BOZEMAN — There's one team that hasn't been touched all season in Class AA football — the unbeaten Bozeman Hawks.
The Hawks host the state championship against Kalispell Glacier on Friday night at Van Winkle Stadiu. Besides having the edge of a near six-hour home-field advantage, they also know the moment.
Last season, the Hawks lost the state championship on the road against Helena Capital and have been working nearly 365 days with the goal of coming out on the other end of the biggest game of the season.
"Just to get back here was a huge goal of ours, but we know what it feels like to not come out on top on that game, so I think it’s going to be a huge deal if we come out on top during this game, and it would mean the world," said Hawks tight end and linebacker Austin Baller. "We really put in the work this offseason, and seeing that goal come to fruition would be huge for us."
Hawks lineman Torin Jeske reflected a similar sentiment to Baller, noting how the team returned a lot of players from last year who are more than ready to take the field come Friday night.
"I guess we have a lot more wisdom and experience now. I mean, we’ve been here now," Jeske said. "And we were super young these past two years, and now we’re the old bucks."
The weather for this year's game is expected be much warmer compared to last year, and for the first time since 2015 the Hawks will host the championship.
It’s the first state championship ever played in the 'new' Van Winkle stadium, which was completed in 2019.
"This is the first one on this stadium’s field, so that’s going to be really cool because I’ve coached in a couple at the old stadium," Hawks coach Levi Wesche explained. "It’ll be neat."
The Hawks live by a phrase, “Be Uncommon.” And Wesche has seen the team personify it in every aspect of the game this year.
"That’s what we want to separate us from other programs is our preparation, the way we care for one another and the way that we handle adversity," he said. "And I think they’ve done all of those things this year which has been all we can ever ask of them."
Bozeman has 16 seniors who have played together for most of their lives, something that translates to the field.
"I feel like people say chemistry, but what does that really mean?" Hawks receiver and defensive back Rocky Lencioni asked.
He continued to explain what that word means to him and his team: "We’re all really close, you know. We’ve been buddies forever, and so, you kind of notice things. There’s like a feel. There’s unspoken mannerisms that you notice when you’re just together with people for so long."
"We’ve played little Pop Warner football together. We’ve played middle school football together, and then all the way through, so the bond is pretty tight," Baller reflected. "All of us have been playing together for a really long time in multiple sports, so we’re really, really close."
The last time the Hawks hoisted the state championship plaque was 2019, which put this senior class as eighth graders that year.
Most of them were at Naranche Stadium in the stands when the Hawks took down Butte in that game, and it still motivates them today.
"We all know the guys that were on that team, and we actually got to play with some of them, so they talked about how cool it was, and we were there," Lencioni said. "We want to replicate that and be able to experience that."
"I’m sure almost all of us were there," Jeske explained. "A bunch of us had brothers on the 2015 team too, and again, it just puts that into perspective of it’s the one thing we want, and it’s been the one thing we want, for again, 15 years."
The game kicks off at 7 p.m. in Van Winkle Stadium.