FRISCO, Texas — Montana’s bid for its first national title since 2001 came up short after a 23-3 loss to South Dakota State at the FCS national championship at Toyota Stadium.
And while the thousands of fans who made the trip and thousands more who watched back home in the Treasure State are disappointed, they understand this season is a return to form for a once-dominant program.
After a few relatively lean years, Montana is back where it’s supposed to be. On top of the Big Sky Conference, in possession of the Great Divide Trophy and competing for championships.
MTN Sports spoke with several people connected with the program in the aftermath of Sunday’s loss and there’s a consensus.
The future of the Montana football program, they say, is blindingly bright.
“I’m super proud, this doesn’t happen every year,” said former kicker Adam Botkin, now a social media influencer. “Getting to see how much Montana supported this team. It was a crazy atmosphere. I think the future looks great. They lose a lot but they have some key pieces coming back. They have that itch, they have the drive to get back this spot and finish the drive.”
Parents of players waited patiently after the game to embrace their kids and let them know how proud they’ve made Griz nation.
“These guys the whole season just stuck it out,” said Jeremy Luiten, the father of cornerback Corbin Walker. “They had some adversity in the middle of the season but they stuck it out and kept playing. People didn’t believe in them. They believed in the team and they got here. We’re always so proud of them.”
Junior safety Jaxon Lee had a large contingent of family and friends in the crowd on Sunday. They were beaming when he emerged from the locker room.
“I’m so proud, they did awesome,” said Margie Lee, Jaxon’s mother. “The season was amazing and Missoula was so proud to go through this December with them. It was so fun. We’re just very proud.”
Darwin and Jill Kinyon, the drivers of the Montana equipment truck, offered smiles and hugs to the players as they left the field. They’ve become close with the team and wanted to let them know how much this season meant to them.
“I still have faith in them, they’re awesome,” Jill Kinyon said. “Nothing to hang their heads on they are awesome.”
The student section at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula is one of the rowdiest in the country. They came out in force in Frisco, and though the loss stings they’re already planning to pack the Zoo Crew section in the fall of 2024.
“You gotta love Montana, you gotta love these Grizzlies,” said UM student Camdin Dirnberger. “They fought until the very end and never gave up. It makes me proud to be from this school and be from this state.”
Even the smaller fans are excited for the future of the Montana Grizzlies.
“There are so many memories from this season,” said 11-year-old Ethan McPherson of Billings. “Hopefully next year we’ll have a good team and be back. They have a lot of juniors.”
The flight home will be long — but thankfully the offseason is short. Spring drills are right around the corner and Montana will have another chance to improve on a runner-up finish.