Jake Rendina and his Glacier Wolfpack teammates have no shortage of motivation this week.
The Wolfpack travels to face defending champion Missoula Sentinel in an ‘AA’ semifinal football game Friday night. The contest is a rematch of a Week 4 regular season game that they would like back – a game won 29-21 by the Spartans.
“We had the lead in the fourth quarter of that game,” Glacier coach Grady Bennett said. “We were driving to maybe put it away. Jake has been so good for us all year. Unfortunately, he had a fumble there. They turned it around, went down and took the lead.”
Missoula Sentinel is now on a 20-game winning streak.
“It was our first loss,” Rendina said.
That loss began a midseason swoon during which the Wolfpack lost three of four games, adding defeats to Helena and Butte to the tally before going on a four-game winning streak to reach the state semifinals.
“We knew we were a top-four team,” Rendina said. “That was our goal. We didn’t get discouraged.”
Instead, Glacier got to work. A week ago, the Wolfpack avenged its loss to Butte, eliminating the Bulldogs in the quarterfinals, 35-26.
That gives Glacier and Rendina a chance at more redemption this Friday against the Spartans.
“You don’t get second chances often,” Bennett said.
For Rendina, these reprieves are an opportunity to extend his final high school season before he heads off to play collegiately at a place yet to be determined. He has opportunities at all three military academies, Montana Tech, Montana State and Carroll College, along with a preferred walk-on offer from North Dakota State.
“As soon as football is over, metaphorically I’ll sit down and list things out,” Rendina said. “Then I’ll choose. But the thing is, I am so invested in this team I haven’t really thought about it yet. We have a chance to go farther than we ever thought we could.”
For now, Rendina is focused on what is in front of the Wolfpack – an opportunity for more redemption.
When Glacier played Sentinel the first time, it was the first game after he sprained his left ankle and partially tore the meniscus in that same knee in a Week 3 win over Big Sky. Those injuries lingered into the middle of the regular season as well, causing him to ease up on his workload.
“Coming to terms with that was kind of hard,” Rendina said. “I never wanted to, and really, I didn’t do it much. This is my senior season. It was time to put the mouthguard in and shut up. I could have had a broken leg and I still would try to go.”
Still, the numbers ebbed. Though he ran for 100 yards against Capital during those next four games, he also had outings of 39 and, 72 and 75 yards rushing.
Contrast that with the 218 yards and four touchdowns the 6-foot, 240-pound back gained against Hellgate three weeks ago. In the redemption game at Butte last week, he went for 228 yards on 29 carries, scoring three times.
“The switch was flipped,” said Rendina, who currently sits at 1,340 yards and 24 touchdowns for the season. “We have had the motto all season, ‘Never settle.’ Now, one of these dragons has been (slain). Let’s go get the next one. I’m finally 100 percent.”
And, as if the late fumble and loss to the Spartans earlier this season weren’t enough for motivation, there was a recent article the Wolfpack saw.
“It was an article where Sentinel was talking about people not running the ball on them,” Rendina said. “We have that in our heads, too.”
(Photo by Sara Menssen/Glacier athletics)