DAVIS, Calif. — Montana State coach Jeff Choate was caught up in enjoying his team’s 27-17 victory at UC Davis on Saturday, which was the Bobcats' third-straight win.
Yet the question still needed to be posed.
“Any preliminary thoughts on next week’s game?” Choate was asked outside MSU’s locker room.
The Bobcats’ fourth-year coach wasn’t having it.
“We’ll talk about it on Monday,” he said matter-of-factly.
Montana coach Bobby Hauck had a similar reaction following the Grizzlies’ 35-16 home romp over No. 3 Weber State — which was his team’s fourth-straight triumph and a win that can be described as nothing less than a statement victory.
The Griz poured it on the Wildcats, as big-play receiver Samori Toure had touchdown catches of 10, 79 and 59 yards from quarterback Dalton Sneed.
After dissecting things during the postgame interview session, Hauck was also implored to comment on the week ahead and the momentum UM has cultivated.
“I haven’t thought about that,” Hauck was quoted. “It was sure fun. We’re going to enjoy this game. We’ll get on those guys Monday.”
The coaches were mum but there's no mistaking what time of year it is. The 119th Brawl of the Wild rivalry game between Montana and Montana State will be played Saturday at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, a contest that, needless to say, has the state's full attention.
The game will kick off at noon on Saturday, and will be broadcast on ROOT Sports.
This year’s matchup is fraught with playoff implications, as each team tries to put itself in the best position possible for the 24-team FCS postseason tournament.
The Grizzlies, ranked No. 5 in last week’s STATS Top 25 poll, had seemingly sewn up a playoff berth before their win over Weber State, which improved their record to 9-2 overall and 6-1 in the Big Sky Conference.
The Bobcats, ranked 10th entering its game with UC Davis, needed one more victory to solidify their postseason résumé, and they got the job done by thoroughly outplaying the Aggies in the fourth quarter.
MSU rushed for 283 yards and three touchdowns, including a 5-yard run by Isaiah Ifanse in what was a return to form for the hobbled sophomore tailback. Travis Jonsen also had a 75-yard TD run.
In short, both teams are apparent locks to play beyond the final game of the regular season. But there’s still so much at stake in terms of seeding possibilities and the potential to host playoff games — plural — going forward.
Montana will win a share of the Big Sky Conference title with a victory, and would claim it outright with a win and losses by Weber State and Sacramento State. The Grizzlies haven’t won a league crown since 2009.
Montana State, meanwhile, is still mathematically in the running for a share of the championship. The Bobcats would earn a slice of it with a victory and losses by Weber State and Sacramento State.
If both teams remain ranked in the top 10 when the new STATS poll is released on Monday — and they should — it will mark the first time since 2011 that a Cat-Griz game is a top-10 matchup. That year, the No. 7-ranked Griz rolled past No. 1 MSU 36-10 in Bozeman (a win that was later vacated due to NCAA infractions).
Plus, there’s the bit about the rivalry’s most recent history: Montana State has won three in a row against the Grizzlies, which hadn’t happened since 1985, one year before Montana began its historic 16-game winning streak over the Bobcats.
Choate doesn’t know what it’s like to lose to the Griz, a fact that probably doesn’t sit too well with Hauck, who went 5-2 against the Bobcats in his first coaching stint at Montana from 2003-09, wins that often served as a springboard to rousing playoff success.
The Bobcats haven’t won four straight in the series since the 1970s, so there’s potential for MSU to carve out a little more history.
The Grizzlies lead the all-time series by a 72-40-5 count, but it’s been much more even in recent years, as the Bobcats hold a 5-3 edge since 2010.
The Great Divide Trophy has taken up residence in Bozeman, and the Bobcats have no intention of relinquishing it.
Last year’s game — and the dramatic, almost unheard-of way it ended — remains fresh 12 months later:
The Grizzlies jumped out to a three-possession lead in the first half but the Bobcats kept chipping away and eventually took a 29-25 lead late in the fourth quarter.
Montana, though, was on the goal line with 14 seconds left and poised to win it when MSU defensive players Tucker Yates and Grant Collins forced a fumble from Griz running back Adam Eastwood. The Bobcats’ Derek Marks fell on the ball to preserve the win.
All that, of course, happened after Choate shrewdly called a timeout just prior to Eastwood scoring what everyone initially thought was the winning touchdown. But the officials blew that play dead before the snap.
Then, chaos ensued.
In the immediate aftermath, Choate said everything seemed like “a blur.” Hauck called it “gut-wrenching,” and the look on his face was a perfect indicator of that.
What will Saturday bring? A new chapter in what is a historic and bitter rivalry is about to be written.