Bobcat and Grizzly fans alike gathered at Bobcat Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 18 to watch the state’s biggest game of the year, The Brawl of the Wild. Brothers divided battled for the title of state champions for the 117th time. The Griz were keen on bringing back the Great Divide Trophy to Missoula, while the Cats were eager to pick up their first win against UM at home since 2005.
The Griz received the first half kickoff, and began driving down the field. Due to headset complications, MSU defensive coordinators were not able to make the play calls, which forced Head Coach Jeff Choate to call the plays on the first Montana possession. UM pushed the ball all the way to the Bobcats’ three-yard line before they were stopped. The Griz kicked a field goal, giving them an early 3-0 lead.
After multiple punts and unsuccessful drives by both teams, the Cats finally managed to gain some momentum on a drive that spanned from the end of the first quarter to the beginning of the second. After a pass interference call in the end zone on the Griz, MSU received the ball at the UM two-yard line, and freshman Troy Andersen rushed into the endzone. This touchdown put the Cats ahead 7-3. On UM’s next possession, they moved the ball down the field until the Bobcats forced a fourth and two situation at the MSU 32-yard line. The Griz opted to go for it, but were stuffed by Cats’ senior linebacker Mac Bignell for a staggering eight-yard loss.
After unsuccessful first and second down plays by MSU, it was third and 21 from the MSU 29 yard line. Sophomore quarterback Chris Murray handed the ball off to senior running back Nick Lasane. Lasane hurdled a few UM defenders at the line of scrimmage, and broke through for an explosive 71-yard touchdown rush. This brought the Cats ahead of the Griz 14-3. UM responded on their next drive with a touchdown of their own.
MSU started their next drive from their own 20-yard line. A group effort with rushes from sophomore wide receiver Kevin Kassis, Lasane, Andersen, and Murray lead to a touchdown. The final play in the drive was an impressive 19-yard run by Andersen for his second touchdown of the day. With the stadium buzzing, the Cats added to their lead, now up 21-10. Before the end of the second quarter, the Griz managed to kick a successful 41 yard field goal. Going into halftime, MSU lead UM 21-13, but the game was far from over.
The Cats received the second half kickoff, and moved the ball to the UM two-yard line with a plethora of runs from Murray until they were stopped. Sophomore kicker Gabe Peppenger kicked a successful 20-yard field goal to put MSU ahead 24-13 on their opening drive of the third quarter. UM pushed the ball down the field on their next possession, up until senior safety Khari Garcia made a spectacular interception. The remainder of the third quarter was relatively uneventful; no points were added to the scoreboard by either team.
To open up the fourth quarter, the Griz drove down the field and made a 35-yard field goal to close the Cats’ lead to only eight points. On MSU’s next drive they marched down the field, with some help from several big runs by Murray. Fittingly, on first and goal, Murray ran for a four-yard touchdown, capping off an eight-play, 75-yard drive. Halfway through the fourth quarter, the Cats extended their lead to 15 over the Griz.
The Griz struck quick on their next drive, scoring a 32-yard receiving touchdown and made the contest a one-possession game. MSU’s next drive was unsuccessful and they were forced to punt. On the second play of UM’s ensuing drive, redshirt freshman quarterback, Gresch Jensen, fumbled the ball and it was recovered by Bignell. Once again, Bobcat Stadium was booming. MSU had a chance to close out this game on offense, but unfortunately couldn’t score. After a trick play, a punt by Murray on fourth down, the Griz started their drive on their own 12-yard line with only 2:08 remaining in the contest.
The Griz pushed the ball further and further down the field, until it came down to one play. It was fourth down and 10 on MSU’s 28-yard line with only nine seconds left in the game. Jensen received the snap, dropped back in the pocket and looked to pass to sophomore wide receiver Colin Bingham near the end zone, but the pass was broken up by Bobcat freshman safety Tyrel Thomas to seal the win for MSU.
With four seconds left in the game, Murray kneeled the ball and the Bobcats won. As time expired the crowd screamed in elation as students poured over the sides of the stadium to rush the field. The team hoisted the Great Divide trophy in the air, along with a whiteboard that read, “BACK TO BACK STATE CHAMPS” as MSU students gathered around and shared in the team’s excitement.
After the game, the press conference was full of gratitude and pride for the Bobcats’ players, coaches and fans. Choate was clearly ecstatic with the win. He talked about their run game, stating, “We are always going to run the ball around here. If you can run the ball you can do anything.” He also praised the entire Bobcat football team and their dedicated fans, voicing, “This is a tough group of kids, they got off the mat every single week, and they were gaming every single time they went out to compete. I’m proud to be their coach.” When asked about what it’s like to see everyone celebrating the win, he said, “It’s humbling. This fanbase is as good as there is in this country at any level.”
Mac Bignell spoke about what the win meant to him,”It’s a dream come true. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to play for the Cats and beat the Griz.” He also talked about his mixed feelings, this being his last game playing for the Bobcats after a very successful career.
Senior wide-receiver Mitch Herbert chimed in showing the team’s appreciation for Choate, saying, ”All of us love Coach Choate, and love what he’s doing with this program and we trust him. We would do anything for Coach Choate.”
Chris Murray expressed how strong of a bond the team has. He told reporters that the win was a “tremendous effort by the whole team.” To close out the press conference he said, “To win and be 2-0 versus the Griz is truly a blessing.”
After a season full of up and downs, the Cats managed to win arguably the most important game of the season and go out on a high note. Choate addressed the feeling, speaking about how good it feels to win the game, but said,”It doesn’t take away the sting from some of those losses.” Ultimately, the Bobcat community will hold on to their bragging rights for another year.