HELENA — Bright and early on Friday morning, the Carroll College football team boarded a charter flight bound for Sioux City, Iowa, where it will take on the No. 1-seeded Morningside Mustangs on Saturday.
As players and coaches made their way through security at the Helena airport, some players noted the feeling of playing in Carroll College's first playoff game since 2014 had officially set in, while others are still in a little bit of disbelief.
"Not really. It's getting closer and closer. You know, I think by the time that we touch down in Iowa, start practicing a little bit, it'll ... come to a point where we're ready to play a playoff football game and that's really exciting right now," said sophomore defensive back Zach Spiroff.
"I think it's settled in. It's kind of crazy, though. I never thought I'd fly to a football game, but definitely a cool opportunity," said redshirt freshman running back Duncan Kraft. "As exciting as it is, we're definitely settled in and ready to go to work."
While the Fighting Saints will be in unfamiliar territory in Iowa, they won’t be alone as the flight that chartered for Carroll College also had room for fans to join -- an exciting prospect for head coach Troy Purcell after playing an entire spring season with no one in the stands.
"There's a few people I haven't seen in over a year. There's some great supporters and ... the Carroll family is pretty large with supporters and family members and so it's just good to see everybody," Purcell said as he and his players waited to board the plane. "It feels back to normal besides wearing a mask, but it does feel, it feels like fall football."
And while the goal for every game is to win, the Fighting Saints hope this weekend is the start of something the program became accustomed to under former head coach Mike Van Diest.
"This is the first step in this and hopefully it's going to be a long road and get back to the dynasty that we had through 2002 to 2010, that winning tradition," said Spiroff, who is from Helena. "I think that's all of our goals here, and this is the first step in something pretty special."
The Fighting Saints and the Morningside Mustangs will kick off the opening round of the NAIA football championship series this Saturday with kickoff set for 12 p.m. MST.