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Former QB John Edwards recalls Montana's dramatic national championship victory in 2001

John Edwards
Posted at 4:29 PM, Jan 04, 2024

BILLINGS — Two decades before Junior Bergen, there was another No. 5 on the Montana Grizzly football roster who also hailed from Billings.

Quarterback John Edwards from Billings West High School, sparked the Grizzlies to 14 straight victories in 2001. In the process, the Griz faithful endeared him with the nickname "Johnny Montana."

"Run the ball. Control the ball, and control the clock. As the game started to go on and we could start to feel we had a chance at doing it," Edwards said.

Glenn's game plan wasn't flashy, but it was effective. Behind a stellar offensive line, stud running back Yohance Humphrey bashed Furman for 140 yards on 30 carries in the title game. Edwards recalls feeling the momentum shift on what turned out to be a broken play in the second quarter; 99 yards and 12 plays later the Griz took a lead they would never relinquish.

Montana won the game 13-6 to capture the program's second national title.

"It really starts with that drive that we were talking about. Broken play — able to squeeze out eight yards or whatever it is — and you could feel the momentum start to turn a little bit," Edwards said. "Coach (Bill) Cockhill did a really nice job of getting myself into a rhythm by a couple short easy passes to pick up your confidence and get moving. After that, we really relied on that offensive line."

On the other side of the ball, the Griz defense — led by All-American safety Vince Huntsberger — came within a tipped pass of pitching a shut-out against Furman. Throughout the playoffs that year, the stingy Griz 'D' allowed only 49 points in four games.

"I remember sitting on the sidelines with T.J. Oelkers right before that moment and looking at each other and saying, 'Is this going to happen? We're going to win a national championship.' Almost have to pinch yourself to realize you accomplished something like that."

Edwards plans to be in attendance Sunday to cheer on the Griz as they take on South Dakota State for this year's FCS crown. He'll be joined by several teammates from that magical 2001 season, an opportunity to renew a special bond that championship seasons are made of.

"It is hard to believe that so much time has passed. The cool thing is it's so fun — I'm still great friends with so many guys on that time. Twenty-two years of friendship. Twenty-two years of brotherhood. It's a pretty cool bond," Edwards said.

Edwards finished his Griz career ranked sixth on Montana's career passing list. He currently practices law in Billings, working alongside his father Cliff at the Edwards Law Firm.