The 119th rendition of the fiercest college football rivalry in the West will feature more native Montanans playing for the Bobcats and Grizzlies and elevated rewards for the winner of the showdown.
For the first time several years, close to 100 Treasure State products will suit up for the rivalry game between Montana and Montana State. The No. 8 Bobcats feature 46 Montana products on its roster. No. 3 Montana features 48 in-state athletes.
The game also has postseason amifications for both teams for the first time 2014, the last time Montana and Montana State each qualified for the FCS Playoffs in the same season.
The Bobcats enter the game with a 8-3 record that includes a 5-2 mark in Big Sky Conference play. Win or lose, MSU will likely make a second straight playoff appearance.
The Bobcats have also won three straight games against the Griz for the first time since 1983 until 1985. Montana started “The Streak” the following season, defeating MSU 16 straight times. Since MSU won in Missoula in 2002 to end “The Streak”, Montana has captured the Great Divide Trophy nine times and Montana State has won eight rivalry contests.
The recent Bobcat winning streak has coincided with denying Montana playoff berths three years in a row. But the Griz don’t have to worry about being shut out of the postseason again. UM brings a 9-2 record into the game, including a 6-1 Big Sky mark that gives the Griz a chance to claim their first official conference title since 2009.
When Hauck took over, Montana’s roster featured 29 in-state players. He has added nearly 20, including his son Robby who lists his hometown as Missoula despite going to high school in San Diego.
Montana State also has one of its highest number of in-state products in Choate’s four years. The 2016 Bobcats had 52 Montana kids while the 2017 team had 46 and the 2018 team featured 45. Choate has had more Montana players on his roster than the Griz have in each of the last four rivalry matchups against UM, until this season.
MSU’s starting lineup has featured 17 Treasure State players at one point or another this season. Montana has started 13 in-state players.
Between the two rosters combined, a total of 55 players (30 for UM, 25 for MSU) played Class AA football in high school. A total of 18 players played in Class A, including 12 for Montana State. A total of 15 players cut their teeth in the Class B ranks, including eight who play for Montana. And a total of five players prepped in the Class C ranks, including three for the Griz.
Missoula is the only city with double-digit representation. A total of 16 players hail from the Garden City, including Hauck and 11 others who chose the Griz. Missoula Sentinel has seven alums playing on Saturday while Missoula Big Sky has five. Missoula Loyola has two players on the Grizzlies and one on the Bobcats.
Bozeman High and Kalispell Glacier have the highest representations of any school with alums playing Saturday. Nine former Hawks, including seven who stayed home to play for the Bobcats, will suit up. Kalispell Glacier also has nine alums competing, including five who play for Montana State.
Helena has 11 representatives, including six Capital High products that play for the Griz and one for the ‘Cats. Three of the four players from Helena High are Bobcats.
Billings, Montana’s largest city, has 10 representatives from the Class AA ranks, including five from Billings West and four former Golden Bears who play for the Grizzlies. Billings Senior has a pair of players on each side. MSU tight end Ryan Davis is the lone representative from Billings Skyview. Three players, all Bobcats, come from Billings Central
Four players hail from Great Falls, including two who play at MSU. That’s just one more than hail from Billings Central and Dillon (all Bobcats) and the same number as Whitefish. Four former Bulldogs are on the rosters, including three who play at UM.
Other Class A towns like Belgrade have two Bobcat reps while Butte has a pair of natives, one on each team, one from Butte High (UM offensive linemen Dallas Cook) and one from Butte Central (Bobcat defensive end Marcus Ferriter).
Huntley Project, Bigfork and Boulder are the only Class B school with two players in the game. Both former Red Devils play for the Bobcats while one Bobcat and Griz each hail from Jefferson County High in Boulder and the Flathead County (Bigfork), respectively.
Sidney, Stevensville and Polson round out the Class A towns with all three playing for the Griz. Anaconda, Big Timber, Choteau, Eureka, Fairfield, Townsend, Whitehall, Sunburst, White Sulphur Springs, Savage and Valier each have a native son representing in one of the oldest rivalries in college football.
Here’s a look the 48 Montana products on the UM roster headed into the 119th rendition of the fierce rivalry in Bozeman on Saturday afternoon.
Jesse Sims, defensive tackle, fifth-year senior, Stevensville — The three-year starter and former FBS recruit (he initially committed to Oregon State to play tight end) is in his second year wearing Montana’s fabled No. 37.
Montana head coach Bobby Hauck has said each of the last two weeks that Sims is playing the best football of his career in his final season playing for the Griz. His numbers bear that out.
Sims has one sack in three of the last four games. He had a season-high seven tackles in a 42-17 win over Idaho. He’s also notched a tackle for lost in each of the last four games. He also forced a fumble in the win over the Vandals.
Robby Hauck, safety, sophomore, Missoula — The hard-hitting son of Montana’s head coach plays very similar the way his uncle, Tim Hauck, played for the Griz in the late 1980s on the way to a 13-years NFL career.
Robby Hauck is only 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds but he flies around and smacks people as often as any player in the Big Sky. Hauck played all four of his high school years in San Diego while Bobby was finishing his tenure as the head coach at UNLV and during three years as the special teams coordinator at San Diego State.
But Robby Hauck still lists his hometown as Missoula. And he might be the heir apparent to Sims for the No. 37.
His origin point might not fit the bill — a Montana native — but his production and the passion he plays with certainly do.
Hauck has double-digit tackles in eight games this season. His 108 total tackles is the third-best number in the league.
Colin Bingham, tight end, fifth-year senior, Missoula Big Sky— The son of Griz Hall of Famer Guy Bingham left Montana’s 35-16 win over Weber State last weekend with what appeared to be a right hand injury. He will certainly figure out a way to play if that is even slightly possible.
Bingham came to Montana as a tight end only to see former head coach Bob Stitt eliminate the position and put most of UM’s tight ends at “H” wide receiver. Bingham thrived in the role as a redshirt freshman in 2016, catching 28 passes for 332 yards and four touchdowns.
During his second season playing the position, Bingham struggled with injuries and did not catch a pass. With the return of Hauck, Bingham returned back to his natural position and has thrived.
He is Montana’s best in-line blocker and has played a huge role in helping boost up a previously struggling and now thriving Montana offensive line. Bingham has also produced when called upon, catching 25 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns over the last 22 games.
Jace Lewis, inside linebacker, junior, Townsend — Lewis has burst onto the scene after a standout sophomore year and is in line for All-Big Sky honors as a junior. He is also one of Robby Hauck’s biggest competitors to take over for Sims as Montana’s No. 37.
Lewis split snaps with Josh Buss last year, playing alongside consensus All-American Dante Olson. He piled up 62 tackles and was a demon on kick teams, earning second-team All-Big Sky honors on special teams.
This season, Lewis has emerged as a true star. He has double-digit tackles in four of Montana’s last seven games, including a career-high 17 stops against Sacrametno State. He was a beast in a 38-23 win over Portland State, notching three sacks in the victory.
All told, the former Class B two-way star and state champion has 104t tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks this season.
Josh Sandry, safety, fifth-year senior, Bigfork — The former Class B star has seen his responsibilities in the Montana secondary evolve as much as anyone over the last two years.
As a sophomore, Sandry was a key playmaker for the Griz defense from his strong safety position. He had 49 tackles and ranked eighth in the Big Sky Conference with three interceptions, including one he took back for a touchdown against Washington.
When Hauck took over, Sandry shifted to a Rover position that acts as UM’s third safety. He has to make more tackles in space than in the box. He sometimes gets matched up in man coverage against slot receivers. And he’s taken the transition in stride, thriving in his final season.
Last season Sandry had 61 tackles, seven pass breakups and two interceptions. This season, he has 43 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and an interception. He had a tackle for loss and a pick last week against Weber State.
Patrick O’Connell, linebacker/edge, sophomore, Kalispell Glacier — O’Connell tried to recruit himself to Montana out of Kalispell but that fell flat to Montana’s former coaching staff. After playing a year at the University of Mary, he against tried to join the Griz, this time getting a chance to walk on.
He sat out last season and has blossomed this season, playing UM’s REB position, a hybrid standup outside linebacker/edge specialist. He currently leads the Griz with 6.5 sacks, the fifth-best total in the league.
Mitch Roberts, wide receiver, sophomore, Missoula Sentinel — The former high school quarterback has acclimated well to wide receiver, even pushing All-Big Sky candidate Samori Toure for a starting position all off-season.
When called upon, Roberts has been clutch. He had five catches and 80 yards against Monmouth in a Griz win that keeps looking better and better now that MU has nine wins this season. Roberts has seven catches for 86 yards over the last two weeks, givng Montana valuable snaps with junior Sammy Akem out with a foot injury.
Bryson Deming, tight end, sophomore, Billings West — The former second-team all-state quarterback, all-state basketball player and state champion track and field thrower has acclimated to his new position at tight end quite nicely.
This season, he leads Montana’s tight ends with 15 catches for 148 yards and three touchdowns, including two scoring receptions against Monmouth.
Braydon Deming, tight end, sophomore, Billings West — Bryson Deming’s twin brother has similar high school accolades, accept he was a star defensive player in his prep days. And despite battling an ailing knee all season, he’s an emerging star on the inside of Montana’s defensive front.
Last season, Deming had two sacks among his four tackles for loss, the most by a Griz defensive linemen. This season, he’s been solid again, notching up 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks on a suddenly deep front line.
Brandon Purdy, kicker, junior, Kalispell Glacier — Purdy was a third-team All-Big Sky selection as a sophomore in 2017 then missed last season with a knee injury.
This season, he is 9-of-12 kicking field goals, including makes from 43, 46 and 47 yards. The 47-yarder against North Alabama tied his career high.
Dylan Cook, offensive tackle, junior, Butte High – Cook has one of the wildest stories in the Big Sky Conference. The former high school quarterback and basketball standout played quarterback at Montana State-Northern.
The 6-foot-6, 285-pounder joined Montana as a walk-on last winter. He has risen to the point that he has started at right tackle four times this season and consistently rotated in at both tackle spots.
Colton Keintz, offensive line, sophomore, Missoula Big Sky — Keintz, who is up to 310 pounds on his 6-foot-8 frame, got thrown to the Wolves last season as a redshirt freshman. This season, he has improved and also has benefited from Cook’s presence and the ability to platoon.
Ryder Rice, edge, fifth-year senior, Savage — The graduate transfer from Rocky Mountain College has proved he belongs at the Division I level. He has been good on third downs and as a designed blitzer, notching 22 tackles and three tackles for loss while also piling up an array of quarterback pressures.
Garrett Graves, quarterback/special teams ace, redshirt freshman, Eureka — The former multi-sport Class B star has thrived at multiple positions already. He is UM’s third quarterback but also a special teams ace who blocked a punt against Weber State. He also caught his first pass playing wide receiver last weekend. He has eight tackles on special teams.
Michael McGinnis, safety, redshirt sophomore, Sidney — McGinnis has been a standout on special teams, totaling 12 tackles and a tackle for loss.
Gabe Sulser, wide receiver, sophomore, Billings Senior — Sulser is likely done for the year. The former Montana Gatorade Player of the Year played in six games this season, catching nine passes for 82 yards and carrying the ball four times for 28 yards.
Jed Nagler, edge, junior, Whitefish — Nagler has only played in four games after suffering a knee injury last season but has seven tackles.
Marcus Welnel, linebacker, sophomore, Helena Capital — Welnel has played a similar if less prolific role as Lewis did last year as UM’s third inside linebacker. He has 21 tackles and two tackles for loss.
Drew Turner, running back, redshirt freshman, Kalispell Glacier – Turner has taken advantage of limited opportunities. He has 15 carries for 99 yards and scored his first career touchdown against North Alabama.
Braxton Hill, linebacker, freshman, Anaconda — After grey shirting while healing from shoulder surgery, the former Anaconda quarterback and basketball star has been a special teams standout this season. He carried out the hammer during the pre-game tunnel run as part the internal special teams player of the week. He has four tackles in nine games this season.
Matt Rensvold, tight end, sophomore, Polson — Rensvold caught three touchdowns last season and looked primed for another good year before suffering a season-ending injury against Oregon. He caught three passes for 16 yards in three games.
TREASURE STATE NATIVES
Danny Burton, wide receiver, junior, Helena Capital
Ryan Arnston, running back, junior, Helena High
Gabe Peppenger, kicker, junior, Missoula Sentinel
Levi Jancarro, fullback, redshirt freshman, Missoula Big Sky
Trase Le Texier, fullback, junior, Boulder
Cole Rosling, defensive line, junior, Helena Capital
Gerrit Bloemendaal, offensive line, redshirt freshman, Great Falls CMR
Conor Quick, offensive line, redshirt freshman, Helena Capital
Jackson Pepe, safety, redshirt freshman, Kalispell Glacier
David Koppang, safety, redshirt freshman, Missoula Loyola
Tyler Flink, linebacker, redshirt freshman, Missoula Big Sky
Trevor Welnel, offensive line, redshirt freshman, Helena Capital
Colten Curry, tight end, redshirt freshman, Valier
Jesse Owens, wide receiver, redshirting, Billings West
Ryan Simpson, wide receiver, redshirting, Bozeman
Jace DeWalt, wide receiver, redshirting, Missoula Sentinel
Kris Brown, quarterback, redshirting, Bozeman
Trevin Gradney, cornerback, redshirting, Billings West
Elias DeWaters, cornerback, redshirting, Missoula Sentinel
Ryder Meyer, safety, redshirting, Fairfield
Max Feight, safety, redshirting, Whitehall
Ryan Tirrell, linebacker, redshirting, Missoula Loyola
Garrison Poetzl, defensive line, redshirting, Billings Senior
Dillon Botner, offensive line, redshirting, Whitefish
Carver Gilman, kicker/punter, redshirting, Whitefish
Noah Ambuehl, tight end, redshirting, Great Falls Central
Brian Buschini, kicker, redshirting, Helena Capital
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.