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.”

* * *

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.”

* * *

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 fneighbor@missoulian.com or @Fritz_Neighbor.

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(5) comments

plowboy50

I would say the Griz will get a two year suspension from post season play and loose maybe 5 scholarships for a few years. The numbers that are being put into the Cat/Griz articles both here and the Billings Gazette are interesting. The Cats have done better against all common opponents. The Griz played both Idaho and Weber, the worst teams in the conference, which the Cats did not play It will not be a walk over, but look to be in the same score as last year, only the other way around. Cats around 38 and Griz 13, hard fought til mid of the 3rd.

campana

7 or 8 wins... Cats not as good as their record... give us a break. You Griz fans get more delusional each year. Why can't you just admit the Griz are having a bad season, and the Cats are having an awesome season. When the game's over I hope you guys come back to earth.

justafan

I have said along that the Griz are better then thier record and but for a couple of bad calls and a couple flukes the Griz could easily have 7 or 8 wins and be in the thick of things. The cats on the other hand are not as good as thier record and if the Griz finally get the ball to bounce thier way for a change the Griz will beat the cats.

montanamuralist
montanamuralist

yeah 1980 something...I think 1985??? Could be wrong but a long time. Last losing season. I think about teams like Georgia Southern, who was a perennial power for years as we were getting better and more competitive when Don Read arrived here, and the losing seasons they experienced after losing their head coach Paul Brown ( where is he now by the way??), Delaware, Youngstown State after Trexell left etc etc..so I know this stuff is cyclical and tough to have the record number of wins we have had and the streaks we have kept over the years and it was bound to come our way as well at some point, no matter how good your program is. Of course the Big Sky has caught up with us. As many good players as want to come here to play, there are more who want to play against us and have a chance to knock us off. I think the Big Sky is the toughest conference in the nation this year. Still, with all that said, we don't need any help from UM administrators in the demise of the program. I also think alot of what happens this year in recruiting depends on the NCAA sanctions ( if any) and whether they keep Mick as coach over the long term. Kids like to know the coach they are playing for and if we get sanctioned ( which I am hoping we do not unless Phlu and O'Day covered for players and then I think we deserve them) it will set the program back for a few years. If not I think you will see Mick replaced pretty quickly or after next season at the latest ....Program is to big and to important to the economy in this part of the state to tolerate seasons like this for very long. So we need a win in the worst way and thankfully you can throw out the record book for this one. Hope the Griz can pull it off, especially for the seniors sake, although there are not many of them on the team this year...another reason we have the record we do...things would have gone better had we had Johnson but we will get through it...meanwhile I still think the best thing we can do is get pencil neck Engstrom out of here and a decent coaching staff...and hopefully better behavior by the players off the field..we will see...

Pistol

I believe the Grizzlies haven't had a below 500 season since Don Read arrived in 1985. That plus the effect this game will have on recruiting, and fund raising in the next few months and years. Not to mention the opportunity to beat the Cats.

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