MISSOULA — Grizzlies coach Robin Pflugrad got the hype started early.
“It’s now Cat Week, officially,” Pflugrad said shortly after his team dispatched North Dakota 27-17 on Saturday.
Indeed it is.
But before Montana and Montana State lock horns for the 110th time — and before the craziness that accompanies the game each year begins — let me throw a couple trivia questions your way:
1) What is the all-time series between the Bobcats and Grizzlies?
2) How many times have the Cats beaten the Griz in the last 24 seasons?
3) How many times have the Cats beaten the Griz in the history of Washington-Grizzly Stadium?
To find out, continue reading to the bottom of this text.
If you’re a Griz fan, you already know the answers. If you’re a Cat fan, you’d just as soon forget.
This time, though, the roles are reversed.
The Bobcats, with an 8-2 overall mark and a 6-1 record in the Big Sky Conference, are looking to win at least a share of the conference title and earn the league’s automatic bid to the Football Championship Subdivision postseason.
A win over Weber State two weeks ago certainly clinched at least an at-large berth to the playoffs.
The Grizzlies, at 7-3 and 5-2, are also hoping to earn a share of the league’s riches to extend their record conference title streak to 13 in a row.
And though Montana is a pretty good bet to earn an at-large invite to the postseason party too, it doesn’t want to take any chances.
“People think they’re having a down year, but with a couple breaks they’d be undefeated,” MSU coach Rob Ash said of the Grizzlies early last week. “They’ve had some close games and some tough finishes.
“They’re not as far off the mark as everybody is making them out to be.”
After Chase Reynolds erupted for 173 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Griz over North Dakota, UM might just have its swagger back.
A regular season that has produced some heart-wrenching losses and some thrilling, down-to-the-wire victories can end on a sweet note if Montana can continue its dominance of the Bobcats.
But MSU, without question, is in the midst of a breakthrough, led by a freshman quarterback who is taking the Big Sky by storm.
Denarius McGhee has been the best signal-caller in the league, and in my estimation should earn high consideration for its offensive MVP award.
But can the unflappable McGhee lead the Cats to a rare road win over Montana?
Griz fans will flock to Washington-Grizzly Stadium to get an up-close look at McGhee and a Bobcat team that many think has turned the tables on Montana this year as the best team in the Big Sky.
UM’s sports information office has received an abnormally heavy dose of credential requests from even the most random of places, as writers from across the state get set to cover what figures to be an exceptional Cat-Griz matchup.
Pflugrad isn’t shy on doling out respect to the Bobcats, that’s for sure.
“We haven’t studied them very thoroughly, obviously, because we have taken our opponents one at a time,” Pflugrad said. “But Montana State’s an outstanding team.”
A rivalry that bitterly divides our state renews in seven days, and the stakes are evident.
One team (Montana State) has a chance to solidify itself as a legitimate playoff threat and earn a league title, which is the goal it’s chased all year.
The other team (Montana) can lock itself into the postseason and continue its stranglehold on a heated conflict.
It has a little different look, but it’s still the same Cat-Griz smashup.
Now, let the craziness ensue.
Trivia answers: 1) UM leads 69-35-5; 2) Three; 3) One (2002).