HELENA — Troy Purcell doesn’t have a photographic memory, but there are certain moments the longtime football coach remembers perfectly. The time, the sounds, the temperatures.
He remembers Marc Mariani’s 84-yard touchdown at a frigid Blue Pony Stadium in November 2004.
He recalls the joy as Deon Watson recovered a Colorado State onside kick attempt that helped seal Idaho’s 2016 bowl win over the Rams, the first the program had seen since 2009.
But there’s no denying the series of events that is etched in Purcell’s brain forever, occupying space surrounding all the moments listed above.
“Here we are at (Butte’s) Naranche Stadium. What a great contest. Loud, just an unbelievable atmosphere,” Purcell recalled of the 2012 Class AA state championship game between his Bozeman Hawks and the Butte Bulldogs. “It’s probably (one of) the best, if not the best high school stadium in the northwest, let alone in Montana. The crowd was right on top of you, it’s not a friendly environment at all. It was just a very, very exciting game.”
Unfortunately for Purcell and the Hawks, the finish wasn’t in their favor. Still, the current head coach at Carroll College remembers the sequence with impressive precision.
“Pretty soon there was 1:56 left, we were down by 14, we go down and score, kick an onside kick (and recover). We work our way down (the field), work our way down, all of a sudden we score and we were down by one point. Do you kick the PAT and go for overtime or do you go for two and win it?” Purcell pondered like it was 2012 all over again. “We decided to go for two and win it. Will Weyer to Will Dissly touchdown (and two-point conversion). So with 22 seconds left, we kick off, Dalton Daum takes the ball back to around the 40. Dallas Cook breaks contain on the next play. We’re down to about 14 seconds left, and then they throw an out route, we were in a three-by-one set, they throw an out route to the sideline.
“Now there’s 3.6 seconds to go on the clock, they bring their field goal unit out, and they had missed a PAT attempt earlier that day, and the last time they had tried a field goal was during the regular season and we blocked it and scored on it. They hadn’t tried one since. I thought they were just going to throw a Hail Mary up, but sure enough, they threw that out route for 11 or so yards, then there were 3.6 seconds left."
It’s worth noting that many Bozeman supporters have admittedly blacked out the following moments after going from the highest of highs, taking the 36-35 lead and on the verge of a state title, to suddenly being devastated.
“They run their field goal unit on there, they only have 10 guys, (Butte coach Arie Grey) grabs another one of them and throws him out there,” Purcell continued, not missing a beat. “He goes running out there and just puts his hand down when, boom, they popped that baby out of there. It comes flying out of there sideways, and what a great kick. (Butte’s Jake Dennehy) made it by probably six inches and all chaos broke loose.”
“Just very happy to be in that experience, it was a great experience to see and go through. Maybe the best high school, best state championship game ever played in Montana,” he continued. “The ghosts of Naranche Stadium came through. Hat's off to coach Grey, their staff and that group of kids for making it happen because it was a very exciting game.”
Two minutes, 25 seconds later, Purcell stops, reliving the moment again in his mind. It’s clear he hasn’t forgotten a single detail of that heartbreaking loss.
“Hell no. I can see it all, man,” he laughed.
As former Bozeman Gatorade player of the year and current Seattle Seahawk Will Dissly told MTN Sports on Thursday, that loss had a number of impacts on the individuals involved, as well as the program.
Purcell can still remember 12 months later when Dissly and the Hawks celebrated a state championship of their own, the program’s second in four years. Purcell led Bozeman to another title in 2015 before joining the Idaho Vandals’ staff the following season, a post he held for three years before accepting the head job at Carroll in December 2018.
As Bozeman gets set to square off against Butte Friday night in a rematch of the 2012 championship game, Purcell can’t help but feel a sense of pride.
“Wherever you’re at, Regis High School (in Stayton, Ore.), and then up to Eureka with the Lions up there, so there’s a little bit of orange and black in the heart,” he said. “Then a Blue Pony up in the Havre country, a little blue and white in the heart; then you go to Hawk Country and have a little red and black in the heart from then. You’re always going to keep a little bit of that with you.
“I’m just proud of (Bozeman coach Levi Wesche) and his staff for keeping it rolling down there and doing a great job. They were there when we were building that thing for 11 years to get it where it’s at, and I’m real proud of what they’re accomplishing. They’re keeping it rolling and I’m happy for those kids in Bozeman.”
Like the fourth-quarter sequence he can still rattle off from memory, Purcell can still recall his pregame message to the Hawks in 2012. It’s a similar piece of advice he would offer the Bozeman program before Friday night’s kickoff.
“Enjoy the day. You have to just enjoy the day, take it one play at a time,” he said. “Just go one play at a time and don’t look up in the stands. Don’t look up in the stands, because once they get your number, then they’re going to be chirping at you a little bit, so don’t look up in the stands. Keep your eyes forward and stay the course, and remember your next rep is your best rep. Keep moving forward.”