In one way or another, both the Montana Grizzlies and the Montana State Bobcats were destined to play the road games they’ll be playing on Saturday night.
Montana makes a histori
c trip to Boone, N.C. Saturday to take on the Appalachian State Mountaineers for the first time in the regular season. The matchup between the two winningest programs in the FCS over the last 10 years is the first of a home-and-home series will bring App. State to Missoula for a Friday night game in August of 2013.
Meanwhile, the Bobcats are traveling to Drake, and while the game itself might be a mismatch, it’s a homecoming for MSU head coach Rob Ash, who is the winningest all-time coach at Drake as he spent 13 seasons coaching the non-scholarship Bulldogs before moving on to Bozeman.
So there’s plenty of excitement surrounding both games.
But both games are also huge road tests for the Montana schools.
The No. 9 Griz (1-0) handled their season-opening challenge against a tough South Dakota squad 35-24 last Saturday in Missoula, and quarterback Trent McKinney passes his first test with flying colors, completing 77 percent of his passes while throwing for a couple of scores in his first-ever start. Dan Moore and Peter Nyguen each rushed for over 100 yards and the Griz defense, with 10 new starters, came up with two turnovers and held Joe Glenn’s Coyotes to a scant 240 yards of total offense.
But the No. 8 Mountaineers (0-1) are a whole other animal, and they are getting the Griz inside famed Kidd-Brewer Stadium, also known as “The Rock” on Saturday night. The Mountaineers lost their season opener to FBS East Carolina last week, but with talented quarterback Jamal Jackson at the helm of a stellar passing attack, a Montana-sized offensive line and at a talented and speedy defense, the Griz will be certainly be the underdog on Saturday night.
There’s also a little matter of revenge and some history standing in the way of the Griz.
Montana has twice defeated the Mountaineers in thrilling FCS semifinal games in Missoula. The Griz beat ASU in overtime in the 2001 FCS semis on their way to the national championship. Then, in 2009, on a snowy December night, the two teams waged what is considered the greatest FCS game ever played, another semifinal showdown won by Montana in the waning minutes.
But as historic as the Griz have been over the last 20 years, ASU has three FCS national championships a historic win over Michigan and the Mountaineers have only lost five home games in their last 66 at Kidd-Brewer, a stadium that can hold nearly 30,000 and will sure to be rocking on Saturday night.
“This is going to be a great atmosphere and it’s going to be a real challenge for the coaches and our players to go to Boone, N.C., and see where we’re at,” New Griz head coach Mick Delaney said. “We’re always up to the challenge, and this is as big a challenge as you can have without going to a Tennessee or a Michigan State or an Arizona. It’s fun. This is why you come to Montana, to play games like this.”
While the Griz are battling an arch FCS rival, perhaps the only school which can boast as much history as the Griz can, the No. 4 Bobcats (1-0) will be in Des Moines, Iowa to take on the Drake Bulldogs (1-0), a team Ash spent a total of 18 great years with.
Two years ago, MSU beat the Bulldogs 48-21 in Bozeman and now the Cats are making good on the return game. But as Ash pointed out, it’s a much different Drake squad then the one that came to Bobcat Stadium, and his Cats are different as well.
"Drake is very solid and sound," he said. "They have tough, smart players that are very well-coached. Watching them on film is a lot like watching our team. Chris Creighton and his staff have done an excellent job.
"We were in a much different situation then," Ash said. "We hadn't accomplished anything in our program. DeNarius was a young quarterback, and we were still building. But we that game started us on a great run, we beat the Griz, won the (Big Sky) championship. And Drake came within a game of winning their league that season, then won it last year."
This Drake team doesn’t consist of any players Ash coached before arriving at MSU five years ago. But going home will still be an emotional trip for the Bobcat leader.
Still, MSU will be a heavy favorite, especially with quarterback DeNarius McGhee and the three-headed monster running back trio of Cody Kirk, Orenzo Davis and Tray Robinson. MSU also boasts an ultra-fast defense which helped shut down Chadron State 36-6 last Thursday night in Bozeman.
Saturday night’s game between the Bobcats and Bulldogs will kick off at 5 p.m. M.S.T. in Des Moines, Iowa. There is no local television or satellite coverage planned for the game. Montana’s game at Appalachian State will kick off at 4:40 p.m. M.S.T. In Boone, N.C. Cable and satellite subscribers can purchase the game for $25 on ESPN GamePlan, or internet users who get ESPN3 can view the game online.