MISSOULA — As the Montana football team kept its regular game week schedule, its Saturday opponent — the Savannah State Tigers — did everything but.
As Hurricane Irma churned through the warm waters of the Atlantic, Savannah State University, a historically black university in Savannah, Georgia, called for an evacuation.
The Savannah State football team loaded onto buses on the morning of Friday, Sept. 8, to head to the Appalachian State campus for its first game of the season. Little did the Tigers know they'd return to their campus six days later.
"Six straight days living out of a duffel bag," Savannah State coach Erik Raeburn said in a phone interview with 406 MT Sports. "It's been tough, but I think our guys tried to stay as positive as they could. I didn't hear anyone complaining, but it's been trying for sure."
The team stayed in its previously booked hotel in Boone, North Carolina, on Friday night but had to check out on Saturday, per the original hotel reservation.
The closest place the Tigers could find a hotel to accommodate their entire team Saturday night was in Greensboro, North Carolina — a 115-mile jaunt due east.
The next day, accommodations had been made for them to stay at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, Georgia, until the all-clear was given down in Savannah. The team ended up staying there from Sunday to Wednesday afternoon.
Practicing was a tad difficult as North Georgia doesn't have a football team. A high school in the area — Lumpkin County — allowed the Tigers to use its field.
But Hurricane Irma shifted direction and hit Dahlonega too, although not as hard as coastal cities like Savannah, and changed the Tigers' plans yet again.
"Even though they're pretty far inland, they still had the real bad winds, so it knocked down all these trees and power lines. The roads were all closed, so we couldn't get out and practice on Tuesday," Raeburn said. "Our buses couldn't get to the high school because of all the trees that were down and power lines."
The Tigers got to practice again on Wednesday morning and received word they could return to campus that evening. The 300-mile drive took them seven hours due to bumper-to-bumper traffic.
"I think, all told, we spent 25 (hours) on the bus these last six days," Raeburn said. "It's been rough, but I was proud of how our guys handled it.
"The people at Lumpkin County High School and the University of North Georgia, they were so accommodating to us. They made what would be a horrible situation … bearable because of all the hospitality and all the accommodations they made to try to make our stay as productive as possible."
Savannah State had one normal day of practice at their facilities on Thursday. The team is scheduled to fly to Montana on Friday for another new experience.
"I don't think we have a single person that had been to the state of Montana," Raeburn said. "We have a bunch of guys that this will be their first time on an airplane.
"Fifty-five degrees for our guys is like minus-20 for the guys at Montana. It's like 95 here every day. ... I grew up in northeast Ohio and so I tease our guys all the time, if it's 73 degrees out, our guys will all be wearing hoodies like they're freezing cold. It'll be really different for them for sure."