Montana State has nothing left to play for but pride while Montana’s 22nd playoff berth in 25 seasons hangs in the balance with the 117th showdown between in-state rivals looming in Bozeman on Saturday.
The Bobcats have shown admirably in a schedule that has included matchups against seven nationally ranked opponents but have rarely broken through. MSU brings a 4-6 record overall into the rivalry game, a mark that includes a 4-3 mark in Big Sky Conference competition.
The Griz have won five of six entering the contest, including blasting Northern Colorado 44-14 in their home finale last week to move to 7-3. The Griz are 5-2 in league play. UM will certainly need a victory and possibly some help on the national level to secure a playoff berth after missing the postseason last fall following a 24-17 loss in Missoula to MSU.
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 46 in-state players while Montana’s features 29 natives. Montana State has seen 14 in-state products start at one time or another while UM’s starting lineup has featured seven players, counting its punter and kicker, who have started this season.
Billings is Montana’s most represented city with 11 players suiting up, including six for the Bobcats. Kalispell is next with nine, six roam for the Bobcats and three for the Griz, all of whom prepped at Glacier High. Missoula has eight players in the game, including five for the hometown Grizzlies. Bozeman has six players in the game, all who play for the hometown Bobcats. Helena has five players in the game, three who play for the Grizzlies and four who hail from Helena Capital. If you include Montana State’s Ben Folsom from Jackson and Caleb Gillis from Glenn, both of who went to Beaverhead County High, Dillon has five players as well and all five play for the Bobcats. Great Falls and Whitefish both have three players in the contest. All three Electric City products are from C.M. Russell High.
Other towns with multiple representatives include: Bigfork (2), Boulder (2), Polson (2), Belgrade (2) and Colstrip (2). Culbertson, Sidney, Stevensville, Thompson Falls, Townsend, Butte, Conrad, Drummond, Ennis, Glendive, Huntley Project and Troy are all represented as well.
Here’s a look the 45 Montana products on the MSU roster headed into the 117th rendition of the fierce rivalry in Bozeman on Saturday afternoon.
Mac Bignell, outside linebacker, senior, Drummond — The second-generation Bobcat is the last in a long line of standout Bignells to play in this game. He is arguably the most established star who will play on Saturday from either side of the rivalry.
The former walk-on is the third and final son of MSU Hall of Fame tight end Joe Bignell to play for the Bobcats. His cousins, Clay and Brian, were also standout Bobcat football players who played key roles on MSU’s run to three straight Big Sky titles to begin this decade.
Mac Bignell has carved out a legacy all his own. He’s already Montana State’s all-time leader in career forced fumbles with nine. The Drummond product moved to linebacker in the spring of 2015 and burst onto the scene that following season with a 101-tackle, 20-tackles for loss sophomore season. He’s been one of the most instinctual, explosive linebackers in the league since then.
The Bobcat captain has 47 tackles for loss in his career, three away from breaking into MSU’s top 10 all time. He was a second-team All-Big Sky selection last season and seems to be in line for more all-conference recognition with 82 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, two sacks, a forced fumble and an interception he returned for his first career touchdown against Idaho State.
“I think of the tradition behind this game and the hatred between the two on that day,” Bignell said. “It’s a legit state divided. I know some fans like to cheer for both teams on that day but on that day, you are one or the other. There is no in between. It’s an all or nothing game. It can make or break a season.”
Dylan Mahoney, offensive tackle, senior, Great Falls — One of Montana State’s two offensive captains — senior wide receiver Mitch Herbert, who’s dad Mark played football at Montana is the other — has rounded into a steadying presence at left tackle for the Bobcat offensive line.
“This will be the last game I play, the last time I put on the uniform and the most fun game you could play,” Mahoney said on Tuesday. “It’s going to be a great memory. It’s going to be an honor to play in that game. It always is every year. I’m hoping to go out on an high note.”
Saturday will mark his 23rd start at left tackle. The CMR product inherited Montana State’s No. 55 from John Weidnenaar, a 2015 FCS All-American who made a program-record 48 straight starts at left tackle. The 6-foot-6, 280-pounder has used strong fundamentals and a high football IQ to succeed during his career.
“You have to see (the rivalry) before you can actually realize what it means to the people of Montana,” Mahoney said. “Someone from Texas or California might come up here and be like, ‘Oh, they are our rivals’ but they don’t really get it until they experienced it. That’s going to be really fun.”
Derek Marks, defensive end, sophomore, Belgrade — Last season, Marks was thrust into the starting lineup because of injuries to veterans Tyrone Fa’anono, Devin Jeffries and Shiloh LaBoy. By the second half of the season, he proved he could compete, notching a crucial sack in MSU’s 24-17 win over Montana in Missoula in the season finale for both teams.
This year, thanks to adding 25 pounds in the off-season, the 6-foot-1, 245-pounder is a physically formidable end who can use both power and finesse to get to opposing quarterbacks. His four sacks leads the Bobcats and ranks in the top 15 in the Big Sky. His 8.5 tackles for loss trails Bignell for the team lead and ranks 16th in the league.
Mitch Brott, offensive tackle, sophomore, Billings — The man MSU head coach Jeff Choate calls “Mad Mitch” when he’s at his best has shown a mean streak that has helped him continue to develop.
After starting 11 games and earning Freshman All-American honors, the 6-foot-6, 290-pounder has again been a powerful road grater as a steady Bobcat offensive line has helped MSU lead the Big Sky Conference in rushing at 242.2 yards per game. Brott will make his 22nd straight start overall on Saturday, including his 15th straight at right tackle.
Tucker Yates, defensive tackle, junior, Colstrip — The former Class B state champion in wrestling and shot put star worked in a lumber yard all summer to “slim down” to 290 pounds on his six-foot frame. He has been able to stay fully healthy for the first time in his three years as a starter, developing into one of the best pure nose tackles in the Big Sky.
The Colstrip product has 40 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and a sack and has also blocked a kick this season.
Troy Andersen, running back/linebacker, true freshman Dillon — The former Class A state champion in the 100 and 200 meters has shown that elite athleticism paired with rare diverse skills in becoming a true two-way player as a true freshman.
Because of a four-game suspension to senior running back Nick LaSane and a season-ending injury suffered by Jake Roper during fall camp, the former Dillon quarterback and safety initially started out exclusively playing running back. Andersen’s breakout performance came in a 131-yard, two-touchdown game in MSU’s 49-21 win at North Dakota.
Andersen has had other standout days out of the backfield — like an 85-yard performance in MSU’s 30-22 win over Portland State or a 75-yard day in Montana State’s 27-24 win at Northern Colorado — but because of attrition at linebacker, Andersen’s defensive snaps have steadily increased.
Last week, Andersen played the most defense he has this year. He had three tackles and a sack playing outside linebacker in MSU’s 37-36 loss at Northern Arizona. This season, he has nine tackles and that sack to go with 451 yards and three touchdowns rushing to earn a place on the Jerry Rice Award watch list.
Grant Collins, defensive end, junior, Bozeman — The local product’s improved physical stature led to improved play before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against Eastern Washington. The Buck end played in six games in his third year as a starter, notching 34 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack.
Josh Hill, inside linebacker, sophomore, Kalispell — Hill’s best game in 11 starts as a redshirt freshman last season came with an eight-tackle performance that also included a key interception in MSU’s win in Missoula. The standout day earned him Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Another stellar day will thrust the former Class AA Defensive MVP fully into stardom. Despite missing two games this season, Hill is fourth on the team with 63 total tackles, including 1.5 for loss. He has also broken up three passes and forced a fumble.
Brayden Konkol, outside linebacker/safety, sophomore, Belgrade — Because of season-ending injuries to outside linebacker Jacob Hadley during spring ball and senior inside linebacker Lukas McCarthy the weekend before the season, the starter at safety for the last month of his freshman year was moved to Will linebacker. Despite never playing the position before, the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder has performed admirably.
The Belgrade product is third on the team with 67 tackles and his two interceptions are the best on the Bobcats. Against NAU, he moved between safety and linebacker and notched eight tackles.
Jered Padmos, punter, sophomore, Boulder — Senior Luke Daly, a Billings native, beat out Padmos and Peppenger for MSU’s starting kicking and punting duties during the off-season and fall camp. But three games into the season, Daly and the Bobcats parted ways. Two players who thought they might redshirt were thrust back into starting roles.
Padmos has rapidly developed into one of the league’s most dangerous punters. He is leading the Big Sky with 42.7 yards per punt with a long of 70. He has pinned opponents inside the 20 on 12 occasions and has booted five 50-yard punts, including a long of 70.
Gabe Peppenger, kicker, sophomore, Missoula — Peppenger faced the exact situation as Padmos with Daly’s return from injury and suspension that cost him 2015, then Peppenger was thrust into a starting role for the second straight year as well with Daly’s departure.
This season, the Sentinel product has hit four of his seven field goal attempts and 26-of-27 extra points. He is averaging 59.7 yards per kickoff with 12 touchbacks.
Connor Sullivan, tight end, junior, Ennis — Montana State completed just two passes in last season’s upset win of the Griz. One was a key fourth-down pass from Chris Murray to Sullivan for a 26-yard gain inside the Grizzly 10-yard line. The Bobcats kneeled out the clock from there. The grab was one of seven by the former wide receiver in his first season playing tight end.
This season, Sullivan has five catches for 37 yards for an offense throwing for 152.4 yards per game.
Caleb Gillis, offensive guard, senior, Glenn — The Beaverhead County High product came to Montana State as a 210-pound walk-on. By his senior year, he stood 6-foot-6 and weighed 285 pounds.
Gillis started MSU’s first six games before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the second quarter of Montana State’s 31-19 loss at No. 10 Eastern Washington.
Logan Jones, running back, junior, Kalispell — Jones has changed the narrative of his career as much as any player on these Bobcats.
Entering Choate’s first fall camp, Jones was not invited to fall camp despite earning honorable mention All-Big Sky honors as a true freshman kick returner in 2015. He played sparingly behind Chad Newell, Gunnar Brekke and Nick LaSane last season.
This season, he’s been the starter for most of the season even if he doesn’t get starter touches. He has 25 carries for 98 yards and a touchdown. He also has five catches for 18 yards and one of MSU’s 16 receiving scores.
Michael Jobman, Buck end, redshirt freshman, Huntley Project — The rangy, lanky 6-foot-4, 211-pounder has started one game this season because of the season-ending injury to Grant Collins plus an injury that put Tyrone Fa’anono on the shelf for a week. The son of former Nebraska football player Randall Jobman has 15 tackles in 10 games this season.
Chase Benson, defensive tackle, redshirt freshman, Helena — The Helena High product earned recognition as one of the redshirts that developed physically the most while sitting out last season. The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder showed that increased strength by notching a sack in MSU’s season-opener at Pac 12 Washington State.
Benson has 11 tackles, two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks for a Bobcat defensive line that rotates prevalently.
Wilson Brott, tight end, junior, Billings — The former Billings West quarterback saw his odyssey come full circle when he caught a touchdown in MSU’s win at North Dakota. Mitch Brott’s older brother walked on to MSU and played tight end for two and a half seasons before switching to left tackle for last fall. In the spring, he moved back to tight end and has played a pivotal role as MSU’s power tight end in running formations. The 6-foot-5, 265-pounder has the one catch for the 12-yard score against UND this season.
Marcus Ferriter, defensive end, sophomore, Butte — A year after being thrust into the starting lineup because of injuries, the lone player from the Mining City has become more of a rotational player as a sophomore. The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder has eight tackles and half a sack in eight games of action.
Walker Cozzie, inside linebacker, sophomore, Helena — McCarthy and Hadley’s injuries also opened a door for Cozzie to break his way into the rotation. The Capital High product has 17 tackles as Hill’s backup at Mike and as a stalwart on MSU’s special teams.
Noah James, running back, junior, Kalispell — The former first-team all-state running back has carved out a role as more of a lead blocker in MSU’s triple option looks, proving critical for an offense rushing for 242 yards per game. He has earned four carries for 11 yards.
Lance McCutcheon, wide receiver, true freshman, Bozeman — The local product is averaging 61.5 yards per catch on two grabs this season, both resulting in touchdowns. He scored a 59-yard touchdown in MSU’s 31-27 loss to No. 4 South Dakota State. He hauled in a 64-yard touchdown catch on MSU’s final play of the first half to give the Bobcats a 10-9 halftime lead over No. 18 Weber State, a game that ended up a 25-17 loss.
Karl Tucker II, wide receiver, sophomore, Great Falls — After playing as a true freshman, the CMR product has been relegated to mostly a special teams role. In seven games, he has three tackles and no catches.
Ben Folson, safety, sophomore, Dillon — The biggest play of the former quarterback’s career came while covering a kick against Eastern Washignton. His forced and recovered fumble played part of a spurt that saw the Bobcats cut a 24-7 lead to 24-19 late in the fourth quarter before eventually losing 31-19.
Colin Hammock, sophomore, offensive line, Missoula — The walk-on has broken into the two-deep depth chart and traveled with the Bobcats to North Dakota and Northern Arizona. He played a series at UND for his first career action.
Brady McChesney, quarterback, sophomore, Kalispell — MSU’s backup quarterback, a former Class AA Offensive MVP, has played just one snap this season when Murray’s helmet came off, forcing him to leave the game for a snap.
R.J. Fitzgerald, running back, true freshman, Dillon — The preferred walk-on is the son of a former Grizzly but has found a home as a physical and aggressive special teams performer on Montana State’s special teams units.
Sean Opland, inside linebacker, redshirt freshman, Troy — The former Class B state track champion came to MSU as a running back. His first year after redshirting, he switched to middle linebacker and has played consistently covering kicks.
Luke May, safety, true freshman, Whitefish — May quarterbacked Whitefish to the Class A state championship in 2015 before taking his state champion javelin talent to Minnesota to throw in the Big Ten. But May missed football.
He returned to MSU this summer and spent fall camp battling with McChesney and Chris Murray for the starting quarterback position. By the waning weeks of fall camp, Choate liked his athleticism enough to move him to safety. He’s played on and off on special teams during his first year back.
Denver Krone, offensive line, redshirt freshman, Augusta — The walk-on who prepped at Class B Choteau has risen to become Alex Neale’s backup. He saw his first game action when Neale went down for a series against Idaho State earlier this year.
Will Martel, defensive back, redshirt freshman, Bozeman — The walk-on from Bozeman made his first career tackle two weeks ago against Kennesaw State.
Jake Sessions, offensive line, redshirt freshman, Colstrip — In his first year of eligibility, the 6-foot-5, 276-pound Colstrip native has moved his way onto Montana State’s travel roster.
Ryan Davis, tight end, true freshman, Billings — The Skyview product is the younger brother of former MSU offensive tackle Leo Davis and former MSU basketball player Stephen Davis. After being recruited as a linebacker, he has played tight end and mostly contributed on special teams as a true freshman.
Jacob Hadley, outside linebacker, redshirt freshman, Billings — Hadley played three games a true freshman safety last season before suffering two injuries that ended his season. He earned a redshirt. He was slated to be MSU’s starting Sam linebacker in spring before suffering a season-ending ACL tear in the Sonny Holland spring game.
Balue Chapman, outside linebacker, redshirt freshman, Bozeman — The former Montana Gatorade Player of the Year earned the No. 2 Sam linebacker spot behind Bignell. He made seven tackles in five games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.
John D’Agostino, wide receiver, junior, Bozeman — The former walk-on caught 19 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns in his first season as a starter last season, a campaign cut short six games in. He suffered a knee injury spring ball that cost him the 2017 season as well.
Jarrod Asche, offensive line, redshirt freshman, Glendive
Adam Jordt, defensive back, redshirt freshman, Bigfork
Keaton Anderson, defensive back, true freshman, Billings
Peyton Hanser, wide receiver, true freshman, Billings
Callahan O’Reilly, quarterback, true freshman, Bozeman
Clark Judisch, tight end, redshirt freshman, Conrad
Kyle Finch, defensive end, redshirt freshman, Dillon
Tadan Gilman, linebacker, true freshman, Kalispell
Jaxen Hashley, defensive end, true freshman, Kalispell
Jacob Byrne, wide receiver, true freshman, Missoula
Photos by Brooks Nuanez or noted. All Rights Reserved.