MISSOULA — At long last, the wait is over.
For the first time in 485 days, the Montana football team will take the field in an official game when the Grizzlies welcome Central Washington to Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Saturday morning.
"I think everybody involved is pretty excited to play somebody else," Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. "Last week, trying to keep players from killing each other and coaches from killing each other, it’s nice to have a common opponent rather than the offense or the defense.
"I think everybody’s pretty enthused to play. If they aren’t, we got the wrong dudes."
Kickoff between the two schools will be at 11 a.m. on Saturday with 5,000 fans in attendance to watch the first college football game in Missoula since Montana's FCS playoff win over Southeastern Louisiana on Dec. 7, 2019.
It's a long time coming for Montana, which last went 10-4 in 2019 before seeing the 2020 fall season postponed to spring. The Grizzlies ultimately opted out of the Big Sky Conference spring season, choosing instead to play two games to cap off spring ball before heading into a full fall 2021 schedule.
The same could be said for Central Washington, an NCAA Division II school located in Ellensburg, Washington. The Wildcats went 7-4 in 2019, including a close 41-31 loss to Idaho.
Hauck is plenty familiar with what CWU can bring to the table. Back in 2008, the Wildcats visited Hauck's Grizzlies, a game UM narrowly won 38-35.
"Neither one of us has played for quite a while so there’s going to be some change," Hauck said. "We know we can anticipate a good battle. In '08 they came in here and could’ve beat us and that was a Griz team that won 14 (games) and played for the national championship so we know we’ll have our hands full."
Saturday's game will conclude the fourth week of spring ball for the Grizzlies, with next Saturday's matchup against Portland State capping the 36-day stretch. When putting the two-game schedule together, Hauck said a number of factors went into effect when weighing the options and finding the right opponents who could make it work.
"There's a lot that went into it in terms of logistics, like being able to get here at a reasonable cost," Hauck said. "With what airlines cost, it would've been hard to bring in someone from the East Coast. We were looking for teams that would be a great game, would be a challenge for them, a challenge for us. And then proximity, which means probably a bus trip. We were able to just call the coaches and set it up which was pretty cool."
It's a return to normal for UM, and the Griz are ready to showcase what they've been working on for over the past year.
"It's exciting," UM senior linebacker Jace Lewis said. "It's a little bit different that game week is in the spring, but it just feels normal for once that we actually have a game week leading up into a game so it'll be fun this Saturday to actually go against somebody other than our offense for once. It should be fun."