MISSOULA — On Saturday afternoon, which eventually turned into evening, the Montana State Bobcats proved they certainly were capable of mixing it up in a Brawl. Then again, just when you’d think there would be little reason left to fight, the Monta
na Grizzlies showed they had four more quarters in them too.
And that’s the story of the 2012 Brawl of the Wild inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium, won by MSU 16-7, in a game which harkened back to the old days on the gridiron. Saturday’s game once again proved that no matter who’s better, no matter who’s troubled and no matter where it’s held, it’s a classic showdown.
It’s been that way for seemingly ever and it was that way again on Saturday.
First, credit has to be given to the Bobcats. They beat the Grizzlies in Missoula for the second straight time, having also won back in 2010. In this rivalry, that’s not an easy feat by any means. But then again, maybe that is the one thing that’s changing in this grand old game, because the road team has won the last five Brawls dating back to UM’s win in Bozeman in 2007.
But little else has changed in the historic contest, well maybe except for the fact that is was dark when the game ended. That’s something that hasn’t happened too often either.
Defense was the key to victory, and MSU’s was just a little bit better than Montana’s Saturday afternoon.
It’s true, neither offense played anywhere near its potential, especially the Griz, who continued to send freshman punter Stephen Shaw out to the field, over and over and over again. If it seemed like Shaw was the busiest player on the field Saturday, it’s probably because he was, and much of that was due to a very lackluster showing by a once-feared Griz offense.
MSU’s high-powered attack, which dismantled Portland State just seven days earlier, never really got clicking either. For the second straight year, star running back Cody Kirk was bottled up. For all of Kirk’s huge offensive numbers, he now has exactly 91 yards and no touchdowns in two starts against UM.
And while many fans were disgruntled with the less-than-stellar offensive show Saturday, mostly Griz fans, they need to respect what both defenses accomplished. Some might call that game ugly, I call it a master piece of a defensive struggle.
And to me, that’s what I think of whenever I think of Cat-Griz games. Both football teams are known for physicality, hard work and blue-collar effort, so I felt it was only fitting that just two offensive touchdowns were scored Saturday, especially in a rivalry that’s one of the oldest in college football, and especially in an era where offenses are designed to waste little time putting up points and where ball-control, and to a point, ball security is a thing of the past.
Instead of the combined 66 points a game the Cats and Griz were averaging coming into Saturday’s showdown, the two teams decided to wage a defensive, field position war, and they decided to keep fans on both sides of the Divide holding their breath until the final 2:22 when MSU’s Rory Perez knocked a 22-yard field goal through the swirling Hellgate Canyon winds, putting the game out of reach and sending Montana to its first losing season since 1985.
Now that’s a true Cat-Griz game if you ask me, and games played between these two bitter rivals should always end dramatically.
In the weeks building up to the game, many fans on both sides of the rivalry though the game would be a blowout. After all, the Griz just haven’t been the Griz this season and MSU is the second-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision, a the Cats seemed to be building towards something very special.
But those same fans forgot that this is Cat-Griz. They forgot about past Brawls when heavily-favored Griz teams in the mid-to-late 90’s, and earlier this decade, had some dramatic games with the Bobcats. They forgot that records don’t matter in this rivalry. They seemed to forget, that when Montana and Montana State play each other, it’s more than a football game, and that it usually ends up transcending the kind of season either squad has had prior to the third week in November.
But Saturday reminded those fans, and all of us who love this rivalry so dearly, just what it’s all about. It’s special, it’s high drama, it’s intense and emotional, and most of all, it’s usually pretty darn close.
This was one was. This was one, like so many other Cat-Griz games before it, was an instant classic.
None of us should have expected anything less.