BOZEMAN — There's only two teams left undefeated in Class AA, and they both call Van Winkle Stadium home. That's also where they will meet Friday night in their fourth crosstown showdown.
The No. 1-ranked Bozeman Gallatin Raptors (4-0) will technically be the 'home' team hosting the No. 2-ranked Bozeman Hawks (4-0) at 7 p.m.
This Friday, the only two undefeated teams in Class AA will meet for their fourth edition of crosstown. There's yet to be a year that has this much parity, this much hype.— Grace Lawrence (@gracemlaw4) September 17, 2023
No. 1 @GallatinRaptor vs. No. 2 @hawkfb_bhs, Van Winkle @ 7 p.m. Here's an unofficial preview. ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/3VSewTFqtX
As the teams have continued to win, this game has quickly become one of the most anticipated games of the regular season.
“There was a lot of, I think, apprehension about what would happen with the programs when we split," Bozeman Hawks coach Levi Wesche said, referencing the opening of Gallatin High School in the fall of 2020. “Could we stay viable at Bozeman High? How long would it take Gallatin to become successful?
“And obviously, we’ve been able to continue to do positive things here at Bozeman High, and it didn’t take Gallatin very long to get going.”
This is the first year where there are no Hawk ties on the Raptors team. Gallatin opened its doors four years ago, meaning this years seniors have spent their entire careers with the Raptors.
The split that was made is felt throughout the town, making the rivalry even greater this year.
“Just that crew of kids (the seniors), when they came in as freshmen, I think they’ve really dedicated themselves to our program," Raptors coach Hunter Chandler said. "They mean a lot to us, and we’re super excited about that crew and what they’ve done for our program.”
The Hawks are 4-0 against the Raptors, having won all three previous crosstown games and beating the Raptors in last year’s Class AA playoff semifinals.
Over the years, though, the gap has narrowed between the programs. And this year, both teams are going in undefeated and sit atop the Class AA standings.
“This year, I think it’s super even," Raptors senior wide receiver and free safety Quinn Clark said. "That first year they were super stacked and it’s kind of evened out since then. But I think this year’s the really big year, that’s really going to show the better team.”
Hawks senior wide receiver and defensive back Rocky Lencioni described how these senior classes truly represent what the rivalry means.
“We’re the first class after the split, so we’ve seen the rivalry grow, and it definitely has grown I think over the years," Lencioni said. "Especially because we played them twice last year. I think this year, both of us are obviously undefeated, that’s the first time. So this is definitely the biggest one yet. And I guess for me personally, it’s just a pride thing.”
And despite it just being Week 5, the stakes are high for this one. It could be the decider of who comes out of the Eastern conference with the top seed going into the playoffs.
“We know it’s a big game as far as playoff standings go," Raptors senior wide receiver and corner back Ryan Nansel said. "Whoever wins this game has a better shot of coming out of the East, so that’s another part of our motivation."
“It’s a game that we have to get through and win to have a chance of being conference champs," Wesche said. "We know that Gallatin is right there, and we want to try and secure a bye, and we want to be conference champs. Right now, the game that’s in front of us just happens to be Gallatin.”
Both teams have their own identities, and they know what’s at stake. And the seniors, they’re going to enjoy their last crosstown game — in the regular season at least.
“Both teams being undefeated, I think that just brings an extra edge to this game that we’re also very excited for," Hawks senior tight end and defensive back Austin Baller said. "It brings a little bit more pressure, but again, we’re just trying to treat it like any other game.”
Despite being rivals, the Raptors reflected a similar sentiment in how much this game means to them as well.
“It’s a big thing," Clark said. "It’s the battle for the city. It’s fun to go out there with all the guys and compete in a really big game with the fans there. Super loud, super fun to play in. So it means a lot.”