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On doorstep of first Big Sky title in over a decade, No. 3 UM ready to welcome rival MSU in monumental clash

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Posted at 5:44 PM, Nov 17, 2023

MISSOULA — We're less than 24 hours away from the 122nd Brawl of the Wild between the No. 3 Montana Grizzlies and No. 4 Montana State Bobcats. Details on how to watch the game can be found here.

For the Griz, they're riding a six-game winning streak coming into this game, and they've turned their season around completely from how Big Sky Conference play started, and a win over the Bobcats would have them riding that momentum higher into the postseason.

Brawl of the Wild: Montana, Montana State rosters feature 92 Treasure State natives

"I think the college football rivalry is really a cool thing in all of sports, and we're lucky to have a longstanding traditional in-state rivalry," UM head coach Bobby Hauck said. "It's a cool deal."

We'd say throw the records out for this year's Brawl of the Wild, but the records play a large factor.

That's because UM (9-1, 6-1 Big Sky) and MSU (8-2, 6-1) could be vying for home-field advantage heading into the playoffs with the winner of Saturday's contest likely earning a top two or three seed in Sunday's selection show.

This is the first top-5 matchup between the teams ever, plus the outright Big Sky regular-season title is also on the line, but for UM staying even-keeled is paramount.

"I would say just got to treat it like the other games," senior linebacker Braxton Hill said. "You can't get too high, you can't get too low, you have to stay levelheaded, and we're going to have to execute our game plan and understand that you just can't let the emotion take away from you not doing your job."

But, it's Brawl week, and if you don't think everyone knows, well, fans will make sure they do.

"They all want to make sure you know who you're playing this week," Hauck joked. "I get a ton of those, too."

"They hit you up like you don't know that it's the rivalry game, it's kind of funny," senior linebacker Levi Janacaro added. "They just love it, and people being so invested is what makes this rivalry great, but from our standpoint I think we've been here long enough that we're mature enough to block that out and just focus on doing what we have to do."

The Grizzlies won this game back in 2021, the last time the matchup was in Missoula. Should Montana win this time around, it will win its first Big Sky championship since 2009, though the Griz did win it in 2011 but that was later vacated by the NCAA.

For the Montana natives, this game has meant everything in the past, as they've grown up watching as fans and now experience it as players.

"Growing up and watching the Brawl, it was always my favorite game of the year, so to be able to play in it has been a blessing and a heck of an opportunity. It's been really cool," Janacaro said.

Same goes for UM's out-of-state products, who quickly learned what this rivalry means in the 406.

"Ever since I moved up here and transferred to the University of Montana, I tried to dive into the culture here," senior center AJ Forbes said. "Obviously this game is a big deal to a lot of people around the state, and I'm proud of the opportunity that I get to be a part of it and I'm excited to play in it."

After a long season of monitoring them from afar, the focus is now on the Bobcats, as the Grizzlies have put themselves in prime position to have a long run past this game.

But it all starts Saturday against the neighbors with everything on the line.

"We put in a lot of work when we're not in season and football doesn't really care about all of the work you've put in, so it's nice that we've been winning games, but like Braxton said, just got to take it week-to-week," Janacaro said. "Each team, you've got to focus on what they do how that applies to what you're doing and focus on doing your 1/11th as perfect as you can."