BUTTE - Seventy-six years ago, Eso Naranche captained the Grizzlies past the rival Bobcats on the Butte field that would one day bear his name. This weekend for the first time since 1951, the Montana football team will return to Naranche Stadium.
The Griz conclude their month-long spring practice session with the annual Grizzly Spring Game at Butte High's heralded Naranche Stadium on Saturday. Activity begins at 1 p.m. with special teams drills before the scrimmage gets under way in earnest at 1:30 p.m.
The simulation, pitting the Maroon against the White, will have a real game-day feel to it with the Grizzly Scholarship Association (GSA) tailgate beginning at 11 a.m. near the northwest corner of the stadium on E. Silver St. The game itself will also be broadcast statewide on SWX Montana and available on mobile devices through the Watch SWX app.
The Grizzly coaching staff has bisected its roster into balanced sides with the No. 1 offense and No. 2 defense wearing maroon across from the No. 2 offense and No. 1 defense in white. They'll square off in four 10-minute quarters.
As of Friday afternoon, head coach Bob Stitt said he anticipated splitting the No. 1 quarterback snaps between senior Reese Phillips and redshirt freshman Gresch Jensen on Team Maroon. Junior Caleb Hill will lead Team White, though that arrangement is subject to change before kickoff -- or even mid game.
After a strong outing in spring scrimmage No. 2 last week, Stitt is pushing his offense to perform well again and close spring drills on a high.
"Offensively we need to pick up where we left off last Friday night," the coach said during Friday's player-run final practice session. "We felt like we did some really nice things, especially at the quarterback position, and we've got to keep doing that."
Naranche Stadium in its current form did not exist the last time the Griz spring game came through the Mining City in 2010.
Montana holds its final spring scrimmage on a semi-annual rotation around the state, playing at Washington-Grizzly Stadium before traveling the next time in recent years. The Griz went to Helena in 2015 and Ronan in 2013. During the last scrimmage held in Butte, the Griz were part of a doubleheader with Montana Tech at Alumni Coliseum.
A year later the Bulldogs re-opened what was originally known as Butte High Stadium, which was constructed in 1938 but condemned in 1973. They carried over the name Naranche -- in honor of the former Bulldog and Griz standout who was killed during World War II while serving in North Africa -- after the stadium first took his name in 1943.
The Griz and Cats met on the neutral field in Butte between 1926 and 1951, including three straight wins with Naranche in the backfield from 1939-41.
The stadium combines the historic feel of Uptown Butte with modern amenities that include an artificial turf installed just last summer. Naranche was named Montana's best high school football venue by the Billings Gazette in 2014.
"I can't wait to play in Butte," said Griz safety and Bigfork product Josh Sandry. "I'm a Class B guy so I've never played in Naranche, but I hear it's pretty cool."
Tickets for fans may be purchased at the gate on Saturday with adults admitted for $5 and children under 12 years old $3. All proceeds from the game go to support the GSA.
That's part of the reason the annual spring game is a touring event. It expands the Montana brand and allows the Griz to reach out to far-flung fans across the state.
It also creates a fun atmosphere for the players involved, Stitt said.
"After having one on the road and one at home, it kind of puts a little more importance on it because you are traveling and it is a special thing," said Stitt, who is in his third year with the program. "It just seems like another scrimmage when you do it at home.
"... It's great to take your show on the road and I know people really appreciate that in the towns you're playing in."