The 118th rendition of one of college football’s fiercest rivalries could be a defacto playoff game depending on how the rest of the FCS performs in the final week of the regular season.
After each experiencing rough October slates, Montana and Montana State have each won twice in November to enter Saturday’s rivalry showdown in Missoula with identical records. Montana is 4-3 in Big Sky Conference play and 6-4 overall after winning consecutive road games against Southern Utah and Idaho. Montana State is also 4-3 in league, 6-4 overall after a pair of home victories over Cal Poly and Northern Colorado.
The winner of Saturday’s game could snap a playoff drought if the chips fall in an advantageous fashion around the conference and the Football Championship Subdivision.
Montana has not made the playoffs since 2015. The Griz will gun for their 22nd playoff bid since 1993 while trying to beat the Bobcats for the 73rd time.
“I’m not fit to be around the week of this game,” said Montana head coach Bobby Hauck, who went 5-2 against the Bobcats during his first stint at his alma mater between 2003 and 2009. “I have a love-hate relationship with this game. I love winning it and I detest losing it.”
MSU is gunning for its first three-game winning streak over Montana since 1983, 1984 and 1985. In 1986, Montana won for the first of 16 times. Since Montana State broke “The Streak” with a 10-7 win in Missoula in 2002, Montana has claimed the Great Divide Trophy nine times and the Bobcats have claimed it seven.
“Our guys know exactly what this game is all about and how important this game is to the people in Montana and the people at this university,” said MSU head coach Jeff Choate, who is 2-0 against the Griz.
As is the case every year, this year’s contest features a collection of players from around the Treasure State. Montana State’s roster features 45 in-state players, down from 46 in last season’s game. Montana’s roster has 42 Treasure State products if you include Hauck’s son, Robby, who lists his hometown as Missoula on UM’s roster despite attending high school in San Diego. The Griz had 29 Montana natives in last year’s game.
Montana State has seen 16 in-state products start at one time or another while UM’s starting lineup has featured 12 in-state starters.
Missoula is Montana’s most represented city with 15 players suiting up, including 10 who stayed home to play for the Griz. Kalispell is next with 13 players, including eight for the Griz. All 13 players went to Glacier High. Billings is the third city with double-digit representations with seven Bobcats and four Grizzlies hailing from the Magic City.
Helena has eight natives playing in this year’s Cat-Griz game, including five Capital High alums who play for Montana. Two from Helena High are among the three playing at MSU. Bozeman High has seven players in the game, all seven playing for the hometown Bobcats. Butte has three players in the game, including two players in their first seasons at Montana. Just two players from Great Falls, both Charles M. Russell High alums, will suit up, both for the Griz.
Of players from Montana’s small towns, Dillon leads the way with three players, all Bobcats, competing in Missoula on Saturday. Colstrip, Whitefish, Boulder, Belgrade, Huntley Project and Polson all have two but only Whitefish and Boulder have a player competing on each side.
Augusta, Bigfork, Conrad, Culbertson, Ennis, Eureka, Glendive, Sidney, Stevensville, Sunburst, Townsend and Valier all have representation.
Here’s a look the 45 Montana products on the MSU roster headed into the 118th rendition of the fierce rivalry in Missoula on Saturday afternoon.
Troy Andersen, quarterback, sophomore, Dillon — Despite spending the spring developing as a linebacker after a freshman season that saw him star as a running back and edge defensive player, Andersen is among the leading candidates for Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year honors.
The former quarterback and champion sprinter at Beaverhead County High plays his current position one of the most unorthodox styles you will find. He is 6-3 as a starter despite throwing for just 75 yards per game. He has thrown two touchdowns and six interceptions.
But the designed runs out of the shotgun that MSU calls about 10 times a game have paid huge dividends. Andersen is averaging 7.9 yards per rush and 109.2 yards per game, including 125 yards per game from the quarterback position during conference play.
He has scored six touchdowns of at least 49 yards, five additional touchdowns of at least 34 yards and a total of 13 touchdowns of more than 24 yards. When the darting, powerful 6-foot-3, 230-pounder gets in the open field, he can bowl over and through tacklers. When he sees open space, he’s almost always taking the opportunity to the house.
Andersen is one of just four quarterbacks in league history to rush for more than 1,000 yards. He has 1,092 yards and has scored 16 touchdowns, the top total in the league.
Tucker Yates, nose tackle, senior, Colstrip — The former multiple-time state champion wrestler came to Montana State as a partial scholarship player. The 6-foot, 290-pounder will finish his career with his 33rd regular-season start on Saturday.
The preseason All-Big Sky selection seems to be closing in on fulfilling that accolade in the postseason. He has 7.5 tackles for loss among his 38 tackles. His knockoff and brute strength on the inside of the defensive line makes MSU’s front four one of the best units in the Big Sky Conference.
Mitch Brott, offensive tackle, junior, Billings — The former half-scholarship player from Billings West hasn’t missed a beat in his first year as MSU’s starting left tackle. He started at both right and left tackle as a redshirt freshman, then started 11 games at right tackle last season. The 6-foot-5, 295-pounder will make his 11th straight start at left tackle on Saturday in Missoula.
Grant Collins, inside linebacker, senior, Bozeman — With two-year starter Josh Hill on the shelf for the year after off-season back surgery, Collins has had to carry the load in an otherwise inexperienced linebacker unit.
The former Class AA Defensive MVP has endured a spat of shoulder injuries that have forced him to have four different shoulder surgeries. Yet Saturday will mark his 37th career start, including his 24th start at Mike linebacker. He also started 13 games at Buck end during his sophomore and the beginning part of his junior season.
The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder is second on the Bobcats and 20th in the Big Sky this season with 60 tackles, including three tackles for loss. Choate often refers to Collins’ ability to “puncture the line of scrimmage”, which helps him perform particularly well against power run teams.
During a four-game run against four of the Big Sky’s most effective rushing attacks— Idaho, Weber State, Idaho State and triple option Cal Poly — Collins had 10, 11, 13 and 10 tackles, respectively.
Brayden Konkol, safety, junior, Belgrade — Konkol has shown his impressive versatility over the last three seasons. His breakout game came in his second career start in Missoula in the season-finale for the 2016 season. That afternoon, the safety spied electric Montana slot receiver Jerry Louie-McGee, tackling the shifty speedster for a loss on two separate occasions in MSU’s 24-17 victory.
Last season, Konkol notched 82 tackles while playing Will linebacker as a sophomore. This season, he has made eight starts at strong safety and two more at Sam linebacker. The 6-foot-2, 218-pounder leads the Bobcats with 71 tackles, the 13th-best total in the league. He has a team-high 45 solo tackles, along with two tackles for loss, a sack, an interception and two fumble recoveries.
Derek Marks, defensive end, junior, Belgrade — Marks has not technically started a game this season. But he is playing 40-plus snaps a game, lining up all along MSU’s defensive front.
The two-year starter has had to take a non-starter role because of the addition of Washington transfer Bryce Sterk, a 6-foot-5, 255-pounder who’s second in the Big Sky with 13 tackles. Marks has come in to spell Sterk, senior end Tyrone Fa’anono, senior defensive tackle Zach Wright and has played both inside and outside in MSU’s third down packages.
This season, the 6-foot-2, 250-pounder has 26 tackles, 18 solo tackles 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He’s also broken up two passes at the line of scrimmage.
Conner Sullivan, tight end, senior, Ennis — MSU has often employed two and three tight end sets this season, putting Sullivan along with fellow seniors Curtis Amos and Wilson Brott in motion, trading them with each other and deceiving the defense before the snap, a huge factor in Andersen’s big-time production.
Sullivan has been the best pass catcher of the group. The former wide receiver is third on the team with 15 catches for 141 yards.
Logan Jones, running back, senior, Kalispell — The former Class AA state champion at Glacier on the same team as Hill, Jones played right away as a true freshman in 2015. Before this season began, he tore an abductor in his abdomen, an injury that cost him the first seven games.
Because Jones did not return until the final month of the season, he has been playing with borrowed eligibility. He will return next season because players are still allowed a redshirt if they play in four or less games.
Jones has scored receiving touchdowns in consecutive weeks. He has 18 touches total and 112 yards from scrimmage in three games.
Michael Jobman, middle linebacker, sophomore, Huntley Project — Jobman spent last season as a reserve Buck end that played 15-20 snaps a game in certain packages. He switched to inside linebacker before the spring.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder started MSU’s first two games at Mike linebacker and the next two at Will linebacker. He reentered the starting lineup at Will three weeks ago, bringing his string of starts to seven.
Choate called Jobman’s seven-tackle performance against Idaho State probably his best performance as a Bobcat. Playing next to Collins, Jobman has 21 tackles, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble over the last three weeks.
Lance McCutcheon, wide receiver, sophomore, Bozeman — The local product basically just ran streaks in certain situations last season as a true freshman.
This season, the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder has been more involved although MSU’s passing game has been largely irrelevant. He ahs 13 catches for 177 yards and one of MSU’s seven receiving touchdowns this season.
Jered Padmos, punter, junior, Boulder — MSU leads the league in net punting for the third straight year thanks to Padmos’ rugby punting, a style that basically negates all returns.
In league play, Padmos has punted 32 times and opponents have returned the kicks for 54 yards, an average of 1.7 yards per return. This season, Padmos has punted 50 times for an average of 41.8 yards, the fifth-best distance average in the league.
Jacob Hadley, outside linebacker, sophomore, Billings — Hadley missed quite a few snaps during spring football after missing last season with a torn ACL suffered last spring. The Billings Central product struggled with his lateral quickness early on, then suffered a sprained AC joint in his shoulder that cost him a start. He returned to the lineup last week against Northern Colorado.
In six starts, Hadley has 16 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery this season.
Balue Chapman, outside linebacker, sophomore, Bozeman — Chapman suffered a leg injury in MSU’s opener, missed more than a month and returned to start against Idaho State. He started against Cal Poly but is not listed in the participation report against Northern Colorado last week. MSU’s official stats list him with two tackles in three games this season.
Chase Benson, defensive tackle, sophomore, Helena — One of just two Helena High players in this game and the only one who will play — safety Kaleb Winterburn is redshirting — Benson has provided quality snaps as a backup to both Wright and Yates.
This season, the 6-foot-4, 265-pounder has 18 tackles and a reputation as one of the Bobcats’ most impressive weight lifters.
Wilson Brott, tight end, senior, Billings — Mitch Brott’s older brother and one of four Billings West alums in the game caught his second career pass for a 15-yard gain last week in a 49-42 win over Cal Poly. The 6-foot-5, 265-pounder plays a power tight end position that has been effective for MSU’s power rushing attack.
Kyle Finch, defensive end, sophomore, Dillon — The 6-foot-4, 222-pounder has solidified himself enough in the rotation to get 10-15 plays a game at Buck end behind Bryce Sterk. This season, he has four tackles and half a tackle for loss.
Lane Sumner, running back, true freshman, Huntley Project — Because of massive attrition and Andersen playing quarterback instead of running back, the former Class B sprint champion rose to No. 2 on MSU’s depth chart at running back. He made his first career start against Idaho but will still be able to because he’s only appeared in three games. He has four yards on three carries this season.
Karl Tucker II, running back, junior, Great Falls CMR — In his first year at running back after spending his first two seasons at wide receiver, Tucker II has five carries for four yards and five catches for 23 yards.
Walker Cozzie, inside linebacker, junior, Helena Capital — With Collins still recovering from the shoulder injury that ended his 2017 season, Cozzie started the first three games of the year at Will linebacker. He’s gotten sporadic snaps since. The 6-foot, 215-pounder has 20 tackles and a tackle for loss this season.
Marcus Ferriter, defensive end, junior, Butte Central — A starter as a redshirt freshman, the only Butte Central Catholic alum in the game has appeared in six games and notched two tackles this season.
Colin Hammock, offensive line, senior, Missoula Sentinel — The fourth-year junior walk-on will forego his final football season as he pursues becoming a Rhodes Scholars.
Keaton Anderson, defensive back, redshirt freshman, Billings Senior — The 2016 Class AA Defensive MVP has carved out a role on MSU’s kickoff team. He has five tackles in seven games, including a forced fumble against Cal Poly
Callahan O’Reilly, inside linebacker, redshirt freshman, Bozeman — Because of the injury rash in the MSU linebacker corps, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound converted quarterback is Collins’ backup at Mike linebacker. He has two tackles this season.
Josh Hill, inside linebacker, junior, Kalispell Glacier — One of Montana State’s top defensive players had off-season back surgery and missed the entire season.
John D’Agostino, wide receiver, senior, Bozeman — D’Agostino caught two passes before suffering a season-ending injury for the third straight season.
R.J. Fitzgerald, fullback, sophomore, Dillon — After standing out on special teams as a true freshman last season, Fitzgerald has not played this year because of an undisclosed injury.
Denver Krone, offensive line, sophomore, Augusta — MSU’s backup center from last season suffered a season-ending knee injury in the off-season.
Tadan Gilman, inside linebacker, redshirt freshman, Kalispell Glacier
Jarrod Asche, offensive line, sophomore, Glendive
Jake Sessions, offensive line, sophomore, Colstrip
Peyton Hanser, wide receiver, redshirt freshman, Billings Central
Luke May, safety, sophomore, Whitefish
Ryan Davis, tight end, sophomore, Billings Skyview
Clark Judisch, tight end, sophomore, Conrad
Jacob Byrne, kicker, redshirt freshman, Missoula Loyola
Kaleb Winterburn, safety, true freshman, Helena High
Jory Choate, linebacker, true freshman, Bozeman
Nolan Askelson, linebacker, true freshman, Billings Senior
Rylan Wilcox, defensive end, true freshman, Missoula Big Sky
Jarrett Kessler, offensive line, sophomore, Kalispell Glacier
Byron Rollins, defensive line, true freshman, Missoula Sentinel
Joe McElroy, offensive line, true freshman, Missoula Loyola
Mark Estes, wide receiver, true freshman, Kalispell Glacier but from Drummond
Logan Kleinhans, wide receiver, true freshman, Bozeman
Treyton Pickering, tight end, true freshman, Sunburst