MISSOULA — The Montana Grizzlies remember what happened last year.
It's something they'll likely never forget. Seeing the Montana State football team hoist the Great Divide Trophy in Washington-Grizzly Stadium is a bad taste that's been their mouths for a year.
"We're definitely bitter about that," Montana's Tucker Schye said Monday. "They stole one from us and we're gonna take it back and then some."
The rivalry is in Schye's blood.
He's an in-state product from Malta and has been a part of the Griz football team for five years.
"It's really special," Schye said of the rivalry. "It's something you have an appreciation for from day one and I'd say something that me and Josh (Horner) definitely have had an appreciation our whole life of. We've grown up around it. You never miss this game, growing up watching it, at least I didn't. You really know how special it is."
Same with Josh Horner, a Great Falls native.
"It means a ton, like Tuck said, we've been watching this game for a long time now," Horner said. "We know how important it is for the state of Montana and to all the people who live here. Just an honor to go out and be able and say that you were a part of this game. It means a lot."
Montana, receiving votes in the STATS FCS Top 25 this week, is playing for more than bragging rights on Saturday. A win over Montana State not only returns the trophy back to Missoula, but likely gives the Grizzlies a playoff berth.
Schye said the playoffs isn't something they've addressed as a team, but it's something that they're aware of in the back of their minds.
"... We know we've been in playoff mode for the last few weeks ever since we went down to Weber," Schye said. "But we play that anyway, just like I was talking about earlier and how Coach (Bob) Stitt talks about. We don't change our approach. You know it's in the back of your mind but we expect to go out and win all the time."
"It really is everything"
Montana comes into rivalry week on a high as it rolled over Northern Colorado, 44-14, on Saturday.
Not only did UM beat UNC, the Grizzlies clicked on all three phases, which is something Horner is pleased with.
"We feel very good," Horner said. "We're very confident right now, obviously like Coach (Stitt) said, all three facets had a great game. Probably the most complete game we've played so far this season. What a perfect time to do that right before we go play Montana State."
Montana's momentum helps, but this week, as Schye said, the records are out the window.
"In the state, you get to this point in the season, it really is everything," Stitt said. "You play all season and you get to this game and the previous games kinda get wiped out. You're not gaining anything from the first 10 games going into this game because for our fans and everybody involved, you gotta win the ball game.
"It is very, very important in our state. We've prepared for a long time mentally for this thing and physically, but more mentally. I think our guys are really gonna be ready to go and play great football."
Schye added: "... Go out and take it. That's really what it's all about. It's something that you look forward to all year. It really comes down to who wants it more I think."
The Grizzlies have talked about this game every day since January, but now that it's here, Stitt said he and the coaching staff have backed off a little.
"What we talked about on Sunday night was, we don't need to talk about it anymore, because we've been talking about it since January and thinking about it since November every single day," Stitt said. "We don't need a special effort. Our guys are gonna be ready.
"They're gonna give us everything they've got and now you have to have the focus and the mental side of it to be able to execute what you're doing. If you go into these games and you're too juiced up, you're not gonna be able to execute things.
"... We've gotta go back to how we prepare and we're looking at their defense and their offense and what they do and their special teams and we're preparing to go against that faceless opponent again. It's in the back of your mind because we talk about it every single day. So we had to take a step back a little bit now that we're in the week and just great ready to play fantastic football."
Montana starting safety Josh Sandry left the Northern Colorado game early in the third quarter and didn't return.
Sandry's been nursing — and playing through — an ankle injury all season, which is what he tweaked on Saturday. Stitt said he's not overly worried about his star sophomore.
"He should be OK," Stitt said of Sandry. "I think that he'll take it easy probably (Tuesday). His ankle is one of the normal ones, the low ones. I think it's gonna be pretty tough to keep a Montana kid off the field on Saturday. I think Josh'll be ready to roll."