A Grizzly Saturday Night That Was… Perfect
Saturday, August 31 dawned with a crystal blue sky in Missoula, unusual, because the valley had been cloaked in smoke from the Lolo Creek Complex for the last few weeks. My first thought was... perfect.
This was to be a big day for Grizzly athletics after a 2012 football season clouded in controversy, federal and NCAA investigations, a highly public trial of Grizzly quarterback Jordan Johnson, and a deeply disappointing 5-6 record. So, expectations were running high for this team, and this season. Coming to town, the 12th ranked Appalachian State Mountaineers, a team the Grizzlies had barely beaten inside Washington Grizzly Stadium. In fact, the last two times the Grizzlies had defeated the Mountaineers, a trip to the FCS National Championship game was on the line, and both games were nail-biters, coming down to the final play before the Grizzlies won. So, the set-up for this game was... perfect.
Prior to kickoff, the crowd inside the stadium met Bo Reichenbach, a wounded warrior, a Navy Seal who lost both his legs above the knee after stepping on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. There had already been several fundraising events to help the Reichenbach family update their home in Billings to accommodate his handicap. As Reichenbach, his family and friends watched from the 50 yard-line, fellow Seals from the elite parachute team hurtled straight down through the sky like lightning bolts into the stadium, slowing just in time to land expertly onto the field to the roar of the approving crowd, It was... perfect.
Neither team could do much against the other for the first scoreless quarter, but Grizzly quarterback Jordan Johnson completed his first pass, then his second, and third. In fact, he was 12 for 13 for 166 yards in the first half. Johnson played the entire game, and ended completing 19 of 23 passes for over 250 yards and two touchdowns.
The Grizzly defense allowed only six points on two field goals against a team that averaged over 30 points a game in 2012, and will be moving from the FCS to the FBS Sun Belt Conference next season, winning by a score of 30 to 6. The ending of the game was... perfect.
When tickets for the game went on sale, they went rapidly, with much excitement and anticipation in Missoula and throughout what has come to be known over the years as "Griz Nation." By Thursday, every available ticket had been snatched up, and there was standing room only for the game. The final tally, a new stadium mark of 26,293, eclipsing the previous record set in 2012 of 26,210, when the Grizzlies lost to Montana State. Support for the Grizzlies in the stands was... perfect.
Following the game, after the band played the fight song, and the team sang to the parents section, most of the record crowd stayed in their seats, as the new million-dollar lights were extinguished for a brief, but spectacular fireworks show. When the light show was over, the team was revealed kneeling together in the center of the field hand-in-hand, united.
It was... perfect.