FRISCO, Texas — The season came to a close for the Montana Grizzlies on Sunday afternoon at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, as UM fell to South Dakota State 23-3 in the FCS national championship game.
It wasn't the result the Griz were looking for, but it was a moment the seniors and program have been working toward for years, and at the end of the day, while disappointed, this group was still bursting with pride and gratitude to represent the Montana Grizzlies.
"You know, I'm proud of them, it's an honor to be their coach, what a great season for our team," UM head coach Bobby Hauck said. "You know, we hope to continue on and just to be back here at some point."
Emotions were high for the Grizzlies after their loss to South Dakota State, and while the loss is hard to swallow, the Montana players still reflected on a special season at UM that saw them back playing in the final game of the season in the FCS.
It's been monumental amounts of work to arrive there, and this senior class set the standard for the next groups to come.
"It's meant everything to me, just being a Montana kid, this is my dream school and, you know, you develop so many relationships along the way with these coaches and the guys you play out there with and it was a special senior year for sure, and just gonna miss being a Montana Grizzly," UM senior linebacker Braxton Hill said. "And I'm excited to see what these guys do next year."
The Grizzlies bid farewell to a number of impactful seniors and players, both from the Treasure State and those who came to Montana to continue life, who leave legacies and never quit even when things looked dire early in the season.
That grit and determination defined them all season as they went on to build a campaign Griz faithful have waited for for a long time.
"When I came here, I didn't know what my future would look like, as a college football player," senior center AJ Forbes said. "I'm just super grateful for coach Hauck and the rest of coaches, my teammates for bringing me in, treating me like I belonged. Super thankful for the community in Missoula, and the entire state of Montana, frankly. (As) a kid that didn't grow up in Montana, I felt like it was home. And it'll forever be a home to me."
Montana showed life against SDSU, who now reigns as the two-time defending champs.
This group brought Montana to the doorstep of a title, and will be remembered as the guys who got Griz football back as they achieved the expectations that are present year in, and year out.
"I've made my best friends along the way," Hill said. "So many great relationships with these coaches. And Montana's just a special place, we have special fans. You know, they come out and they support us every single Saturday, as you saw today, and just meant the world to me, and I really wish I could be a Grizzly forever."