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'Anything can happen': Former Griz QB Grady Bennett reflects on Griz season ahead of national championship

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Posted at 3:19 PM, Dec 23, 2023

KALISPELL — With the Montana Grizzlies in the FCS national championship for the first time since 2009, former players around the Treasure State are taking in the phenomenal season, and one is Kalispell Glacier High School head football coach Grady Bennett.

"It's exciting. Obviously it's so great for the state of Montana," said Bennett. "What I love about when both the Griz and the Cats are successful is we're so unique as a state, because so many states have so many other opportunities to watch sports at every level, but in Montana, the Griz, the Cats, I mean, it's the NFL."

And the former Griz quarterback who was with the team from 1987 to 1989 knows it’s the Montana boys in the maroon and silver that have kept the Griz winning machine in motion.

"I could list a lot of guys from Montana that have stepped up and just made big plays, but that's what you need if you're going to win in the big moments," said Bennett. "Because winning is hard, and I don't think people realize that. You think about it, every sports league in the world, every competition, one team wins it all. And I don't know that fans get how difficult it is to win. So anytime a team is excelling, you got to have players step up in big moments, and the Griz have guys doing it."

One player who has separated himself from the rest is Junior Bergen. And the Billings native is someone Bennett is all too familiar with, having coached against him the Class AA football quarterfinals only four years ago.

"I look back to that game and I don't know how we held him to under 500 yards. And he was returning kickoffs, he was returning punts, he was touching the ball every play as the quarterback, and we did OK," said Bennett. "And you watch him now and how much he's improved and the impact that he has on the games, I mean, again, it makes me proud of the coaching in Montana, the players that Montana produces and the impact that Junior Bergen has had."

With this being the best season the Griz have had in over a decade, many have compared them to previous national title contending teams, with a common one being the 2008 squad. And Bennett, who also has experience as a color commentator for Griz games over the past decade, shares the same view.

 "That's probably the best comparison. I think when you look at their run game this year, a lot of good running backs," said Bennett. "I think that Nick Ostmo is amazing, but he does remind me a lot of the great Chase Reynolds, who was the engine behind that team. And then you had that playmaker, Junior Bergen’s that guy. Well, Marc Mariani, he was the guy back then."

"And I think then on defense, I mean, Braxton Hill to me is still the heart and soul of that defense, which is full of excellent players," Bennett continued. "But man, you go back to that ’08 team and how can you not talk about the great Colt Anderson? And so I think just those pieces to me make it the most similar with guys that are just playing so well, playing at the top of their games, and giving the Griz a chance to be national champions."
 
While Montana might be heading into this one as a big underdog to the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, Bennett and everyone else knows that you still play the game for a reason.
 
"That's why we're fans. That's why sports are so popular in the world and in America. That's why football is the number one game in America," said Bennett. "That's why you play, and, like you said, because anything can happen. And so we go, and we're passionate about it, because it just takes that one day where everything goes right. Who knows, man? They've earned the right to play on the biggest stage, play for a national championship, anything can happen and that's why we play them, so go Griz."

The FCS national championship isn’t until Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas, but until then Griz fans and players alike will eagerly be awaiting the opportunity for Montana to claim its third national title in program history.