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Cats, Griz aim to bounce back

 

October 25, 2019

406 Sports

Montana's Jerry Louie-McGee, right, hauls in a pass during a 2017 meeting between the Grizzlies and Eastern Washington. The two bitter rivals meet Saturday in Missoula. Both Montana, and Montana State are looking to rebound from losses to Sacramento State Saturday.

Now that both the Montana Grizzlies and Montana State Bobcats have found out just how good the Sacramento State Hornets are, they can both move on.

And that’s exactly what both teams will try and do this Saturday, though neither of them have it easy.

The No. 10 Grizzlies (2-1, 5-2) not only got bludgeoned by Sac. State last Saturday night, 49-22, they might have lost senior quarterback Dalton Sneed for yet another huge game — this Saturday’s highly anticipated showdown with Eastern Washington.

Sneed left the game against the Hornets in the second half with a sprained ankle, and his status for Saturday’s battle with the Eagles is up in the air. If Sneed can’t go, it will be up to junior Cam Humphrey, who is a former QB at Boise State, but who has seen little meaningful playing time the last two years with Sneed at the controls.

But, no matter who starts for the Griz, it’s going to be a big game in Missoula for many reasons.

“Big game this weekend against Eastern,” Griz head coach Bobby Hauck said at his Monday press conference. “It’s a traditional matchup the people here have paid attention to, and it’s a game of import here, and it’s been that way for a long time. So, we need to get back to work and get ready for them. They have a really good football team. Obviously, we all are aware that they played in the national championship game a year ago.”

It is big. For one, Montana was rolling before last week’s tumble in Sacramento, and the Griz, who are undefeated at home, want to quickly get that swagger back, especially with such a tough schedule yet to come.

Another reason its big is that the Griz can essentially put EWU out of playoff contention with a win Saturday. The Eagles started the season 1-4 but have reeled off a couple of wins in a row, and are coming off a bye week. Of course, Eastern’s rough start won’t fool anybody either because the Eagles have quarterback Eric Barriere and one of the most potent offenses in the FCS. And while it’s weird to see the Eagles not ranked in the Top 25, their talent still makes them very much a Top 25, and, especially if Sneed can’t play, a very dangerous opponent.

Saturday is also huge because the Griz and Eagles are not playing each other every season. They didn’t meet last year, with Idaho now becoming Montana’s second rival. So Saturday’s game in Missoula will be the last time EWU is slated to come to the Griz until October of 2023. Of course, the Griz are also now in playoff fight mode, and playing a bitter rival is always huge.

Montana State (2-1, 5-2) is also in playoff fight mode, but, the No. 9 Cats should be a bit more refreshed.

After falling to Sac. State back on Oct. 12 in Bozeman, the Cats had their bye last week, and should be as healthy as they’ve been in some time when they visit North Dakota (4-3).

The Cats have seen star running back Isaiah Ifanse miss time, and the likes of Troy Andersen, Logan Jones and more have to play through injuries.

“We’re not unlike anybody else,” MSU head coach Jeff Choate said at his weekly press conference. “Everybody’s got nicks and bruises and dings. There’s certainly some guys that we’d like to get back, and we’re hopeful that’s going to happen, but it’s just a matter of time.”

While the Cats aren’t unlike anybody else this time of year, their opponent this week is. UND is no longer a member of the Big Sky Conference, but their games against Big Sky teams are conference games for their opponents, and that means, after the loss to Sac. State two weeks ago, MSU has a big road test Saturday.

“It’s a conference game for us, and I pointed that out to our players on Sunday to make sure they understand the significance of this game,” Choate said. “I also pointed out that there’s a couple teams that rolled out there to North Dakota and maybe not understood the importance of that and paid the price.”

UND, has made others pay the price indeed. The Fighting Hawks have home wins over Sam Houston State and UC Davis, two high-powered offenses, so knowing the physical style of defense UND plays, the Cats, led by sophomore quarterback Tucker Rovig, as well as do-everything-man Travis Jonsen, will need to be very efficient on that side of the ball.

Defensively, the Cats do bring one of the best units in the Big Sky, led by DE Bryce Sterk, as well as Andersen at LB and Brayden Konkol at safety. But that defense will be tested by a much more wide open offense, led by former Sac. State QB Nate Ketteringham, who QB’d the Hornets to a win over MSU four years ago.

Still, no matter who is at the controls for the Fighting Hawks, just like in Missoula, MSU’s game in Grand Forks Saturday is a big one, for so many reasons.

“This is a huge, huge game for us,” Choate said. “ A huge game for us in terms of the way this season sets up, coming off the bye week, getting that taste out of our mouth from Sacramento State.”

The Cats meet UND Saturday at 11 a.m. in Grand Forks. The game will be televised on all Montana SWX affiliates. Montana and Eastern Washington kick off Saturday at noon in Missoula. That game will be televised nationally on Root Sports.

 

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