The talk is finally over. It’s time to play the annual game between Montana and Montana State. The Cats and Griz will renew their rivalry for the 113thtime this Saturday in Bozeman.
The fact the game is being played in Bozeman means little in this annual tussle between these two Montana foes. The visiting team has won this game in each of the last four years. Prior to 2009, the road team had never won this game more than two consecutive times.
The Montana Grizzlies have a brilliant record at Bobcats’ Stadium in Bozeman. They have won the tussle in that sports complex eleven of the last thirteen times. Since the stadium in Bozeman was opened in 1973 as Reno H. Sales Stadium, the Grizzlies have a 12-8 record at that venue. The last Bobcats’ win in Bozeman was 16-6 back in 2005.
The Grizzlies have plenty of momentum head into this year’s showdown. They have won six of their last seven games. Montana won three of those games by seven points or less with two victories coming in overtime.
The Bobcats are trying to get up off the sprint turf after suffering back-to-back loses in the past two weeks to Eastern Washington and Southern Utah. Montana State, a team that was ranked in the top ten all season long, will need a win this Saturday and some help just to secure a spot in the national playoffs.
All those trends point to a Montana win on Saturday, but before you hand over the Great Continental Divide trophy to the Grizzlies consider one interesting fact. In the past half century, the best year for the Bobcats against the Grizzlies is a year ending in three.
This happens to be 2013. Montana State has won this game four of the five times since 1963 when the year ends in three. The key win in that streak came in 1983. Montana State won 28-8 for their only victory of the season. The lone Montana victory in that stretch came in 1993 when the Grizzlies were led to victory by Dave Dickenson.
Speaking of Dickenson, his counterpart this season, Jordan Johnson, has a chance to join the great number 15 in one of the most rate feats ever. A win by Johnson on Saturday would give him two wins in Bozeman as the starting quarterback for Montana. The only Grizzlies’ quarterback to ever accomplish in that feat in Bozeman was Dave Dickenson in 1993 and 1995.
If you look across the field at Montana State’s starting quarterback, DeNarius McGhee, he also has a chance to make history on Saturday. A win by McGhee and the Cats would give DeNarius three victories over Montana in his career. There are only two Montana State quarterbacks to ever accomplish that feat, Dennis Erickson 1965-67 and Travis Lulay 2002-2005.
There are a number of things to look for in this annual contest. I believe the most overlooked item on the field is special teams. Since this game was started back in 1897, special teams has been vital. It is even more critical since this game was pushed back to be the final contest of the season in 1989.
A case in point for this can be found in the last two Divide War games. The team that lost the game each year had a chance to get the first points of the contest and missed
a field goal opportunity. The cardinal sin in this game is missing an early scoring chance. It will always come back to bite you by the end of the game.
The reason scoring is so important early in the game is reflected in the history of this series. The team that scores first has a record of 89-18. The last team to not score first and win the game was the 2009 Montana Grizzlies.
There have only been 28 times where a team has come back from some type of deficit in the game to win the contest. The last club to come-from-behind was the 2009 Montana Grizzlies. The last time Montana State came back from a deficit to win this contest was back in 1985.
A team getting behind seldom wins especially once the margin is above 10 points.
There have only been six times where a club overcome a ten-point plus deficit to win. The largest rally by a victorious team in this series was in 1968 when Montana State came back from fifteen points in the fourth quarter to win 29-24. The largest margin Montana has ever overcome was 13 points on three different occasions in 1941, 1953 and 1962.
One other fact to consider is this game is seldom close. There have been only 35 games out of 112 contests that have been decided by 10 points or less. Even more rare is a game ending with a one-point difference. It has only occurred five times in 1900, 1922, 1947, 1961 and 1969. Montana State won three of those five nail-bitters.
In recent times, the Bobcats tend to come out on top in close games. In each of their last five wins over Montana, the Cats won the game by less than ten points. The last time the Grizzlies won a game by less than ten points was in 1998 by a count of 28-21.
Yet, with all the history and all the odd facts about this ancient rivalry one thing has already remained the same about this game. This Saturday’s game, just like the 112 played before it, will develop its own unique chapter in the history of one of the best college football rivalries in the entire country.
— Pat Kearney is the author of the book “Divide War”