MISSOULA — No. 2-seeded Montana (12-1) and North Dakota State (11-3) will meet Saturday afternoon at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in the semifinal round of the FCS playoffs.
The two FCS powerhouses are rich in tradition and history, both against each other and in the college football landscape. But while most think of the 2015 season-opener where Montana won a thriller 38-35 in Missoula, or last year's meeting between the two in the second round of the FCS playoffs where NDSU won 49-26 in Fargo, N.D., one deep cut encounter for fans goes back almost two decades to when the two met on Sept. 6, 2003.
That year was Bobby Hauck's first season as head coach at UM in his first stint, and it was his first home game as head coach and second game that season. UM beat Maine 30-20 on the road the week prior.
That season also marked NDSU's final year at the NCAA Division II level — where it was also a powerhouse — before it transitioned to Division I the next season. And in front of 23,102 fans in Missoula, the Bison actually pulled off the upset, 25-24 over UM, as the Grizzlies had a chance to win the game with three second left on a 40-yard field goal by Chris Snyder but the kick was missed.
UM led 24-2 at halftime after quarterback Jeff Disney ran for a score and threw another to Dane Oliver — the current head football coach at Missoula Sentinel High School. Levander Segars also threw a touchdown pass to Tate Hancock on a trick play, while Snyder converted a 40-yard field goal. NDSU had a safety as their lone score.
But the Bison rallied and scored 23 unanswered points in the second half and held UM scoreless, as NDSU went ahead on a touchdown pass from Rod Malone to Mike Wieser with 2:13 to go. UM in turn went 10 plays down the field to NDSU's 24 but could not get the game-winning field goal to go.
NDSU finished with 343 yards while UM had 312. Disney would go 20 for 34 for 156 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Current UM running backs coach Justin Green played in that game and finished with 35 yards on the ground while Griz great Lex Hilliard also saw some action with 24 yards on the ground. Hancock had a huge game with 10 catches for 112 yards and the score while Oliver added six receptions for 49 yards and the touchdown. Defensive end Tim Bush finished with two sacks for the Griz as well.
We all know the story from there, as the Griz went on to dominate football at the FCS level in the 2000s under Hauck as a perennial contender, while the Bison would make the seamless leap to Division I and would go on to be the team of the decade in the 2010s as the most successful program in college football as NDSU won nine national championships from 2011 to 2021.
To see the box score that game, click here. To see the throwback footage from that game from the Montana Television Network, check out the video above.