Shay Smithwick-Hann, whose father Jim played for the Montana Grizzlies from 1971-72, was indoctrinated into the maroon and silver side of the Brawl of the Wild with Montana State at an early age.
“I can remember when the Griz were on that long win streak,” said Smithwick-Hann, the Grizzlies’ sophomore quarterback. “And the first time they lost (in 17 seasons, in 2002), I just went outside. I was crying, throwing the football against the wall.
“I don’t want any little Grizzly fans to experience that.”
The 112th football game between the MSU Bobcats and Montana Grizzlies is set for 1:38 p.m. MST Saturday, in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. It’s always an emotional contest played for state pride, but a year ago the game also decided the Big Sky Conference championship. The Griz beat the then-No. 1 Cats 36-10.
This year the Griz are 5-5 and looking to play spoiler against the 9-1 and No. 2-ranked Cats.
“I guess by rankings, yeah, they’re the favorite,” said UM tight end Greg Hardy, a senior from Fairview. “We are definitely disappointed in what our record is. But me, as a senior, this being my last game - this is one more opportunity to show guys that this is what is expected of Montana.
“We are going to fight until the end, win or lose. And hopefully it’s a win.”
Records aside the two Montana programs have striking similarities. Smithwick-Hann, the Kalispell product who took over as starter on Oct. 27, has a smaller sample size but is just ahead of MSU’s DeNarius McGhee in quarterback efficiency in conference play. He has thrown 126 fewer passes but has a rating of 158.4; McGhee’s rating is 158.3.
In rushing defense, the Cats and Griz are 1-2 in the Big Sky. In rushing offense the Griz and Cats are ranked second and fourth.
And so it goes.
“We’ve got a real challenge on defense and we have a challenge on offense,” said UM coach Mick Delaney. “They’re No. 1 in the world against the run, pass (second in the Big Sky), total defense, points allowed. We’ve got our hands full. But I really think we’re going to show up, anyway.”
That last remark was tongue-in-cheek. Neither Griz nor Cat would ever miss it, nor would any son of a Griz.
“He said, ‘Just enjoy the moment,’ ” Smithwick-Hann said of his dad. “It only happens once a year and it’s just a neat experience.”
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Griz running back Peter Nguyen has five 100-yard rushing games this season and running mate Jordan Canada has one.
But the two-headed beast could become a three-headed monster for Montana Saturday, with the return of Dan Moore from a high-ankle sprain suffered against Eastern Washington on Sept. 29.
The 235-pound senior has missed five games, which should signal some rust. Then again, he missed the three games leading up to last year’s Cat-Griz game and ran for 116 yards and a big touchdown.
“His status is he’s going to play Saturday,” Delaney said Tuesday, during UM’s weekly press conference. “He’s been working for however long, since Eastern … trying to get healthy. He’s ready to rock and roll, man. He’s excited.
“Whether it’s to play the whole game or three plays, we don’t know. But he is going to play Saturday.”
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MSU linebacker Jody Owens will be starting his fourth Cat-Griz game Saturday, and he remembers the impact Moore had in 2011, but said the Cats can’t afford to spend much time on his presence.
“We’ll take care of that when we see him,” said the senior. “He’s not somebody we can game-plan around.”
Canada and Nguyen have obviously shown up more on film.
“Those two guys do a good job,” Owens said. “They’re kind of smaller guys and they hide behind that big O-line pretty well. I think they’re a good combination.”
Nguyen had 123 yards and a TD rushing against the Bobcats in 2011, while the Griz outgained the Cats 309-79 on the ground.
“The guys haven’t forgot,” said Owens. “We have a picture in our locker room from the paper. Nobody’s forgotten what happened, but we just want to come out and play our best and hopefully leave with a W.”
QUICK KICKS: The visiting team has won four of the last five games in this series, which Montana leads 70-36-5. … Frenchtown’s Cody Kirk returned from injury to rush for 411 yards in MSU’s last three games. … In the Sagarin Ratings, MSU is No. 4 and the Griz No. 32. … Owens is one of four preseason all-Big Sky picks for the Cats. The others are DE Clay Bignell, DT Zack Minter and CB Darius Jones. … Jones has four interceptions, all in the last five games. … The Griz are 12th in the Football Championship Subdivision in total offense while the Cats are 12th in total defense. … UM’s Zack Wagenmann is third in the FCS in sacks, with 11 in 10 games. In fourth is MSU’s Caleb Schreibeis, with 9.5 in nine games. … Saturday’s forecast calls for a high of 42 degrees in Missoula. Temps for the last two Cat-Griz games: 9 degrees in 2011; 18 in 2010.
Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 523-5247, at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Fritz_Neighbor.