The tiny towns of Westby and Grenora straddle the Montana-North Dakota border way up near where the United State meets Canada. Hot Springs in western Montana may as well be in a different country.
The MonDak Thunder 6-man football team, which comprises players from both towns, traveled almost 800 miles for its Class C quarterfinal playoff game at Hot Springs on Saturday on a journey split up into three days.
The drive home is always a little easier when there’s a win in tow.
MonDak upset third-ranked Hot Springs 32-22 for the Savage Heat’s first loss of the season, but the Thunder trailed by four at halftime. Coach Troy Walters chalked that up at least in part to the pilgrimage the boys had just endured.
“The bus rides and two nights in different hotels and eating out every night, they’re not in that good routine,” Walters said. “You could kinda tell after the first five minutes of the game we kinda settled down. All of a sudden we decided, ‘OK, let’s just play football and hit people and see what happens.’ ”
Westby-Grenora shut out Hot Springs’ dangerous offense, a unit that averages more than 55 points per game, after allowing touchdowns on the opening two drives.
The win capped a week-long football effort for the east-side boys. The bus left Westby back on Thursday as the team made for Bozeman for pit stop No. 1. The Thunder got in a practice first just up the road at Reedpoint on Interstate 90.
They stayed in Missoula on Friday and practiced again at Alberton’s field up the road before heading on to Hot Springs, the last 75 miles or so of the 797-mile one way journey, on Saturday morning.
For a little perspective – or maybe a geography lesson – on just how far the Thunder drove this week, Minneapolis is closer to Westby than Hot Springs. And, using the I-90 route the team took, by about 150 miles even.
The team could nearly have made it to Omaha in fact, though bus’s allotted mileage probably would have run out in the suburbs somewhere near Missouri Valley, Iowa.
It’s all par for the MonDak course. No team is close, even those in the Eastern C division.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been to northeast Montana where Westby is – or Grenora – but I’ll tell you what, we travel sooo much,” Walters said. “Our conference, they’re all five hours away. Our kids are used to that.”
The Thunder bought themselves another long bus ride next week. MonDak travels to Stanford-Denton-Geyser for the state semifinals. That one’s in Denton, a mere 400-ish miles away.