far this season, needing eight more in two games to break the school record (130 – Kendrick Van Ackeren – 2015)

SCOUTING THE VANDALS

The Vandals picked up their first win over a ranked opponent at their own level of play last week, defeating AFCA Coaches’ Poll No. 25 North Dakota to remain perfect at home this season. The last time UI defeated a ranked opponent was when they were an FBS team and defeated FCS Cal Poly in 2007. The last time UI beat a ranked team at their own level was 1995.

Mason Petrino hit Jeff Cotton with 27 seconds to play to give the Vandals the win over UND. Idaho scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, including a blocked punt for a touchdown in the upset.

With 2,032 rushing yards in his career, Isiah Saunders sits at No. 12 on UIs all-time rushers list. He’s currently ranked as the No. 7 rusher in the Big Sky this season, averaging 83.9 yards per game.

Idaho is ranked first in the Big Sky and second nationally in net punting. Punter Cade Coffey is averaging 45 yards per punt, the second-best mark in the FCS, while UI averages a net of 40.14 yards per punt.

UI has scored four special teams TDs this season and blocked four kicks.

While Montana suffered a rash of turnovers during its three-game road slide, Idaho has experienced its own bout with holding onto the ball.

The Vandals have the worst turnover margin in the Big Sky, and one of the worst in the FCS ranked 122nd out of 124 teams with a -11 margin. Idaho has lost nine fumbles and given up eight interceptions so far this season.

UP NEXT: Montana returns home for the 118th edition of the Brawl of the Wild, hosting in-state rival Montana State. The Grizzlies hold a 72-39-5 all-time lead over the Bobcats over the course of the storied rivalry. In Missoula, the Griz hold a commanding 31-16-1 lead, and since its opening in 1986, UM leads the series over MSU in Washington-Grizzly Stadium 13-3.

The Griz and Cats enter the penultimate week of the season with the same 5-4 (3-3 BSC) record, sitting on the outside of the postseason race looking in with four losses each.  Montana heads to face the Idaho Vandals, while MSU hosts two-win Northern Colorado in Bozeman on week 11.

Tickets for the annual Brawl of the Wild are officially SOLD OUT to the general public.
University of Montana student tickets for the Griz/Cat game will be available to claim starting Thursday, Nov. 8 at 7 a.m.

Fans can also gather to watch the annual Griz/Cat game at one of over 85 watch parties, held in cities coast to coast and some locations overseas as well, coordinated by the University of Montana Office of Alumni Relations. A complete list of locations can be found at GoGriz.com.