Over the past dozen or so years, the Bobcats and Grizzlies have had vastly different destinies.
Since their 1984 NCAA Division I-AA national championship, Montana State has had just three winning seasons - including this year.
The Grizzlies haven’t had a losing season since 1986, which was the start of their 11-game winning streak over the Bobcats. They won the 1995 national championship and were national runners-up last season.
But this year, the Grizzlies aren’t as dominating as they have been.
Their 30-game home winning streak was wiped out by a 40-35 loss to Eastern Washington. And their scoring average is down to 32 points a game from nearly 41 last year.
There’s muted talk about hosting a playoff game and more discussion about just making the cut. To do so, they’ll need to beat the Bobcats.
Montana State, meanwhile, has put together a winning record two years in a row, their passing game has come of age and MSU athletic director Chuck Lindemenn isn’t preparing his annual “Coach Hysell-will-be-here-next-year announcement” for after the game.
And since the Big Sky, a strong I-AA conference, has sent two teams to the I-AA playoffs every year since 1984, a victory might allow the Bobcats to extend their season into December.
The Grizzlies (7-3 overall, 5-2 Big Sky) and the Bobcats (6-4, 5-2) enter the game as even as they’ve been in years.
“In all the years I’ve been involved in this game, I don’t remember a Bobcat-Grizzly game with this much riding on it for both teams,” said MSU’s Hysell, who played for the Bobcats in 1964-65. He was an assistant when the Bobcats won three Big Sky titles and a national championship in 1976.
“It seems like over the years at least one of the teams has been playing only for pride, but the winner gets second place (in the conference) this year, so this game has a dimension beyond being the Bobcat-Grizzly game.”
UM coach Mick Dennehy, who has also been a player and an assistant at Montana, knows the mystique of the Cat-Griz clash.
“The years that I’ve seen or played or coached in a Bobcat-Grizzly game, every one has been different,” he said.