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Big Sky Notes: First look at Saturday’s Brawl

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | November 16, 2021 10:11 PM

And so it is now “Brawl” week, or as some like to call it, “Cat-Griz Week,” which is what it was for decades upon decades before Griz fans started wondering why it wasn’t “Griz-Cat.”

At any rate the 120th renewal of its compromise name, “Brawl of the Wild,” is set for noon Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Monday press conferences were in order, and Griz coach Bobby Hauck again found himself a “thousand-word underdog.”

He used that phrase when Mike Kramer coached the Bobcats; now it’s Brent Vigen, who patiently answered questions for his usual 30 minutes. Hauck and three players made it around 14.

“We’ve dropped the last two to these guys,” said Hauck, referring to the games he coached in 2018-19, and not the two wins MSU got over Bob Stitt and the Griz in 2016-17. “So, we need a win. That’s what it is.

“I think they’re good up front on both sides of the ball; that’s where it starts.”

“There’s no looking ahead, no looking back. This week we have a lot to play for,” Vigen, in his first year of the rivalry, said.

Players to watch

On Monday Hauck did not use the words “Montana State,” or “State,” or even, “Bozeman.” He did mention Bobcat defensive end Daniel Hardy by number, and running back Isaiah Infanse by name.

“Forty-four (Hardy) has 10 sacks or something,” he said. “He plays really hard and has good speed. I like their front; he’s good.”

Ifanse had nine carries for 83 yards Saturday against Idaho before exiting the game for unclear reasons. His health is “day-to-day,” though Vigen was positive about his prospects to play Saturday. Hauck was more emphatic about the possible Big Sky Conference offensive MVP.

“I wouldn’t put too much into that,” Hauck said. “I think Ifanse is as good a running back as there is in the league, and I think he’s going to play. I’d be shocked if he’s not out there.”

“They’re playing really good football right now,” Vigen said of the Griz. “They’re a very aggressive defense, very much an attack style. There are a couple guys that come on the blitz that are Buchanan Award list guys, and very well-deserved (Jace Lewis and Patrick O’Connell; MSU’s Troy Andersen is also on there).

“(Safety) Robby Hauck is all over the place, I think he has over 100 tackles. (Cornerback Justin) Ford has all those interceptions. They’re finding a way to disrupt, tackle well and turn people over.”

What to make of it

While Montana was riding a dominant defense to a 30-3 win over Northern Arizona, Montana State was struggling at home against ninth-place Idaho before winning 20-13 on Tommy Mellott’s late touchdown.

It was reminiscent of Montana’s struggle at home against last-place Southern Utah (a 20-19 win; SUU fired coach Demario Warren Monday).

“Looking at the film, I don’t think it looked much different than it probably felt in here on Saturday afternoon,” Vigen said. “We allowed Idaho an opportunity to hang around, though credit to them. Fortunately we were able to put together that sequence — special teams to defense to offense — to take the lead and close a game that we needed to. At the end of it that’s all that counts.”

Idaho coach Paul Petrino bemoaned not putting more pressure on in his post-game radio interview, particularly when his Vandals had first-and-10 at the MSU 12 midway through the third quarter. A holding penalty on first down and a sack on third down led to a missed 41-yard field goal by Logan Prescott, who’d earlier in the period tied the game 13-all.

Mellott came in as a running QB in the absence of both Ifanse and his backup, Elijah Elliott. He scored all three MSU touchdowns. The last came after Bryce Leighton pinned Idaho back at its 10, MSU forced a 3-and-out and got a 28-yard punt. Mellott was 1-for-2 passing but ran for 68 yards.

“It played out in such a fashion that Tommy became a priority runner, the second half,” Vigen said. “In a perfect world you’re not playing the shuffle like we did. But Saturday that’s the way it needed to play out. We were thrown a curveball and did what we needed to do, and fortunately it worked out for us.”

Montana, meanwhile, dominated in Flagstaff though it scored just one offensive touchdown. Quarterback Cam Humphrey had 185 passing yards in the first half, but the Griz led just 13-0.

O’Connell’s touchdown off a fumble forced by Robby Hauck created more breathing room in the second half; Eureka’s Garrett Graves had the capper with his 25-yard pick-six.

“I enjoyed watching our team,” Bobby Hauck said. “I enjoyed watching our film.”

Quotable

“They’re a great defense, they brought the house a lot. A lot of times we were hot in our protections and had to get the ball out quickly. And we just, at the end of the day, didn’t make enough plays on offense.”

-NAU quarterback Cale Millen, in the Arizona Daily Sun.

QUICK KICKS: Idaho RB Rashaun Johnson’s rushing numbers dropped from 174 yards and six TDs against Southern Utah to 41 and zero against the Cats. … O’Connell, out of Glacier High, had an earlier fumble return for a TD against Cal Poly called back on Sept. 5. … Vigen called the status of both Elliott and Ifanse day-to-day Monday. … Hauck appeared surprised Monday when Robby Hauck’s Big Sky and national player of the week awards were mentioned. “Thanks for letting me know, Tabes,” he said, looking at Griz SID Eric Taber. “I’m probably the only guy in this room that didn’t know that.” Hauck is 5-4 in “The Brawl” as a head coach. … Saturday was the Grizzlies’ first win at NAU since 2011, though they hadn’t played there since 2016. Montana is now 37-14 all-time against NAU, and 16-9 in Flagstaff.