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Teammates to rivals: Hellgate's Finch, Nilson ready for Shrine Game finale before careers at UM, MSU

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Posted at 5:05 PM, Jun 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-15 20:20:17-04

BUTTE — Everyone knows the story of the Missoula Hellgate football program.

After not playing a varsity schedule in 2016, the Knights brought the program back in 2017 and having been building ever since, and in this year's East-West Shrine Game, Ian Finch and Tommy Nilson are the first Knights to play in this game since 2014.

It's a special moment for the duo, as they get to represent Hellgate's growing program in Montana's premier all-star football game.

"It's a once in a lifetime chance just to be here," Finch, a wide receiver, said. "But just to represent the Knights, they were a JV team a couple of years ago, and just to show that we have built a good program and we're not that team anymore, I'm super excited to show what we have."

While Hellgate hasn't piled up wins, they have begun to find success in other ways, including putting players at the college level.

Behind athletes like Finch and Nilson, the Knights always found a way to be competitive.

"Well I think that perseverance is the biggest thing," Nilson, an offensive tackle, said. "Games didn't go our way most of the time, but I think we always pushed through. Every game we were always playing to the very end and I think that's one of the biggest things we learned."

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Missoula Hellgate's Ian Finch, left, and Tommy Nilson will be the first players from the Knights program to play in the East-West Shrine Game since 2014.

After the Shrine Game concludes, the duo will go from teammates, to FCS rivals.

Nilson is headed to Bozeman to play for the Bobcats, while Finch will stay in Missoula and play for the Montana Grizzlies.

The smack talk is already happening between the two, but it's all in good fun knowing what they've accomplished together both in their careers at Hellgate, as well as growing up playing sports together as kids.

"Now we're both going to one of the biggest rivalries in FCS football," Nilson said. "I think it's pretty funny that connection is going to be going into college football and I think there's a lot of fun trash talk going back and forth between us and has been since we both committed."

"It means a lot to both of us and it's kind of sad being that me and Tommy used to play a bunch of sports back in the day together," Finch said. "Used to play against each other all the time too. That four years at Hellgate, we got super close, had a great relationship, but he's going to be a Cat so, it's a little tarnished there but the bond will never be broken."