SEATTLE -- Will Dissly was always going to be a standout football player, always on the path to the National Football League. But even Dissly can look back and point his finger at the one game that shaped the rest of his career.
"I have literally tried to think of a million different ways how to win that football game," Dissly told MTN Sports via phone Thursday afternoon.
Dissly, the former Bozeman Hawk and Washington Husky, who now dons a Seattle Seahawks jersey in the NFL, is of course talking about the 2012 Class AA state championship game between Bozeman and Butte.
"I don’t think there was a lot more any one of us could do, but that one kind of sticks out in my mind," Dissly said. "It was probably the best Montana high school football game ever played."
He might not be wrong.
First, there was the Bulldogs' rally.
Trailing 21-20 early in the fourth quarter, the Dallas Cook-led Butte squad wasted little time taking the lead behind running back Zach Bunney's touchdown run and two-point conversion early in the quarter, then Cook found Tyler Earles for a touchdown that put the Bulldogs ahead 35-21 with less than five minutes to play.
Then came the Bozeman rally.
With the clock showing less than two minutes to play, Bozeman quarterback Will Weyer drove the Hawks down the field in 45 seconds, finishing the drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass to John D'Agostino that cut the lead to 35-28 with 57 seconds to play. Bozeman's Chris Johnson recovered an onside kick moments later and the Hawks were in business.
Then came the Dissly heroics.
"I remember telling (former Bozeman linebacker) Riley Martello at the time, ‘Hey man, just give me the fourth quarter and I’ll give you my best shot,'" Dissly recalled.
Dissly, who hadn't caught a pass all night, hauled in receptions on five consecutive plays, the fourth a 4-yard touchdown pass that brought the Hawks to within 35-34, and the fifth a successful conversion for a 36-35 lead with only 22 seconds remaining.
"I can still see it to this day, man. There were two hands and the ball just perfectly floated right over those two hands and fell into my lap," said Dissly. "I didn’t even do anything, it was all (Weyer) at that point. It was actually in the end zone where the Bozeman student section was, and they went nuts. It was an unbelievable feeling to think, ‘Man, we’re doing it.’ We thought we had just won the game pretty much. That was really special."
Then Dissly paused. "I think I blacked out the rest of it just from memory and personal pain, I guess," he said.
Finally was Jake Dennehy's history-making kick.
Montana football fans know the story by now. Dalton Daum returned the ensuing kickoff to midfield, Cook scrambled for 16 yards on the first play of the drive, then found Daum for a 9-yard gain to set the Bulldogs up at Bozeman's 36-yard line with 3.2 seconds to play. Dennehy's 46-yard field goal cleared the Naranche Stadium crossbar by mere inches, setting the crowd of thousands into a frenzy.
It's that moment that has caused Dissly to rack his brain hundreds, maybe thousands of times.
"I don’t know what he did, but he toe-punched it and it went as far as it possibly could," he said of Dennehy's kick. "If I could go back, I would probably have stood right there on the end line and tried to jump up and block it like a basketball shot, because it was just that close, just a couple inches right over the crossbar."
"I wanted to hate Jake Dennehy so bad for making that field goal and taking that bit of legacy from that team, but I ended up meeting the guy later and he’s actually a pretty good dude. All Montanans are, I guess," Dissly added with a laugh.
Contradicting as it may seem, Dissly says it was that loss that defined his career, while also shaping the Bozeman program to where it is today.
"To lose that game and see us all demoralized, obviously, it was a crushing loss. That’s the beauty of sports is that you learn to lose like that, but it lights your fire," said Dissly. "The next year, I don’t think we missed a day in the summer working out. We just bonded and we just said to ourselves, ‘We’re not ever going to have this feeling again. We’re not even going to let it come close again.’
"You could kind of see what we were able to accomplish the next year (going 13-0 and winning the 2013 Class AA state championship game), and we almost did that for the seniors of the past. I know they would rather have a ring on their finger, but that year was definitely for the guys that lost in that Butte game."
Now, some seven years and one week later to the day Dissly stood shocked on the sideline, his Bozeman Hawks again enter historic Naranche Stadium to face the Bulldogs with the State AA title on the line. It's a game Dissly hoped to see in person, but rehab responsibilities to his surgically repaired Achilles and a lack of flights directly to the Mining City will keep the program's now-famous alum from attending.
But he was quick to offer advice for the 2019 Hawks, making sure they know there's no pressure to avenge the 2012 loss, but rather writing their own chapter in one of Montana's greatest rivalries.
"I would say, ‘Don’t be scared of the moment. It’s really easy to be afraid, all eyes are on you, but I think this is why you play football, man. You go out there, you work your tail off year-round for the opportunity to go out there and play in front of the whole state, and to write your name in the history books,'" he said.
"'Don’t be afraid of the opportunity. Go out there and make the plays, you don’t have to be anything special, just go out there and make the plays you’ve been making all year and go get one more win.’"