MISSOULA — The Montana Grizzlies inch closer to a heavyweight matchup with North Dakota State on Saturday in the FCS semifinal round.
One man who has been watching closely all season is Grizzly hall of famer and former UM quarterback turned TV broadcaster Marty Mornhinweg.
"Big game, North Dakota State," Mornhingweg told MTN Sports. "The Bison coming into play the Grizzlies of Montana. Both teams are really good football teams. They're talented. They're disciplined, typically disciplined. They're very well coached."
The longtime NFL coach, whose son, Bobby Cade Mornhinweg, is an offensive analyst for the Bison, sees this game as a toss up, between the two powerhouses.
"This game, may come down to one, two or three plays during the ballgame, a great play by one of the teams or a mistake, a big mistake by one of the teams, it may come down to a great effort by one of the individuals on one of the teams it might be the bounce of the ball," he said. "And so this is going to be a fascinating game.
"The Montana Grizzlies have a real advantage playing at home in the Washington-Grizzly Stadium; 27,000 crazed fans and all of that noise. That is a big advantage. The Griz rarely lose playing in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Now the Bison, you compile that onto the Bison, they played unseeded, so they had to play at home the first round, they've been on the road and on the road. This will be their third road game in three weeks. That's a big, big challenge for the Bison of North Dakota State."
As an alum of Montana, and now color analyst for the Montana Television Network and Scripps Sports during Grizzly Big Sky Conference games, Mornhinweg is locked in all season on Montana.
He was there when UM fell to Northern Arizona back in September, but like everyone else has seen the Griz turn it around.
"And I said that week, weeks from now, we may look back at that game and and think that may have been the key to their season, a great season," Mornhinweg said. "And you look back now and go, OK, here's what those leaders did for the Montana Grizzlies. Those leaders on that football team, the tough-minded, the tough physical type of players, they went, that type of thing that happened in Flagstaff will not happen to us again.
"And here's how we're going to go about our business. And then secondly, they selected the man, they selected a quarterback. That position is important to have a starter. Why? Because that position is thrust into a leadership-type role. And Clifton McDowell is still undefeated as a starter for the Montana Grizzlies."
Doing the broadcasts has also brought Mornhinweg close with his alma mater again.
"And my job, I just view it as it's kind of easy because Jay (Kohn) does play-by-play, and then when he stops talking, I'll talk about what I've seen and it pulled me back in to the Grizzly football just a little bit in these past couple years and I've really enjoyed it. I've had a blast," he said.
He's had a front-row seat to the success the Grizzlies have found this season, and it all leads up to the big one on Saturday afternoon at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
"Well, I'm much like everybody else in this area. Very proud. Very proud of the University of Montana, proud of the Griz, proud of the football team," he said. "They've got tough men, talented men, smart men over there at the University of Montana, and they're affiliated with the football team.
"Now whoever wins this, what a great Christmas present. Let's say the Grizzlies win it, what a great Christmas present for the city of Missoula, the surrounding area, and really the whole state of Montana. If the Bison win it, what a great present for the city of Fargo, the surrounding area and the great state of North Dakota. Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas."