Montana seeks winning season versus bitter rival

It's been 27 years since the University of Montana football program last had a losing season.

To salvage a winning season on Saturday, the Grizzlies (5-5) need a Big Sky Conference win at home versus heated rival Montana State in the 112th edition of "The Brawl of the Wild."

It's hard to imagine what a difference one year can make. In 2011, the Griz finished 11-3 and fell to Sam Houston State in the FCS national semifinals. Plus, they won or shared 13 of the 14 Big Sky titles between 1998 and 2011.

After an offseason filled with turmoil, controversy and the firing of the school's head coach, Robin Pflugrad, and athletic director, Jim O'Day, it's been a difficult season for one of the FCS' most successful programs.

A victory on Senior Day versus the Bobcats would avoid UM's first losing season since 1985. It also could provide momentum for the offseason, which still may lead to NCAA sanctions for the way the university and athletic program responded to alleged sexual assaults by student-athletes in recent years.

"This is really about those 12 seniors," Montana first-year coach Mick Delaney said about the final game. "It's not about myself or the coaches or anything else. These kids have hung in there through a whole bunch of adversity since Day 1, since the day I did come back to the University of Montana. Nobody deserves to go out with a win anymore than these 12 seniors do. It would mean a tremendous amount to them and to our program."

Montana State enters the game ranked No. 2 in the FCS Top 25 and would secure a share of a third straight conference title and likely a playoff seed with a victory. The Bobcats got outplayed last year in Bozeman and gave up over 300 rushing yards while falling, 36-10, to end the regular season.

Since 1986. Montana State has managed just two wins at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, in 2002 and 2010. Overall, Montana has won 22 of the last 26 meetings in the series.

This is a contest featuring the Big Sky's No. 1 total defense in Montana State (305 yards per game) and the No. 1-ranked offense in Montana (461 yards per game).