MISSOULA — The Brawl of the Wild hasn’t been a fun rivalry in recent years for Montana, which has lost three consecutive games to Montana State.
Griz head coach Bobby Hauck pointed to a different sort of fun that's lacking when he offered some unprompted, candid thoughts about the state of the rivalry during his weekly news conference on Monday ahead of the top-10 showdown in the 119th Brawl of the Wild.
“I think about the rivalry game a lot through the year,” said Hauck, who's in the second season of his second stint at Montana after coaching the Griz from 2003-09. “I grew up around it. I think we’re really lucky to have a longstanding traditional rival. I think it’s just a really cool deal that it’s been played as many times as it has. It’s just a great game.
“But I also think that the animosity and the bitterness around it is out of hand. It’s to the point where I don’t think it’s healthy. It certainly isn’t any fun. And I mean, I know people down there. I’ve got a lot of friends that are down there, people I’ve known for years. I mean, their (President Waded Cruzado) is a nice lady. Their AD’s a nice guy. I mean, I know a lot of those people.
“And I just think it’s become a little bit overbearing, frankly, so, you know. It’s a big game. We’re going to try hard to win it.”
Hauck, quarterback Dalton Sneed, defensive tackle Jesse Sims and linebacker Dante Olson shared in some harmless fun when they didn’t utter the words Montana State, MSU, Bobcats, Cats or the name of any MSU player or coach during the news conference. Hauck did refer to do-everything player Troy Andersen by his jersey number, calling him “15.”
The Griz avoided saying anything that could be used a bulletin-board material at Montana State as they try to beat the Cats for the first time since 2015. But is there any pressure of trying to snap that losing streak, punctuated by a goal line fumble in the closing minute last season?
“That’s not something I’ve really thought about,” Hauck said.
Montana, which Hauck previously said is a year ahead of schedule in turning around the program, comes in ranked No. 3 in the country. The Griz moved up two spots in the STATS FCS Top 25 on Monday following its 35-16 home win over then-No. 3 Weber State.
Montana State also moved up two spots, to No. 8, following its 27-17 road win over UC Davis.
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The Brawl will be the first top-10 showdown in the series since 2011, when No. 7 Montana upset No. 1 Montana State, 36-10, in Bozeman.
“I know personally, and I can speak for these three, we don’t really pay any attention to that,” Hauck said. “Having been involved in it for a long time, I could never tell you in the game if we were ranked or they were ranked.”
Montana can clinch at least a share of the Big Sky title for the first time since 2009 with a win. Montana State needs to win and have Weber State lose to Idaho State and Sacramento State lose to UC Davis to get a share of the title.
The Griz have been in win-out mode since losing to Sacramento State on Oct. 19. The only difference this Saturday is the rivalry aspect of the game.
“I’m not too worried about too high a level ever in any game,” Hauck said. “I think that usually takes care of itself after about a play or two for each guy. I mean, our guys are aware of who we’re playing this week. Yeah, I mean, everybody knows who we’re playing.”
This will be the final Brawl for three Montana natives on the Grizzlies’ roster who’ve never beaten the Cats: Stevensville’s Sims, Bigfork’s Josh Sandry and Missoula’s Colin Bingham.
“I guess it’s something that grows a little more every year being here,” Sims said of the rivalry. “I’m excited to go do it one last time.”
Sneed and Olson are both from outside the state and have come to learn the meaning of the rivalry at Montana. They’ll now try to win for the first time.
“I’ve been other places where rivalries aren’t as great as this one,” Sneed said. “I know it’s a big game. Everyone in the community’s involved and knows how big of a game it is.”
Olson added: “The hatred between the two teams and the fans, it’s pretty ruthless. It’s a big rivalry. That’s for sure.”