BOZEMAN — Pardon the folks at Montana State for their false start Saturday afternoon.
When cornerback Tyrel Thomas knocked away a fourth-down pass with the end zone perilously close to squelch Montana's final drive, the 5-foot-8 freshman sprinted the length of the field with a teammate in tow.
As Thomas exhorted the crowd in the south end zone, the boom of a cannon shook Bobcat Stadium's pillars and its nearly 20,000 inhabitants. Just then, a camera crew in a flat-bed UTV rolled onto the field to capture the bedlam, a small ROTC band in fatigues running after it awkwardly toting the mountainous Great Divide Trophy.
The scoreboard blinked Bobcats 31, Griz 23.
The clock still read :04.
Once the referees finally restored order, all that was left was for the Bobcats to take a knee and avoid a catastrophic fumble.
And after finally overcoming the series' odd road-field advantage of recent years, mostly on the elusive legs of sophomore quarterback Chris Murray and a defense that was stout enough, MSU wasn't about to botch it now — even if a cadre of long-anxious boosters surely fretted about a historic recurrence of those Same Ol' Bobcats (SOB) in a series long dominated by the Griz.
(Oh no? You didn't think about the onside kick in '86?. Or those gut-wrenching last 20 seconds in '97?)
Not Saturday. No way.
Four seconds later, when second-year coach Jeff Choate's record against Montana officially moved to 2-0, the cork fully popped from a bottle bursting with 12 l-o-n-g years of pressurization.
That's how long it had been since MSU won the Brawl of the Wild on its own turf.
Choate thrust his fists in the air, got a bear hug from a burly assistant and was doused with the contents of an orange Gatorade jug. Most of the team sprinted toward the students in the south end zone; a small group headed straight for the trophy in the northwest corner and hoisted it aloft amid a giant blue-and-gold amoeba of humanity.
"An unbelievable feeling," said senior linebacker Mac Bignell, who grew up in the long shadow of UM in little Drummond.
"Ever since I was a kid that's all I wanted to do, was play for the Bobcats and win and beat the Griz. It's a dream come true."
Added Murray, shaking his head: "It was insane."
And MSU won't be wanting to stop the insanity soon.
There's nothing like a second consecutive win over your arch-rival to light a fire under alums for support of your facilities-enhancement campaign. Bobcat boosters: Be looking for a happy note from your friendly neighborhood marketing director, signed by athletic director Leon Costello.
Five-and-six never felt so good.
"It's humbling," Choate said of watching the jubilation in his backyard.
Choate was speaking to the media just a few minutes and yet a hundred miles removed from his counterpart, third-year UM coach Bob Stitt, who managed a cordial postgame demeanor while sitting between two of his stoic stars, defensive end Tucker Schye and wide receiver Keenan Curran.
Asked to describe the team's emotions, Schye said, "I'm not going to share that with you. No offense. If you haven't been through this, you can't understand what it's like."
After all, two consecutive losses to MSU hadn't happened since 2002-03. Dating to that miracle onside kick in 1986, which propelled the Griz to a 16-game winning streak in the series, victories over the Bobcats have been as assumed as deep runs in the postseason.
Neither have been assured in recent years, and so some Griz fans already had their finger poised above the "Send" button on their Twitter and email accounts as early as the third quarter, with athletic director Kent Haslam the intended recipient. They don't want to see that green ballcap on the sidelines anymore.
Forget it. Not gonna happen, even as Stitt remains temporarily unsigned and the Grizzlies likely will be relegated to man-cave seating for the playoffs.
Stitt's tenure isn't to be confused with Don Read's or Bobby Hauck's yet, and 7-4 is a disappointment for Griz nation, but the growth is apparent. Barring an unlikely step backward next year, Stitt ought to at least get two more seasons to keep nudging the program upward.
"Seven-and-four can get you in," Stitt said of the playoffs. "It should get us in. I think we're a good football team."
Truth is, the state has two good — not great — football teams, and the needle is pointing in the right direction for both.
That reality is best represented by the two underclassmen quarterbacks: The Cats' dynamic Murray and UM's gritty freshman Gresch Jensen, who orchestrated a near-memorable comeback despite an elbow blow that left him with no feeling in his throwing hand when he needed it most.
The harsh truth is one suffers for 12 months and the other celebrates.
And when you've waited as long as the Bobcats, who can blame them for a false start?