The Great Divide Trophy is on the line as Montana State visits Montana Few sports in America produce more fervor than college football. And I speak as one who knows, growing up and still living in the South, where it seems everyone has a dog in the football fight. Whether it’s two NFL teams facing each other down on a Sunday, or a small-town America high school game on a September Friday night, fans of their favorite teams are sure to be passionate and at times rabid. That is especially true of rivalry games, and the Brawl of the Wild is no exception. I chose to not call this my FCS Game of the Week, in part because it’s not about stats or projections or any details on paper. Stats matter, of course. They are necessary for pre- and post-game analysis for coaches, teams, fantasy players and bookies. But who ever fell in love with a sport because of stats? Seriously, a Quarterback throws for 400 yards and 3 touchdowns in a game. What’s more exciting? Seeing those numbers in print or watching as it happens (or in a highlight reel, for that matter?) But back to our game. The Brawl of the Wild, between the Montana Grizzlies and Montana State Bobcats, is one of the oldest and fiercest rivalries in college football. And this year’s tilt is special for a few reasons. Chiefly, the Cats are vying for a fifth straight win over the Griz, a 10th consecutive win this season and a Big Sky Conference Championship.
Montana is jockeying for playoff position, hoping a win will get them a top-8 seed in the playoff and a first-round bye. They are out of the conference hunt, having previously lost to Eastern Washington (and their outstanding QB, Eric Barriere. Stop me if I’m gushing over him.) and Sacramento State. But regardless of the year, the records or the potential postseason, this game hinges on in-state pride. Not to mention that MASSIVE Great Divide Trophy, which depicts a grizzly and bobcat on each side with a football topping it all. And if that weren’t enough, this year the two foes are renewing the rivalry after the Covid-19 pandemic nixed last year’s matchup. Ok, A Few Stats to Whet the Appetite The Game: #3 Montana State Bobcats at #7 Montana Grizzlies. November 20, 2021, 2pm EST. Washington-Grizzly Stadium, Missoula, Montana. Broadcast available on ROOT/ESPN+. Here are the numbers: This is the 120th meeting of the Griz and Cats, with Montana holding a 73-41-5 lead in the series. Both teams have stiff defenses, MSU coming in with the #2 scoring defense in the country (11.6 ppg) and the Griz having held opponents without a touchdown for ten consecutive quarters. Montana did the same to opponents during an early season streak that began in the second quarter of their victory over the Washington Huskies. Along with Montana State’s defense, they boast one of the best running backs in the country. Isaiah Ifanse is 3rd in the nation in rushing yards with 1,208 thus far. And though Montana’s offense is not a juggernaut, they have big-play potential in wide receiver Sammy Akem. Now Onto The Game!
Now that the stats are out of the way, let’s get to why we’re actually here: the GAME. There’s something to be said for a stadium filled to capacity, fans wearing their team colors, cheering their team, willing the offense to score or the defense to end a drive or the special teams to save the day. I didn’t attend UM but I’m pretty sure I bleed maroon and sweat silver. Odd, right? But that’s the nature of the beast. It’s that same nature of the beast—that game with the oddly shaped ball—a game where players pound each other to dust only to exchange jerseys after the game. Where opposing fans tailgate together, then practically hate each other for about 2 ½ hours on a Saturday, THEN share a laugh when it’s all over. That’s why I write about it. For the love and enjoyment of the game. This season has been my first foray into sports writing. And I write because I enjoy writing, and the game I am privileged to cover. I could certainly rattle off stats in print, but I don’t watch or write merely for the stats. In fact, I’ve been known to watch Division II and III teams I’ve never heard of—why? Because the games are fun. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? If you’ll pardon me for a bit of tongue-in-cheek quoting: Jack London, in The Call of The Wild, said, “There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise.” Now obviously football does not reach that level, but when your favorite team defeats their bitter rival, it sure seems like it just might. So, if you’re like me, don your Griz gear (or whatever team you choose, even if it’s the Cats) and scream your lungs out at the TV. Sweat and bleed your team colors. Trash talk your buddies. But above all: simply enjoy the game.