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COLUMN: Milestones reached 24 hours apart

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | September 15, 2021 9:04 PM

Two night games and 200 wins.

It isn’t rare for Glacier coach Grady Bennett and Montana’s Bobby Hauck to be on the winning end of football games. It’s just a little odd that they reached milestones 24 hours apart.

On Friday Glacier’s 56-20 win over Missoula Big Sky was Bennett’s 100th as the school’s coach; Saturday the Grizzlies swamped Western Illinois 42-7 for Hauck’s 100th victory at UM.

“Thanks for waiting around,” Hauck said to the assembled media, some 45 minutes after Saturday’s game ended. “We were celebrating a little bit.”

Glacier’s win Friday was also a deadline-crusher: Bennett did a radio interview first, then he and his squad, setting the standard, celebrated a little bit.

“Big one,” Bennett, reemerging from the raucous locker room, said. “I’m just so proud of our kids and how they battled through the week. It was a tough week, man.”

Glacier High had its collective wind knocked out when a student-athlete took his own life, and Bennett was mindful that playing a game might not seem as important after such a tragedy.

“Our love and prayers are with the family and everyone that’s struggling with this,” he said Friday. “The way our kids fought through it and came through it — they loved each other and cared for each other — is really impressive to see.”

The Wolfpack is impressive on the field, blending talented sophomores with a strong senior group and going 3-0. Jake Rendina averaged 10 yards a carry against Big Sky, getting 71 on one burst that ended in a fumble. It was a rare lowlight on a night in which the senior scored four more touchdowns.

A night later the Grizzlies took the field after a short memorial for those lost in the 9/11 attacks — a C-130 firefighting plane made a pre-anthem, non-flyover flyover, drawing a cheer from the stadium — and took the Wolfpack’s three turnovers up a notch.

Montana had four giveaways against the Leathernecks. It didn’t matter, though the 73-yard interception return by the Leathernecks’ Michael Lawson caused some nervousness. But with Western Illinois suddenly down just 14-7, the Griz executed a perfect clock drive over the final 21/2 minutes of the first half.

Quarterback Cam Humphrey went Full Goldfish, smartly taking the Griz 68 yards in eight plays moments after his pick-six. A short memory serves any QB, and Humphrey carried himself well enough despite another pick midway through the third quarter.

Western Illinois coach Jared Elliott used that dreaded phrase — “He’s a great game manager” — when asked about Humphrey but added, when asked if Montana should be ranked No. 1 in the Football Championship Subdivision: “I would say they should definitely be in the discussion.”

Western Illinois plays Big Sky Conference favorite Eastern Washington this Saturday, by the way, while the Griz have a bye.

Three years ago the Leathernecks lost 26-23 at Montana State, then beat visiting Montana in Macomb 31-27 a few weeks later. That was then.

“I knew they were good,” Elliott said Saturday. “But walking off the field after seeing them in person — they’re the real deal.”

Hauck had his different worries about how his team might respond.

“I was impressed with the way we were able to bounce back from such a monumental win over Washington last week,” he said. It was another test, and they passed.

Glacier, meanwhile, gets no rest: The Pack is at Missoula Sentinel Friday. The idea is always to keep getting better every week, Bennett continuing his “Football is life” parable.

“I’m sorry to get on a soapbox,” he said Friday. “But you get a team of football players that are all different races and religions, different belief systems and they put that aside and work for a common goal. I just love to see it.

“I challenge them, that’s what they have to take into society. You may not always agree with somebody, but love people well and take care of people and work for a common goal. To see it this week was really cool with high school kids.”

Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 758-4463 or fneighbor@dailyinterlake.com