BUTTE — Choteau head coach Luke Gunderson and Ennis head coach Chris Hess share a unique relationship. The two were teammates and roommates during their time playing football at Montana State-Northern. To this day, Hess remains close with Gunderson and other members of Choteau’s staff.
“(Hess) and I talk a lot. He’s helped me out. When I first got into coaching, (Hess) helped me,” Gunderson said. “I’d call him up for helping me on offensive stuff. When we got down to the 8-Man game, (Hess) helped a lot. He’s one of my great friends. He always is and that’s the best thing about football in Montana. Blood runs thicker than water. It was tense. You want to do good, especially against a former teammate and good friend of yours, you always want to do as well as you can.”
“Coach Gunderson and I are really good friends, known him for years, and (assistant coach Dan) Yeager,” Hess said. “We talked a lot before going into this game. We really wanted to learn from it.”
Choteau and Ennis met at Naranche Stadium in Butte, the site of the 2018 8-Man state title game. Both Gunderson and Hess came to a mutual understanding prior to kickoff. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for players on both sides to play on turf under the lights at one of Montana’s most famous stadiums.
“When (Hess) and I had talked, we both wanted to make it, ‘Hey, this is a once-in-a-lifetime deal for a lot of these kids.’ We’re not going to get a chance to play on turf, so we had said let’s try to get everybody in, but if it’s close we’ve got to play it out,” Gunderson said. “We went ahead there a little bit in the fourth quarter, so Hess stopped it, we met on midfield and talked about what we wanted to do. Get our twos in and give those guys a chance. I think everybody got a chance to play tonight in a nice tight game. That was fun.”
“We knew we wanted to get young guys in. At what point in the game? We had talked about doing it at halftime. The game was really close, so we wanted to go a little longer. Then he was nice enough to let us put them in at the end,” Hess said.
Choteau pushed its lead to double digits by the beginning of the fourth quarter, which prompted both coaches to pull their starters and let the second teams get some time on the turf.
“That was obviously a big focus,” Hess said. “We had to had to get everybody in the game and make sure that was a positive experience for them. If you watched the game, when our young guys got in and they got the score, I think we were just as excited as we were at any point in the game. That was awesome to see. The older guys were excited, too, about it. Those are memories. That kid was a freshman in high school that scored a touchdown at this stadium. He’ll remember that forever.”
As Gunderson said, blood is thicker than water. Gunderson and Hess have a friendship that has outlasted the rivalries inside of high school football.