OGDEN — Over the years, Weber State's football team has had a mighty tough time knocking off the University of Montana.
The Grizzlies, a tradition-rich powerhouse in the Big Sky Conference, have won 12 of the past 14 meetings between the two schools, 17 of the last 20 and 21 of the last 25 played in the series. Overall, Montana holds a dominating 38-13 advantage over WSU.
But there's a rainbow trying to peak through that dark cloud, a little ray of sunshine that provides a glimmer of hope in what has been an otherwise pretty dark and stormy series for the Wildcats.
Sure, WSU has lost 12 of its last 14 to the Grizz, but the Wildcats have won the last two games played at Stewart Stadium, in 2008 and 2010.
And that's where today's nationally televised matchup (ROOT Sports) will kick off at 1:30 p.m.
While the Grizzlies are struggling through an uncharacteristic down year — at 4-5 overall, they must win their last two games to avoid their first losing season since 1985 — the 1-7 Wildcats come into today's contest buoyed by their first win of the season two weeks ago at Southern Utah. SUU, by the way, beat Montana earlier this season in Missoula, Mont.
WSU interim head coach Jody Sears is proud of the way his team hung in there after losing its first seven games of the season.
"We just kept our nose to the grindstone and just kept playing," he said. "I'm just so proud of these kids. It says a lot about the character of our kids and about our leaders. We didn't panic.
"We're going to stay the course and just stay consistent with our leadership, with our daily work habits, our discipline, and making sure that everything stays the same. You get up and go to work, that's what you do. You love each other and you pray, and you stay united and you work. You stay disciplined and you do the right things."
That said, Sears knows his team. Weber had a bye last week and will be playing its first home game in almost a month and will have its hands full with the Grizzlies, even in a down year for the Montana program.
"It was nice to have a break last week but we're excited to get back playing this week and we're excited to be back home," Sears said.
"Montana is a very good football team that is very well coached. They are extremely physical and play very hard. We have to keep focused on the process and control what we can do."
Montana might be having an off year, but don't tell that to Idaho State, which got walloped by the Grizzlies 70-24 a week ago. The Grizzlies lead the Big Sky and rank 12th nationally in total offense, averaging 464.6 yards per game, including 246.7 yards per game rushing.
Peter Nguyen leads the way with 79 yards rushing per game and ranks ninth in Montana school history in career rushing yards. Sophomore quarterback Shay Smithwick-Hann started his first career game against Idaho State a week ago and finished the day 14 of 21 for 205 yards and three touchdowns.
While Weber State's defense — which turned in a strong performance in the victory over Southern Utah — will be sternly tested today by Montana, the Wildcats will be hoping to continue to get strong performances from their own offensive leaders: senior quarterback Mike Hoke, sophomore receiver Xavian Johnson and senior running back C.J. Tuckett.
Hoke threw for 206 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 56 more yards and another TD against Southern Utah, while Johnson had six catches for 123 yards and a touchdown and Tuckett added 90 yards rushing and a TD against the Thunderbirds.
Big Sky football
Montana (4-5, 2-4 Big Sky) at Weber State (1-7, 1-4)
Today, 1:30 p.m.
Stewart Stadium, Ogden
TV: ROOT Sports
Radio: 1280 AM
Southern Utah (4-5, 3-3) at North Dakota (4-5, 2-4)
Alerus Center, Grand Forks, N.D.
Radio: 91.1 FM
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