The countdown began at 365. It began in Bozeman after the Glacier football team limped into the locker room, reeling from a 24-14 loss in the 2013 championship game. It began with a pledge.
“I’ll never forget after that championship loss, you’re sitting in the locker room with a bunch of kids that are crying and hurting and stinging. And those guys committed right then that night, they started saying it right there – 365 days. They came home and wrote it on the board and it’s been a countdown all year long,” Glacier head coach Grady Bennett said.
One steely practice at a time, one mighty win after another, this Glacier Wolfpack asserted itself, demanding another chance at history.
Now it’s here.
The state championship game is coming to Kalispell.
The Wolfpack overpowered Missoula Big Sky 42-8 in the state semifinals at Legends Stadium on a frosty Friday night last week, advancing to the title game for the second year in a row.
Glacier, the rising powerhouse in Class AA, now faces one of Montana’s dynastic football programs, the Rustlers from Great Falls C.M. Russell, in the big finale this Friday, Nov. 21.
The Wolfpack (12-0) and Rustlers (10-2) kick off at 7 p.m. inside Legends Stadium.
The state classic is returning to Kalispell for the first time since 1980, when Flathead lost to Great Falls C.M. Russell 25-0.
“I was a seventh grader in 1980, running around out back like little kids do but also leaning on the fence and watching the state championship. It’s special. It doesn’t happen very often. It’s been 34 years since it’s come through Kalispell and I’m just so proud of our coaches and all of these kids, that we’ve been able to bring it back to Kalispell,” said Bennett, a former standout QB and coach at Flathead High School who took over Glacier’s football program after its inception in 2007.
“I remember in 1980, there was 5,000 people, standing-room only, and I just hope that people come out (this week) and watch the state championship football game here in their hometown because it’s special.”
CMR is playing in its 19th championship game and chasing its 14th title, which would be its first since 2009 and the first without legendary head coach Jack Johnson, who retired a year ago after 41 seasons as the winningest coach in state history (340 victories).
Playing in its second title contest, Glacier is seeking to win its first championship trophy and the first for a Kalispell team since 1970. That year the Flathead Braves earned the trophy after finishing the regular season with the best record, 9-0-1. The previous Kalispell team to play in a postseason championship game and win was the 1959 Braves, who defeated Butte 39-0 and claimed their second straight title.
Glacier is also trying to become one of the fastest teams to ever win a football championship. Helena Capital won its first title in only its sixth year as a program, defeating CMR in 1978. With a win this week, Glacier would achieve the ultimate prize in its eighth year.
“Glacier’s a good team. There’s a reason they’re undefeated,” Big Sky head coach Matt Johnson said. “They got a lot of good athletes all over the place. They don’t really have any weak spots.”
The Wolfpack are beating opponents by an average of 35 points per game. The well-rounded offense, led by senior quarterback Brady McChesney, is averaging 51 points per game, the most in Montana, and the defense is limiting opponents to 15 ppg, second fewest in the state.
McChesney has thrown for 2,566 yards and 35 TDs while only throwing five interceptions. He has quite the arsenal of weapons around him, led by running back Thomas Trefney, who has 931 yards and 25 TDs, most in Montana. Logan Jones has 583 yards rushing and 821 yards receiving and 17 total TDs. Sam McCamley has 654 yards receiving and seven touchdowns and Devin Cochran has 424 yards receiving and five scores.
Glacier boasts one of the best defenders in the state, Josh Hill, who has racked up 93 tackles, three intercep tions and five sacks. Jaxen Hashley has 7.5 sacks and 47.5 tackles. Neal Wood has two sacks and 91 tackles and Andrew Harris has 2.5 sacks and 82.5 sacks. Caleb Jones and Cain Boschee each have five interceptions.
The Rustlers have one of the best all-around players in Andrew Grinde, who has rushed for 1,703 yards, most in the state, and 16 TDs. Grinde ran for 213 yards in last week’s 24-13 win over Helena in the semifinals.
CMR has the fifth-ranked offense, averaging 28 ppg, and the fourth-ranked defense, limiting opponents to 20 ppg on average.
The Rustlers gave the Wolfpack their toughest contest this season, falling 49-31 in Week Two.
Here are highlights from Glacier’s victory over Billings West in the quarterfinals. For more highlights, visit Glacier’s YouTube page.