On the basis of nicknames alone, the two Football Championship Subdivision playoff games being held in Montana this weekend sound pretty even.
The Central Arkansas Bears are taking on the Montana Grizzlies at 11 a.m. PST today in Missoula, while it’s a cat fight in Bozeman between the Montana State Bobcats and the New Hampshire Wildcats. Kickoff is at noon.
Both teams visiting Big Sky Country come in with a pass-first offense and strong quarterbacks who have each thrown for more than 3,000 yards this season.
Central Arkansas quarterback Nathan Dick averages 274 yards passing and has thrown 30 touchdown passes. Jesse Grandy has eight TD receptions while Dominique Croom has seven. Jackie Hinton and Terence Bobo each have four touchdown runs.
“He’s a big, strong football player that throws the ball really well,” Montana coach Robin Pflugrad said of Dick, adding that Central Arkansas is probably the best overall team Montana has faced as far as being multidimensional.
“They run a hurry-up system, so our defense will be extremely challenged,” Pflugrad said.
The Bears (9-3) bring an eight-game winning streak into Washington-Grizzly Stadium for the team’s first matchup against fourth-seeded Montana (9-2), which has won its past seven games.
The Bears’ three road losses came to top-ranked and unbeaten Sam Houston State of the FCS along with Sun Belt Conference champion Arkansas State and WAC champion Louisiana Tech.
Montana is led by quarterback Jordan Johnson, who averages 179 yards passing and has 15 touchdowns this season, despite struggling with some injuries. Jabin Sambrano has seven touchdown catches while Dan Moore has rushed for seven scores, followed by Jordan Canada with five TD runs.
New Hampshire quarterback Kevin Decker comes into Bozeman averaging 279 yards passing and has 20 TD passes this season, including seven to R.J. Harris. Decker has rushed for another nine scores while Dontra Peters has run for seven.
Decker is creative, MSU coach Rob Ash said. “He can run around in the pocket and find receivers. Whatever it takes to make a play, he’ll do it.”
Montana State will look to make things tough for Decker as the team is seventh in the nation with 38 sacks this season, including 10 by Brad Daly and seven by Zach Minter. Jody Owens leads the team with 87 tackles.
The Wildcats had a strong schedule, winning five games against ranked FCS teams while losing to two ranked teams and Toledo of the FBS.
They are coming off a bye week after defeating No. 11 Maine 30-27.
Montana State (9-2) had its nine-game winning streak snapped in a 36-10 loss to rival Montana two weeks ago.