UPDATE (1/24/15): Lame Deer's Evan Elkshoulder continued his assault on the 30-point club this week. After scoring 35 points on three consecutive nights last week, Elkshoulder went for 39 against Broadus on Thursday, giving him a state-leading six 30-point games.
The list has been updated with Elkshoulder's performances — and all the others who qualified this week. If you notice anyone missing, let us know. Contract info is below.
UPDATE (1/17/15): Shepherd's John Mushaben and Columbus' Tanner Osborne went back-and-forth in a triple overtime thriller on Saturday. In the end, Shepherd won 73-69 behind Mushaben's 31 points. Osborne had 30 for the Cougars, and both he and Mushaben made their first appearances in the 30-point club this season.
Elsewhere, Havre's Dane Warp put up 38 against Rocky Boy on Saturday, his third 30-point game of the season. And Valley Christian's Cameron Ireland went for 42, which ties him for the second-highest scoring game of the year.
Of the eight defending state champions, only two remain undefeated.
And both reside in Class B.
Bigfork’s boys have quietly, at least in these parts, reeled off 31 consecutive wins dating back to last season, when they won the state championship over Columbus. They’re 5-0 this season, beating three Class A opponents.
It’s well documented by now that Fairfield’s girls are basically unbeatable. The Eagles have won 110 consecutive games after rallying for a five-point win against Rocky Boy and trouncing Browning last week.
One streak did end, though. Fairfield had won an astonishing 53 consecutive regular-season games by 10 points or more before that narrow victory over Rocky Boy.
Only two boys basketball teams won consecutive state championships in the past six years. Josh Huestis' Great Falls CMR teams did it in 2009 and 2010, and Malta won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.
(Note: The first copy of this column incorrectly stated that CMR was the last team to win consecutive titles. My apologies to Malta on my oversight.)
Helena Capital, Columbia Falls, Bigfork and Box Elder will try to add to that group this season as they defend their respective titles.
The girls paint a starkly different picture. Three of the defending state champions – Missoula Sentinel, Fairfield and Belt – have won at least three straight. Fairfield has four consecutive Class B titles and six of the last seven.
Havre was the fourth different Class A champion in as many years.
There are some really good basketball players in Montana right now.
An already strong boys class got a boost when Tres Tinkle decided to stay at Missoula Hellgate instead of going to Oregon with his dad. Wayne Tinkle accepted the job at Oregon State this year and eventually signed Tres to his 2015 recruiting class.
The girls class got its boost with the transfer of MorningRose Tobey. The new Billings West guard moved to Billings from Idaho. She signed to play college basketball at Nevada.
To highlight some of the best players in the state, here are my fourth annual preseason all-state teams. These lists have no bearing on the actual all-state teams that are named at the end of the season, but it’s a fun exercise all the same.
Class AA boys
I don’t know whether to say championship weekend is finally here or championship weekend is already here. Either way, Montana’s five football champions will be crowned by the end of this weekend.
Class AA will get the action started first, with undefeated Kalispell Glacier hosting Great Falls CMR on Friday.
The rest of the games – Dillon at Butte Central, Townsend at Huntley Project, Chinook at Wibaux and Westby-Grenora at Geraldine-Highwood – will kick off Saturday afternoon.
The home teams appear to be slight favorites, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a couple road teams celebrating on their opponents’ fields.
I had a rough time picking the semifinal games (only going 6-4), but here’s who I’m taking in the championships:
And then there were four.
It’s semifinal weekend in Montana’s football playoffs, and each game provides an intriguing storyline.
Can Kalispell Glacier continue its Class AA dominance? Will Helena beat Great Falls CMR for the second time?
Who will emerge from this year’s Dillon-Billings Central battle? Can anybody slow down Butte Central?
Can Conrad’s road warriors extend their playoff run? Does Class B’s only remaining unbeaten go on the road and win at Bigfork?
With Class AA joining the party, all five of Montana’s football classifications are playing postseason football this week.
There are eight teams remaining in each class, with four quarterfinal matchups slated for each. Five games – all four AA matchups and Class A’s Dillon-Belgrade contest – are scheduled for Friday. The rest of the games will be played on Saturday.
The first round of the playoffs offered few fireworks (in fact, I wrote a column about just that), but these pairings promise more excitement. There are intriguing matchups across the board.
Here are this week’s picks:
Excuse me while I hit the snooze button and grab a couple more ZZZs.
Last weekend’s slate of first-round high school football playoff games left a lot to be desired.
Of the 28 games, only seven were decided by single digits. Thirteen, almost half, were decided by more than 40 points. Forty!
There is no more egregious offender than Class C 6-Man, where the average margin of victory was nearly 45 points in the eight games. It’s true that the quarterfinal pairings promise more parity — how can they not? — but what exactly is the point of qualifying 16 teams for the 6-Man postseason?
Montana’s smallest classification expanded to 16 playoff teams in 2007 as more schools joined the class, including teams from Idaho and Wyoming. The current format, which qualifies four teams from each conference, came into place in 2010. Since then, exactly one fourth seed has won in the first round — Hysham beat Custer-Melstone that year.
As October winds to a close, the high school football playoffs are set to start on Friday.
Teams in the Class A, B, 8-Man and 6-Man ranks begin their marches to the championship this weekend, with most games kicking off Saturday afternoon. Class AA is still determining its final playoff teams, let alone seeds.
Kalispell Glacier, Helena, Great Falls CMR, Missoula Big Sky, Billings Senior, Billings Skyview and Bozeman are in. Billings West controls its postseason future, but the Bears could fall into a tie with Butte, Kalispell Flathead and/or Missoula Sentinel.
There are plenty of appetizing matchups on the schedule, so let’s get to picking.
Dillon, Missoula Loyola, Ennis and Geraldine-Highwood start their title defenses in earnest this week.
The Class A, B, 8-Man and 6-Man playoffs kick off Friday and Saturday, and all four defending champions are in the pool, as are all four runners-up.
The saying goes that every team is 0-0 as the season calendar flips to the postseason. On the surface, that’s true. But the previous two-plus months aren’t for naught. The bulk of the season has been spent separating the contenders from the pretenders.
That being said, this fall appears to be as wide open as any in recent memory. Who are the favorites? Who are sleeper teams to watch? Who should be on upset alert? Read on …
Things I think I think
It’s the final week of the regular season in all classes except the AA.
Many playoff spots are already spoken for, but there’s still a lot we don’t know. The schedule works out, too, so that we have a lot of important head-to-head games this weekend.
In Class AA, two weeks remain, and there’s still a lot to be determined there. The class kicks off with a couple big Thursday night games, so we’re rolling out the picks early this week:
* indicates a “game of the week”
The regular season is winding to a close, and the Associated Press polls are reflecting that.
All 15 teams ranked first, second or third in the five classes held maintained their respective positions. Kalispell Glacier, Belgrade, Fairfield, Wibaux and Denton-Geyser-Stanford were the top-ranked teams for the third consecutive week.
The Class AA poll saw no changes -- Helena, Great Falls CMR, Billings Senior and Billings Skyview -- followed Glacier in the top five.
Dillon moved up one spot to fourth in the Class A poll. Miles City moved in to No. 5, and Laurel, following its loss to Billings Central dropped out.
The same 10 teams are ranked in Class B as last week, too, though the order changed. Baker and Bigfork were the biggest beneficiaries of Conrad's loss to Fairfield.
The countdown to the postseason is on.
Only two weeks remain in the regular season for all non-Class AA teams. AA still has three weeks to go.
As playoff positioning comes to the forefront, there is still a lot left to be determined. While some conferences – like the Eastern C – are set, others – like the Eastern A – have yet to see a team clinch a playoff berth, let alone a specific seed.
There are some big games this week that will clarify the postseason picture, so let’s get to the picks:
* indicates a “game of the week”
It took most of the season, but Class A finally went two consecutive weeks with the same team atop the Associated Press poll. Belgrade earned six first-place votes to secure the No. 1 ranking again.
Butte Central received four first-place votes, and Billings Central received one.
Kalispell Glacier, Fairfield, Wibaux and Denton-Geyser-Stanford maintained their season-long holds on their respective top rankings.
In fact, both Class C polls saw the exact same top five from last week.
You can find the polls in their entirety below, with first-place votes in parentheses, records, rating points and previous rankings at right. How I voted and a brief reaction follows each poll.
After following the status quo much of the season, the Southern B finally had a somewhat unpredictable Friday night.
It started with Forsyth, the second-ranked team in the class, losing at Baker. The Dogies were coming off solid back-to-back wins over Colstrip and Forsyth. They had allowed only one touchdown all season before digging an 18-point hole against the Spartans.
Forsyth’s attempt at a fourth-quarter rally came up short, as Baker went on to get the 18-13 win.
Luke Gonsioroski rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns for the Spartans. He also intercepted three passes on defense.
Baker improved to 4-2, and more importantly positioned itself to secure one of District 3B’s two playoff spots. The Spartans, Dogies and Shepherd are all 2-1 in the conference, behind undefeated Huntley Project. The Red Devils beat Baker 35-14 earlier in the season, but have yet to play Forsyth or Shepherd.
With fewer and fewer games remaining, the importance of each is magnified. A loss could doom a team’s postseason chances, or a win could propel a team into playoff contention.
Each week now basically presents a must-win scenario for teams hoping to reach the postseason, especially those that suffered earlier losses.
Other teams have already put themselves in good position to, at a minimum, qualify for the playoffs. But for teams like Helena and Great Falls CMR, simply reaching the playoffs isn’t enough.
It’s about putting yourself in the best position to find success in the playoffs, which adds to the intrigue of this week’s biggest game.
*indicates a “game of the week”
This week's Associated Press high school football polls came out earlier Wednesday, and -- again -- Kalispell Glacier, Fairfield, Wibaux and Denton-Geyser-Stanford topped their respective classes.
And again, Class A has a new team atop the poll. Belgrade became the fourth different team to reach No. 1 in the class in four weeks.
In AA, Glacier and Helena have been ranked Nos. 1 and 2 all season. Great Falls CMR and Billings Skyview have been slotted third and fourth for three straight weeks.
Fairfield has topped the Class B poll since the polls debuted, but Glasgow fell from No. 2 for the first time. Forsyth leap-frogged the Scotties.
In Class C, Wibaux and Ennis are 8-Man's top two teams for the fourth consecutive week. The 6-Man poll has had DGS, Savage, Hot Springs and Geraldine-Highwood in the top four slots all year.
Beginning with the 2012 season, the Northern C aligned its 10 (at the time) football teams in one division rather than the split-conference format it previously used.
The idea was to prevent imbalance within the conference, increasing parity and providing equal opportunity for teams to clinch one of the four state playoff berths.
Since the league altered its format, there hasn’t been a more competitive conference in Montana 8-Man football. This season is certainly following suit.
The North is the only 8-Man conference that doesn’t have at least one undefeated team remaining. In fact, six of the North’s eight teams have one or two losses, and all six of those could conceivably have two losses after this weekend’s slate of games. Chinook (4-1) plays at Belt (4-2) and Great Falls Central (4-1) hosts Simms (3-2).
Following last Thursday night’s 2-1 win over West, Senior’s boys finished their four Billings Cup matches unbeaten and clinched the top spot in our annual intra-city competition. The Broncs won three of their four matches against Skyview and West and finished with a +9 goal differential, a pretty dominating performance. West and Skyview still have a match to play on Thursday, but the Broncs’ 10 points are well out of reach for the second-place Golden Bears.
Skyview’s girls have a pretty solid grip on the Cup, as well. The Falcons lead West by three points, and a Bears’ win on Thursday when the teams meet up would put both squads on nine points. But Skyview has a better goal differential, and West would have to win by three goals to share the Cup and win by at least four goals to win the Cup outright. Suffice to say, looking at the bigger picture, the Bears would be more than happy with a 1-0 win. Any win would allow the Bears to tighten their grip on fourth place in the Eastern AA and a potential home playoff berth.
Tuesday, Sept. 2
Heading into October, the end of the regular season is beginning to come into focus. The playoffs for every class except AA begin Nov. 1.
As teams jockey for postseason position, there are some heavyweight games featuring ranked opponents this week, including big-time matchups in each class.
Hear are my picks for this weekend’s slate of great games:
* indicates a “game of the week”