GRACE — The Grace student section literally just one little chuck of bleachers on the Grizzlies track – which is more than most 1A programs get. On Friday, it consisted of about a dozen students stomping and hollering and chasing along with the cheerleaders.
And they were also the victims of some devastating glances after big plays in Grace’s 53-36 victory over Rockland (3-2). You see, a few of those on the metal bleachers were once Grace football players. A few endured a 4-5 campaign last season under then-coach Brandon Sanchez and wanted no more to do with Grace football.
“Kids that usually who play, who play every year and are good,” said Grace quarterback and defensive back Tytan Anderson, “just didn’t come out this year because they thought we were going to lose.”
Running back Jaden Pitcher chimed in: “They straight up said, ‘I’m not going to play because you guys are going to lose.’”
In short order, dumping on the Grizzles football team became trendy, which shocked those who still wore the red and gray. The town is not big. There are about 1,300 residents living and Grace and only a little over 150 attending the high school. Small towns are supposed to rally behind their high school football teams, not disparage them.
When Sanchez retired right before the season, it was assistant James Newby who stepped up and took over the squad just two weeks before their season-opener against North Gem. Instead of being thanked, however, Newby was almost being warned about the squad he inherited.
“They would say to me like, ‘Oh it’s going to be a rough year. I don’t think you guys are going to win a game,’” Newby said. “I’m just like, ‘Well alright, we’ll see.’”
All of that made Friday so much more satisfying for Grace.
It wasn’t just that they won their second-straight game. Or that Pitcher – one of only four seniors — had more than 200 total yards and five touchdowns. Or that Anderson threw for almost 200 yards and made a circus interception. Or that 6-foot-3 Dallon Draper had a pair of picks and a long touchdown catch.
It was that the Grizzles got a step closer to “MDB.”
“Our biggest slogan this year has been MDB,” said Anderson. “Make Doubters Believe.”
And who are those doubters?
“Kids from our high school. Our fellow students. Community members,” Pitcher said. “It hurts so much.”
The solace has come in the reaction over the last six weeks.
The Grizzles are only 2-3, but have faced one of the toughest schedules in the state. (The three teams they lost to – North Gem, Oakley and Raft River – are a combined 13-1 so far this season.) And with each week, with each win, Grace is making believers.
“I actually had one of the kids who used to play with us text me and say, ‘Hey, I wish I was out there with you,’” Pitcher said.
“After our last game,” Anderson added, “I had six kids come up to me and say, ‘Dang, I wish I would have played.’”
Grace is a fun team to watch. They combine length with innovative offensive plays and spent all of Friday night stymying Rockland’s run defense. Over the last two weeks, they have defied expectations. Albeit those expectations were scraping the surface, the Grizzlies have hurdled over the bar.
First, the goal was to win a game. This week, though, it was to win during harvest week – the most grueling little stretch for the entire community. It is so imperative that Grace’s potato farmers have enough help to being in their crop in the two-week harvest period, that school lets out so kids can go work.
This year, harvest wrapped up on Thursday – the end of a two-week stretch filled with a repetitive cycle of 12-hour days on the farm.
In the past, coaches have treated football practices during harvest differently – for good reason. At some point, you would think, too much work and too much exercise may be counterproductive for a football game. Often, the Grizzlies would only spent their 6 to 8 a.m. harvest practices watching film and running just a few plays.
“We just did it different this year,” Newby said. “We ran regular practice … We turned the lights on and we practiced. I didn’t care how cold it was. We were going to out and run plays and learn and get better. And, so, that’s what we did.
“It seemed like it paid off.”
The former doubters would agree.