Both the Bobcats and the Grizzlies come limping into the 116th edition of the fiercest rivalry in the West for the first time in recent memory.
Montana State enters Saturday’s showdown fresh off its first Big Sky Conference victory. But Jeff Choate’s first season at the helm has been a disappointing one as the once proud— MSU qualified for the FCS playoffs four times in five seasons before last season — has fallen swiftly. MSU is gunning for its fourth win this season, including just its second in league.
Montana enters the rivalry game searching for its fourth straight win over the rival ‘Cats. UM has lost three of four however, dropping road games at Northern Arizona, Eastern Washington and last week at Northern Colorado to sew up a 0-4 record in league play away from Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The Griz are 3-4 in conference contests, 6-4 overall. A 7-4 Montana team might receive a bid to the FCS playoffs but a loss to MSU at home will surely keep the Griz on the outside looking in.
As always, this year’s game features a collection of players from around the Treasure State. Montana State’s roster features 52 in-state players while Montana’s features 27 natives. Montana State has seen 17 in-state products start at one time or another while UM’s starting lineup has featured nine players from Montana at various times this season.
Billings is the most represented city with 11 players, including six for the Bobcats, playing in the game. Kalispell is next with nine representatives, five for the ‘Cats, four for the Griz. Bozeman and Missoula each have seven players in the game, with three Bozeman players suiting up for the Griz and four Missoula players suiting up for the Bobcats. Helena has five players in the game while Great Falls has four, the same number as Dillon. All four Dillon products play for MSU. Three players from Colstrip, all for MSU, will play in the game.
Other towns with multiple representatives on the rosters include Whitefish (2), Butte (2) Belgrade (2), Boulder (2), Corvallis (2), Huntley Project (2) and Conrad (2). Culbertson, Stevensville, Columbia Falls, Troy, Park City, Lewistown, Drummond, Glendive, Choteau, Malta, Utica, Ennis, Bigfork, Townsend and Clancy all have at least one representative on the respective rosters.
Here’s a look at all 79 players on the Montana State and Montana rosters headed into the 116th Cat-Griz showdown in Missoula on Saturday.
Chad Newell, running back, senior, Billings — Newell has rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 31 touchdowns in his decorated career. The Billings Senior product is a two-time team captain and an All-Big Sky section as a running back and on special teams. He is second all-time to Cody Kirk in school history in touchdowns. He is still searching for his first win over Montana.
Grant Collins, Buck end, sophomore, Bozeman — Collins, the 2013 Class AA Defensive MVP, chose his hometown Bobcats over the Grizzlies despite going on a recruiting visit to Missoula and liking it.
Collins broke into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman and showed flashes last fall. As MSU’s starting middle linebacker, he piled up 88 tackles and five tackles for loss. In the off-season, MSU moved the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder to “Buck” end in an effort to maximize his playmaking ability. He played his best game in last week’s 27-13 win over UC Davis, notching 2.5 tackles for loss, doubling his season total in one outing.
Mac Bignell, outside linebacker, junior, Drummond — The son of MSU Hall of Fame tight end Joe Bignell is just the latest in a long line of Bignells to play in the Cat-Griz game.
Mac’s older brother, Nate, was a senior defensive tackle last season. Their oldest brother, Parker, also played for the Bobcats before giving up football to rodeo full time. Clay and Brian Bignell, Mac’s cousins, were starters for the Bobcats during a run to three straight Big Sky championships between 2010 and 2012.
This season, Mac is again Montana State’s star on defense. He has 91 tackles, including 13.5 tackles for loss for the league’s second-leading scoring defense.
Gunnar Brekke, running back, senior, Helena — The former Gatorade Player of the Year from Helena Capital originally committed to Montana before flipping just months before National Signing Day in 2013.
Brekke has played consistently throughout his four years in Bozeman, but he has shared carries with Newell, Shawn Johnson, Anthony Knight, former quarterback Dakota Prukop and now current quarterback Chris Murray (731 rushing yards, 10 TDs). Brekke has 2,908 all-purpose yards in his career, 59 shy of Demetrius Crawford for 10th on MSU’s all-time list. His 308 all-purpose yards in a 59-56 win over Sacramento State in 2014 were the second-most ever by a Bobcat. He earned All-Big Sky honors as a kick returner that year as MSU made the playoffs.
This season, he has rushed for 378 yards (4.8 per carry) and a touchdown while catching 17 passes for 101 yards and another score. In his career, Brekke has 235 carries for 1,173 yards (5.1 per carry) and 63 catches for 676 yards (10.7 yards per catch. He’s scored 11 total touchdowns.
Caleb Kidder, defensive end, senior, Helena — Kidder played as a true freshman after earning Gatorade Player of the Year honors at Helena Capital the year before Brekke. He struggled with injuries the next two years, taking his redshirt in 2014.
He returned last season to dominate the league. He earned first-team All-Big Sky honors at defensive tackle, piling up 82 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Kidder trimmed down to 259 pounds and moved to defensive end in the off-season. He was voted the preseason Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year before the season and named a preseason All-America despite the position switch.
Kidder enters his final Cat-Griz game with 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks this season, bringing his career totals to 27.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks for his career.
Brady Gustafson, quarterback, senior, Billings — When Gustafon has been healthy and locked in, he has been one of the best quarterbacks in the country. But that has been for only about a dozen games over the last two years.
Gustafson threw for 434 yards and three touchdowns in his first start last season, kicking the Bob Stitt era off with a bang as Montana took down North Dakota State 38-35 in Missoula. Gustafson was up and down from there, throwing four touchdowns in a 54-35 win over rival Montana State and leading UM to a 24-17 win over South Dakota State in the first round of the playoffs. But Gustafson struggled mightily in a rematch with NDSU, throwing four interceptions in a 37-6 loss in Fargo.
This season, the Billings West product has completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,593 yards, 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions through eight games. But he’s missed the last two weeks with an injury. Chad Chalich threw seven touchdowns and rushed for an eighth in a 62-44 win over Idaho State. Gustafson will be a game-time decision on Saturday.
Ben Weyer, center, senior, Bozeman — The Bozeman High product had a standout year as a starting guard for the 2014 Grizzlies. Since then, his career has been trademarked by devastating knee injuries.
Weyer torn his ACL in spring drills and missed all of last season. He returned and started in UM’s opener against Saint Francis but left the game in the third quarter with the same injury. Still, he’s been a solid spokesman for the program and a leader among his teammates despite rarely getting on the field the last two years.
Dylan Mahoney, offensive tackle, junior, Great Falls — Mahoney served as Montana State’s sixth man on the offensive line, playing significant snaps at both right guard and right tackle as a sophomore.
In the off-season, the Great Falls CMR product shifted back to the blind side. He took over for four-year starter John Weidenaar, an in-state product who made 49 straight starts, at left tackle. Mahoney has been a key cog to an MSU team rushing for 196.4 yards per game but he missed four straight starts.
Austin Barth, tight end, senior, Columbia Falls — The converted quarterback moved to tight end during the spring of his redshirt year. His first three years playing the position, he backed up the Big Sky’s first-team all-league tight end — Tiai Salanoa in 2013 and 2014 and Beau Sandland last season.
This season, Barth has battled a slew of minor injuries but has not missed a start. He has nine catches for 104 yards.
Brayden Konkol, strong safety, redshirt freshman, Belgrade — The local product moved to Sam linebacker for about a week during fall camp because Choate liked his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame. Because of attrition, he moved back to the secondary and played primarily on special teams.
Against Southern Utah, Konkol made his first start. This season, he has 14 tackles and a tackle for loss.
Gabe Peppenger, kicker, freshman, Missoula Sentinel — Peppenger has been Montana State’s most consistent offensive player this season all things considered after walking on to the Bobcats out of Missoula Sentinel.
The true freshman has hit all six of his field goal attempts of less than 40 yards and 8-of-10 overall. He’s also made all 22 of his extra points.
Monte Folsom, offensive guard, junior, Dillon — Folsom was the Class A Defensive Player of the Year at Dillon as an inside linebacker before going on a two-year LDS mission. He returned to MSU in 2013 and played defensive line for a few years.
In the spring of 2015, the 6-foot-3, 305-pounder moved to offensive guard. He earned his first start last season in a win over Idaho State, holding his own against future NFL defensive tackle Tyler Kuder. He’s started nine games at right guard this season, missing MSU’s conference opening 17-15 loss to North Dakota.
Josh Hill, linebacker, redshirt freshman, Kalispell — The 2014 Class AA Defensive Player of the Year out of Glacier High has been a revelation this season after stepping into a spot opened up by an injury to junior Blake Braun.
The 6-foot, 215-pounder has 46 tackles (fourth on MSU) including two tackles floor loss. He has an interception and a pass breakup from MSU’s Will linebacker position.
Mitch Brott, offensive tackle, redshirt freshman, Billings — The 6-foot-5, 285-pounder practiced with the varsity and would’ve been the next man up if an injury occurred.
The Billings West product managed to keep his redshirt. He won the starting right tackle job out of camp and started MSU’s first four games at the spot. When Mahoney went down, Brott shifted to left tackle and made four starts there. He returned to the right side in MSU’s 27-13 win over UC Davis last week.
John D’Agostino, wide receiver, sophomore, Bozeman — The former walk-on earned a scholarship in the off-season and a starting job.
D’Agostino started six games, catching 19 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns before a knee injury suffered in practice ended his season.
Tucker Yates, defensive tackle, sophomore, Colstrip — In his second season as a starter, the former Class A state wrestling champion was an anchor in the middle of MSU’s defensive line before going down with an injury. The 6-foot, 305-pounder had 12 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, from his nose guard position.
He suffered shoulder injury against Northern Arizona, missing starts against Weber State and Eastern Washington before returning on a part-time basis the last two weeks.
Matt Brownlow, defensive tackle, senior, Missoula — The former tryout walk-on from Missoula Sentinel has long been one of the most popular Bobcats. During his final season, the 5-foot-9, 305-pounder’s production has caught up with his personality.
Brownlow has made four starts since Yates went down with a shoulder injury. He has 20 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack.
Derek Marks, defensive end, freshman, Belgrade — The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder has overcome his lack of size by playing with a good football IQ.
The unlikeliest of true freshmen to play, Marks has carved out a niche and split reps with Marcus Ferriter thanks in part to a slew of injuries that cost Devin Jeffries, Tyrone Fa’anono and Robert Wilcox. Marks has 10 tackles and a tackle for loss this season.
Marcus Ferriter, defensive end, redshirt freshman, Butte — The 2014 Class A Defensive Player of the Year walked on to Montana State and packed on weight.
Now the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder has the physical maturity to battle on the defensive line. He has started five games, notching 19 tackles, four tackles for loss and a sack.
Jered Padmos, punter, freshman, Boulder — Peppenger and Padmos have given the Bobcats a pair of true freshman specialists who have managed to pick up the slack for injured and suspended All-Big Sky junior Luke Daly. Padmos has been a pleasant surprise, averaging 40 yards per punt on 52, kicking four more than 50 yards, pinning opponents inside the 20 nine times and forcing 17 fair catches.
Josh Horner, wide receiver, junior, Great Falls — The former Great Falls CMR quarterback played tight end upon first returning to the program in 2014 after a year away. When the position as cut, he moved to the H-receiver spot in Bob Stitt’s spread offense.
Last season, Horner caught 22 passes for 294 yards and a touchdown. He had a career-high six catches for 80 yards to boost UM to the 24-17 win over South Dakota State in the first round of the playoffs.
In eight starts this season, Horner caught 22 passes for 241 yards and four touchdowns before suffering a torn MCL, an injury that sidelined him for the season.
Colin Bingham, wide receiver, redshirt freshman, Missoula — The son of Griz Hall of Fame offensive lineman Guy Bingham earned first-team Class AA all-state honors at Missoula Big Sky. But he came to UM with an unknown position.
During his redshirt year, he learned the nuances of playing the H receiver spot and has been able to contribute in his first year in the rotation. In 10 games this season, including two starts, Bingham has 23 catches for 261 yards and three touchdowns.
Tucker Schye, defensive end, junior, Malta — The only Malta player in the game is not technically a starter but the converted inside linebacker rotates prevalently with Kidder and senior Ryan Johnson as UM brings pass rushers at opponents in waves.
In 10 games this season, Schye has 27 tackles, including seven tackles for loss and a sack. He’s also broken up three passes.
Zach Peevey, defensive tackle, senior, Missoula — The Hellgate product has battled injuries throughout his last season but his gregarious personality and his leadership have made up for his lack of production.
In seven games this season, Peevey has made his share of plays, notching four tackles for loss among his 15 tackles and sharing a sack.
Jesse Sims, defensive tackle, redshirt freshman, Stevensville — The former defensive end was once committed to Oregon State as a tight end. After using his redshirt season to add mass — he’s up to 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds — he moved to the inside.
One of Montana’s strongest players, Sims has notched 23 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack this season.
Eric Williams, kicks/punts, sophomore, Missoula — The Loyola product is averaging 41 yards per punt on 43 boots with a long of 57 yards. He has two touchbacks, has forced 15 fair catches and has pinned UM’s opponents in side the 20 four times.
Caleb Gillis, offensive line, junior, Dillon — Gillis is MSU’s seventh man, a player who can play both guard spots and right tackle. Technically from Glenn, Montana, Gillis prepped at Beaverhead County High with the Folsom brothers.
Connor Sullivan, tight end, sophomore, Ennis — The converted wide receiver is up to 250 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame and has provided a reliable pass catching option this season. The former eight-man star has six catches for 152 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown against Eastern Washington.
Tre’von Strong, cornerback, sophomore, Billings — A starter for eight games as a true freshman, the Billings Skyview product has fallen by the wayside as of late. He has an interception in MSU’s 20-17 loss at Idaho to open the season. But he was replaced in the starting lineup first by Chris Harris, then by Naijiel Hale and last week by Bryce Alley. Strong has not played a single snap in those games. He has 13 tackles and a pass breakup this season.
Ben Folsom, safety, redshirt freshman, Dillon — Folsom finished fall camp as MSU’s third quarterback behind Murray and junior Tyler Bruggman. He saw his only action in a 55-0 win over Western Oregon, completing 2-of-3 passes for nine yards. During MSU’s bye the last week of October, he moved to safety. He has three special teams tackles over the last two games.
Karl Tucker II, wide receiver, freshman, Great Falls — The CMR standout has been a special teams contributor during his true freshman season. He has played in nine games and has two tackles. He also has one catch for one yard.
Brady McChesney, quarterback, redshirt freshman, Kalispell — MSU’s scout team quarterback for the second straight season has also been the red hat from the sideline, helping call the plays. He was the 2014 Class AA Offensive MVP at Glacier.
Noah James, running back, sophomore, Kalispell — James has played in six games, mostly on special teams. He has two carries for two yards. The Kalsipell Glacier product also has a special teams tackle.
Logan Jones, running back, sophomore, Kalispell — Jones had a career-long 65-yard reception against Sacramento State and has six carries for 39 yards and a touchdown this season. The All-Big Sky kick returner as a true freshman in 2015 has also averaged 25.1 yards on 10 kick returns this fall.
Walker Cozzie, linebacker, redshirt freshman, Helena — The Capital product has played in six games on special teams, notching one solo tackle.
Koni Dole, linebacker, sophomore, Huntley Project — Dole’s story is well chronicled — he suffered a compound fracture that resulted in the amputation of his leg before he walked on to the Bobcats wearing a Cheetah Blade prosthetic. Three years into his Bobcat career, Dole has struggled to find the field. He has not played in any games this season.
Wilson Brott, offensive tackle, sophomore, Billings — Brott played quarterback at Billings West and played tight end his first two seasons at MSU. In the off-season, Choate moved Brott to left tackle where he backs up Mahoney. The 6-foot-5 former hoops standout is up to 265 pounds.
Josh Sandry, safety, redshirt freshman, Bigfork — Sandry started for the first three games of the season while Yamen Sanders battled an ankle injury. In nine games, he has 27 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup.
Mick Delaney, safety, junior, Bozeman — The grandson of former Montana head coach Mick Delaney has played in eight games, primarily on special teams, and has five tackles.
Shayne Cochran, linebacker, sophomore, Culbertson — The former Class C standout has played in seven games, notching seven tackles and a sack this season in a reserve role.
Evan Epperly, safety, sophomore, Kalispell — The former Class AA Offensive MVP from Glacier has transitioned to defense smoothly and has been a special teams standout for the Griz. He has six tackles and a tackle for loss in 10 games.
Brandon Purdy, kicks/punts, redshirt freshman, Kalispell — Starting place kicker Tim Semenza has missed nine extra points this season, prompting Stitt to go with Purdy for stretches. He has converted 10-of-11 PATs and 1-of-2 field goals this fall.
Ty Robbie, safety, redshirt freshman, Park City
Balue Chapman, linebacker, freshman, Bozeman
Will Martel, safety, freshman, Bozeman
Nick Van Horssen, running back, freshman, Helena
Dylan Stenseth, fullback, sophomore, Lewistown
Blake Sylvester, linebacker, sophomore, Corvallis
Luke Daly, kicker, junior, Billings
Jacob Hadley, safety, freshman, Billings
Chase Benson, defensive line, freshman, Helena
Kyle Finch, defensive end, freshman, Billings
Jake Sessions, offensive line, freshman, Colstrip
Lane Knows His Gun, offensive line, freshman, Colstrip
Kyle Murack, offensive line, freshman, Conrad
Luke Channer, offensive line, freshman, Corvallis
Jarrod Asche, offensive line, freshman, Glendive
Denver Krone, offensive line, freshman, Choteau
Colin Hammock, offensive line, redshirt freshman, Missoula
Kash Perry, offensive line, freshman, Utica
Dalton Daum, wide receiver, freshman, Butte
Hunter Mahlum, wide receiver, sophomore, Missoula
Clark Judisch, tight end, freshman, Conrad
Michael Jobman, defensive end, freshman, Huntley Project
Holden Ryan, linebacker, redshirt freshman, Billings
Devin Maua, defensive line, freshman, Billings
Nate Bradley, defensive line, junior, Billings
Trase Le Texier, linebacker, freshman, Boulder
Trace Bradshaw, defensive line, freshman, Bozeman
Cole Rosling, defensive end, freshman, Helena
Andrew Harris, defensive end, redshirt freshman, Kalispell
Jace Lewis, linebacker, freshman, Townsend
Jed Nagler, wide receiver, sophomore, Whitefish
Alex Thomas, linebacker, sophomore, Great Falls
Gage Smith, linebacker, sophomore, Whitefish
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.