BOZEMAN – The Montana and Montana State football teams take winning streaks and Top 10 rankings into the rivalry game that will decide the Big Sky Conference championship.
Montana State (9-1, 7-0 Big Sky) is ranked first in the Football Championship Subdivision polls and has won nine straight games, while No. 7 Montana (8-2, 6-1) has a six-game winning streak going into the 111th meeting between the two teams.
The “Brawl of the Wild” kicks off at noon Saturday in MSU’s remodeled Bobcat Stadium before an anticipated crowd of up to 19,000.
“It’s tremendously exciting in this first year in the new stadium with the new capacity that we get to play a Cat-Griz game with this magnitude,” MSU coach Rob Ash said.
“I think it will be a lot like Washington-Grizzly except with the colors changed from theirs to ours. I hope it is. They have a great venue over there. They’ve had a great home-field advantage because of that venue. We want ours to be like that,” Ash said.
Last year, Montana State won 21-16 on a bitterly cold day at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, ending the Grizzlies’ streak of 17 consecutive playoff appearances.
Both teams are hoping for a spot in the FCS playoffs and a win by the Bobcats could give them home field advantage as long as they keep winning.
The Bobcats are led by quarterback DeNarius McGhee, who has passed for 2,189 yards and 21 touchdowns against 10 interceptions this season, plus three more scores on the ground.
Elvis Akpla averages 83 yards receiving and has 10 touchdowns while Cody Kirk rushes for 119 yards a game and has 14 scores. MSU’s defense is led by Jody Owens with 74 total tackles and five sacks while Brad Daly has 10 sacks.
Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson has passed for 1,628 yards and 13 touchdowns against six interceptions this season. He has run for two more scores. Six of those passing touchdowns came in UM’s 45-10 win over Weber State three weeks ago.
“I think we have progressed through baby steps every Saturday,” said Montana coach Robin Pflugrad. “We’re not near where we need to be in my opinion because it is a unique offense, although it seems like everyone in the country has elements of it.”
Jabin Sambrano leads Montana with 40 yards per game receiving and six touchdowns. Dan Moore has six rushing touchdowns and Jordan Canada has 5 for the Griz.
Caleb McSurdy leads Montana’s defense with 106 tackles while Bryan Waldhauser has five sacks.
Even without the rankings and playoff implications, the Cat-Griz game is huge.
“We can’t really think about (the ranking) because this is the only game we have, the only 2011 Cat-Griz game, so we have to focus on that, not the playoffs not the next game,” McGhee said. “We are focused on this game and this game only.”
Montana defensive end Ryan Featherston is ready for his final Cat-Griz game.
“I know they are No. 1, but we’re No. 7 and that’s pretty good,” he said. “When it comes down to it you’re playing for a championship. Ultimately, we want a national championship but beating the Cats and winning the Big Sky is one of our goals, and has been since Day One.”
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