Fireworks lit up the sky above Legends Stadium. Students flooded the football field. The golden trophy – AA State Champions – rose high in the air above a sea of hands. A perfect ending indeed.
With a 56-19 win over Great Falls C.M. Russell last Friday, the Glacier Wolfpack celebrated their first championship as a high school football program and the first for a Kalispell team in over 40 years.
The Wolfpack capped an undefeated 13-0 season with one of the most dominating victories ever in a championship game, piling up 529 yards of offense and holding the Rustlers’ vaunted rushing attack to only 98 yards.
“I’ve been dreaming about this since I was playing back in the Edgerton Elementary days. This is the dream,” said senior defensive back Cain Boschee, who snatched two interceptions.
The resounding victory cemented Glacier’s place in history as one of the best ever. The Wolfpack outscored opponents 645-164 this season. Glacier’s 56 points were the most ever scored by a Class AA team in the title game and the margin of victory – 37 points – was the biggest in the Class AA title game since 1973.
In only its eighth season as a program, the Wolfpack won their first title, becoming the second fastest Class AA team to achieve the ultimate prize. Helena Capital won its first trophy in its sixth season.
“What these kids have just accomplished is amazing,” head coach Grady Bennett said.
“It’s crazy what they did this season.”
In front of more than 4,000 fans, Glacier turned the state classic into a historic coronation, fireworks and all.
Great Falls fans may have scowled at the spectacle, including an excessive celebration penalty midway through the fourth quarter, when the enjoyment began. But the Rustlers have played in 19 title games and relished in 13 championships.
The Glacier faithful and players suffered through it all to get here – losing seasons, bruising defeats and, perhaps hardest of all, a hazing incident four years ago that fractured the program and the community surrounding it.
No, the joy could not be contained.
“It’s so unreal,” said senior linebacker Josh Hill. “I never get to play another snap of high school football but I wouldn’t have it any other way – perfect season. And I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone other than this team.”
Glacier became Kalispell’s first state championship team since 1970, when the Flathead Braves finished the regular season with the state’s best record, earning top honors.
Glacier is the first Kalispell team to roll through the playoffs and win the state championship game since the 1959 Braves.
The victory became the first championship won at home by a Kalispell team since 1958.
There was no denying this team, which stormed through the season with explosive, versatile prowess. Friday night became the ultimate showcase.
Junior running back Thomas Trefney outshined his Great Falls counterpart – junior Andrew Grinde, the state’s leading rusher – by gaining 205 yards and four touchdowns, with each score coming in the first half as Glacier jumped ahead 35-19.
Senior quarterback Brady McChesney was 19 of 34 for 255 yards and four TDs, finishing his stellar prep career with 82 touchdown passes, which surpassed former Flathead Brave Brock Osweiler, who had 80.
Senior Jacob Janke caught a pair of touchdown passes and senior Logan Jones combined for 70 yards and added another score. Devin Cochran led the team in receiving with 137 yards and added a TD.
“They improved so much all season and they played their very best in the biggest game on the biggest stage. When it mattered most they played their best game all year,” Bennett said.
But that’s not the entire story. That’s not what stands out most about this team, Bennett said.
Four years ago, this senior class dealt with an incident that spilled into the community and courtroom.
While driving home from a freshman game in Missoula, a group of players piled into the back of the darkened bus and assaulted four players in a sexually suggestive manner. The incident was later reported and grew from being characterized as hazing and bullying to sexual assault, igniting controversy that played out over several months in newspapers across the state and plagued the program.
Six players were accused in court of having taken part in the assaults. More than 10 players were kicked off the team that year. Two were expelled from school.
“It was such an ugly time. There were kids pitted against each other and there were a lot of people who wanted to kick these kids to the curb and give up on them and see them not have a chance at anything ever again,” Bennett said. “That’s what education is all about. This is why we teach and why we coach. Kids will make mistakes. But how do you restore them and help them grow and learn from their mistakes?”
Bennett said four years later, this group of 24 seniors, which includes some who were originally kicked off the team, has healed and banded together as the tightest squad he’s ever coached in 24 years.
“They’ve ended up coming back together and loving each other so much,” Bennett said. “They are definitely a very talented group but it takes a lot more than just talent. The reason these guys were so dominant and so good every game was because of those other things. There’s been a constant motivation among this group. They knew a lot of people expected them to fail. A lot of people questioned them and questioned their character. A lot of people wanted them to fail.”
Looking back on this historic season, this is the story that Bennett hopes will resonate over everything else.
“Winning a championship football game is cool,” he said. “But to see how these guys turned from boys who were immature and made mistakes to great young men who accomplished something incredible and will now go on to be amazing members of our community, that’s the story that’s most important.”