MISSOULA — While Thursday Night Football took place between the New York Jets and Denver Broncos, Missoula played host to a Class AA night of football with a wild shootout between Missoula Hellgate and Kalispell Glacier.
Jake Rendina scored seven rushing touchdowns for the Wolfpack as Glacier remained undefeated with a 54-38 win over Hellgate.
"I got to give it all to my line," a beaming Rendina said after the game. "I'll say it again, we may not be the biggest, but we are the toughest. We were more relying on our (offensive) line, because they win us the games."
Rendina got the game started with a 1-yard score. But Hellgate responded as Dante Maiuri utilized a quarterback keeper to score for the Knights, and after finding Ian Finch for the 2-point conversion, Hellgate led 8-7.
Hellgate caught Glacier off-guard on the ensuing kickoff with a squib kick that the Knights recovered and ultimately cashed in on as Maiuri connected with Finch to increase the lead to 14-7.
Rendina sent the game into the second quarter tied 14-14 after his second touchdown, this one from 2 yards out. Not long after, Glacier quarterback JT Allen gave the lead back to the Wolfpack with a keeper of his own to make it 20-14 Glacier.
Another 2-yard touchdown from Rendina made it 26-14 Glacier at the break.
But that's when the fireworks really began. Hellgate came out strong and Maiuri found Leo Filardi for a 6-yard score that brought the Knights within 26-22. But as became tradition in the Thursday night air, Rendina's name was called over the public address speaker as he crossed the goal line for his fourth touchdown to make it 33-22, his latest score a 3-yard scamper.
Maiuri and Filardi connected once again for a 23-yard touchdown to bring Hellgate within three again, with the teams staying there as the third quarter ended.
Hellgate had a touchdown called back to begin the fourth quarter and ultimately had to punt, which led to Rendina's fifth score, another 3-yard touchdown, to make it 40-30 Wolfpack with 8:50 to play.
The Knights came out with a true home run ,though. On their first play on the new drive, Maiuri found Filardi open after getting past his defender, and 80 yards later the pair completed their hat-trick. Another Maiuri-to-Finch 2-point conversion made it 40-38 Glacier leading.
After all he'd accomplished, the final eight minutes are where the junior Rendina came alive. He took Hellgate's momentum away as the bruising 5-foot-11, 230-pound running back showed off his speed and awareness by breaking through Hellgate's line and out-sprinted everyone for a 54-yard score, his sixth, and Glacier earned some breathing room.
Glacier coach Grady Bennett noted how Rendina is so big teams need to tackle him by the legs, and Rendina started running more patiently and was dodging those attempts in the open field.
"It was a phenomenal in-game adjustment," Bennett said. "I thought he made a smart football play, a smart technique play, a smart competitive play, he just played phenomenal (Thursday). I know he's going to give credit to the our (offensive) line, which he has to, but in the open field he was amazing. For a bull like him, what he did in the open field (Thursday) was pretty special."
Hellgate's next drive came to an early end after Cole Johnson intercepted Maiuri, and Rendina gave his encore with a 44-yard touchdown run to make it 54-38 where this game ultimately ended. Hellgate drove down to Glacier's 21 in the final 1:35 but was unable to convert a fourth-down attempt aimed at the end zone.
"You know what's going to happen, you just can't stop him," Hellgate coach Mick Morris said. "All great players like him get stronger as the game goes on. So you might be able to stop him in the first and second quarter, but every game you watch that kid, he gets stronger as the game goes on. He's special."
"We had to back up our defense," Rendina said. "They got us out of some tough stuff so we had to give it back to them. We could've played a couple more quarters. As the Glacier Wolfpack we tend to get better in the fourth (quarter)."
"(Hellgate) has lost so many guys, they've got guys out with quarantine, they've got guys injured, they've got guys banged up early and they played a phenomena game," Bennett added. "I have to give a ton of credit to those Hellgate kids because that was an effort. This is what our guys need if we're going to push deep and try to make a good playoff run this year. We need a game like this to test us."
Glacier improves to 4-0 with the win, while Hellgate falls to 1-3. Per stats from Hellgate, Rendina finished with 273 yards on 34 carries while Allen completed 21 of 29 passes for 189 yards for Glacier. Maiuri was 24 for 50 for Hellgate for 450 yards with four touchdowns and one interception while Filardi caught 12 passes for 348 yards and his three touchdowns. Finch added 10 catches for 120 yards and also reeled in four of Hellgate's 2-point conversions.
According to the Montana High School Association record book, Filardi's receiving yards total is a new single-game record in Montana 11-Man football, though the records have not been updated online since March of 2018. The previous listed best was 307 yards by Whitehall's Andrew Simon.
"We had a down year last year and we just wanted to come back and give it all we got," Rendina added.
"We haven't played really well this year, to be completely honest, but we did tonight," Morris said after the game. "I don't even know how many kids we had suited up tonight but it wasn't a heck of a lot. They just kept battling to the end, that was just fun. For us to have the opportunity to be out with what's going on right now, to be able to watch a game like tonight that is pretty special. It was fun."