MISSOULA — Thursday night was a big opening night for Big Sky Conference football. Can the Montana Grizzlies add to it?
We'll soon find out.
After a long wait and then some, the Grizzlies will suit up for a normal fall schedule football game when they visit the Washington Huskies in Seattle on Saturday evening, just under two years since Montana last played a typical fall game when it lost in the FCS quarterfinal round in 2019.
"It's awesome to be back to normal and getting ready to kick the season off," UM coach Bobby Hauck said. "Excited about that and excited about the opportunity to play the Washington Huskies."
When the Huskies and Grizzlies clash on Saturday, it'll be a reuniting of sorts for Hauck.
Hauck spent four seasons at Washington from 1999-2002 as an assistant coach before leaving to become Montana's head coach in 2003, the first year of his first tenure guiding the program.
With it, there's plenty of memories.
"(I) remember having a lot of success, lot of wins, winning the Rose Bowl (on Jan. 1, 2001)," Hauck said. "Beating Drew Brees in the Rose Bowl, that was great. It’s just a powerful, powerful place."
Though he wasn't at UM the last time the Grizzlies played the Huskies in 2017, Hauck is plenty aware of how that outcome went and wants to put on a better showing than that season.
"We went out there a couple years ago and it was 63-7," Hauck said. "There’s all kinds of adjectives you can use to describe that but there’s only one way to slice it, that’s a demolishing and I hope we’ve closed the gap some."
UM's matchup with UW will come two days after the Big Sky Conference earned a pair of wins over FBS teams as UC Davis topped Tulsa 19-17 while Eastern Washington beat UNLV 35-33 in a double overtime thriller.
With fall camp now in the books, Washington enters the game ranked No. 20 in the FBS while Montana is No. 9 at the FCS level. For a look at Montana's depth chart, click here.
"It's a long time coming," UM quarterback Cam Humphrey said. "COVID kind of derailed us for a little bit but we're ready to get going and we're ready to play."
The Grizzlies will be paid $675,000 in guaranteed game money for making the trip west, and linebacker Jace Lewis, who also played against Washington in that 2017 game, said the preparation is similar to when the Grizzlies played another PAC-12 foe in Oregon in 2019.
"We talked about that a lot last week just like how we prepared for Oregon and stuff but going into Oregon, I mean, coach Hauck has us ready and fired up for that game and I think we’ll have the same mentality if not more," Lewis said. "We haven’t played for two years so I think guys are fired up and ready to hit the field running so I’m excited for this game."
Griz wide receiver Samuel Akem remembers when he was a wide-eyed redshirt freshman in 2017 playing in just his second college game against the Huskies, and how this year's approach has been much more focused, similar to the Oregon contest.
"It’s been good to be able to measure ourselves and see how we stack up," Akem said. "I feel like it’s going to be great. It’s going to be great and it feels great to be able to play against these teams. It’s been awesome to play against these teams. It’s been really great to be able to play Washington as a freshman. Back then I was wide-eyed freshman, didn’t really know what was going on. I’m like wow, I was just happy to be out there, like man, we’re playing Washington. And then now obviously I feel like it’s kind of the same as it was in 2019."
Kickoff between Montana and Washington will be at 6 p.m. Mountain time on Saturday.