FRISCO, Texas — As the Montana Grizzlies prepare for their first national championship appearance in over a decade, many have compared this year’s team to the 2008 squad. We took some time to dive into the comparisons and see just how similar the two teams are.
Both teams had Bobby Hauck at the helm and went into the season with some questions about how the year would shake out, but somehow, someway both found themselves in the national championship at the end of the season after overcoming some adversity early on.
The 2008 team had found themselves in a one score game at home against a Division II team in Central Washington at home narrowly escaping with a 38-35 win in the fourth week of the season.
This year’s team barely evaded D-II Ferris State at home in their third game of the season with a 17-10 win after trailing 10-3 at the half.
Both games wrapped up non-conference play for the teams and set them up for their first conference games of the season, which they both lost in would most Griz fans would describe as gut-wrenching.
In 2008 the team was dropped by Weber State 45-28 that left many questioning how good the team actually was. This year was eerily reminiscent and arguably more painful as the Griz got rolled by an 0-3 Northern Arizona team 28-14 and left even the most die-hard Griz fans calling for heads.
In hindsight, both teams couldn’t have asked for better wake-up calls, as from there on out both teams were perfect and stomped their way to the national championship.
When it comes to the rosters of both teams, there were stars all over the field.
This year the playmaker has been Billings boy Junior Bergen. Kickoff return or punt return it does not matter, as the dynamic star housed four touchdowns in the return game and shined the brightest in the playoffs with three across the quarterfinal and semifinal matchups for the Griz seemingly putting the team on his back.
In 2008 it was Havre’s walk-on Marc Mariani. In his junior year the Mariani magician was the heartbeat of the offense with ridiculous stats across the board with over 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns off only 69 receptions.
On the other side of the ball it was none other than the Butte Missile Colt Anderson. That hard-hitting safety was the anchor of the Griz defense that gave opposing offense nightmares and he led the team with 129 tackles to go along with four turnovers.
This year it has been Anaconda native Braxton Hill leading the defense with 116 tackles and blowing up opposing receiver's crossing routes all year long. The defensive captain has led and an aggressive linebacker core that’s made life opposing quarterbacks difficult with constant blitz pressure all season.
And of course, you can’t talk about Griz football without the run game, and both squads had inexperienced bell cows rise to the occassion.
In 2008 it was Chase Reynolds who came into his sophomore season without a single carry in his career with the Griz. The Drummond product and former 8-man football star ended up finishing the season with an absurd 1,583 yards and 22 touchdowns.
This year it's been redshirt freshman Eli Gillman who registered only eight carries as a true freshman, then this year has piled up 950 yards on the ground on his way to becoming the first Griz player in program history to win the Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman in the FCS.
With no shortage of comparison between the two sides the only difference this years team hopes to make is to finish with the championship trophy. And they’ll have the chance to do just that on Sunday afternoon when they take on the South Dakota State Jackrabbits at Toyota Stadium here in Frisco.