BILLINGS — Last year, the Circle Wildcats won their first playoff game ever in the school's history.
This year, they've added two more wins to that trend of success, and now find themselves one of the final four 8-Man football teams standing.
Circle, the 8-Man East's No. 3 seed, upset Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap on Saturday 34-22 on the road. The Titans were the No. 1 seed from the 8-Man South, and came into the game 9-1. Circle was coming into the quarterfinals after opening the postseason with a 68-14 thrashing of Centerville.
Circle began the season 2-2, with both of its losses coming against Forsyth (11-0) and Fairview (9-2) in close games. The Dogies are still in the playoffs while the Warriors were eliminated last weekend.
Since then, Circle has won seven games in a row, including the two road playoff games. The Wildcats now turn their attention to another school that caught some by surprise in Drummond-Philipsburg which they will challenge on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the 8-Man semifinals.
"We're a confident bunch I think," Circle coach Taw Eissinger said over the phone on Tuesday. "We play in a tough conference and we know it's going to prepare us for these playoff games."
Drummond-Philipsburg is normally a team synonymous with success. Drummond has won five 8-Man titles since 2003, but the Titans, like the Wildcats, surprised some people this season, due to the recent success of Charlo in the 8-Man West. Dummond-Philipsburg defeated Charlo when they met this season, and the Vikings were eliminated last week by Forsyth, leaving Drummond-Philipsburg, the West's No. 1 seed, as the lone division representative.
"It's been incredible. I think a lot of people thought we'd take a step back maybe because we lost some really good seniors last year," Eissinger said. "This class of juniors and seniors have stepped up and they're hungry. They want to get back to it."
Eissinger said the team had a bit of a lull to begin the year after last year's high of making it to the postseason. He said the team had to get back into the mindset of a new season and the work that had to be put in.
The Wildcats have also done a lot of driving over the last two weeks and this week will be no different. After a combined 1,022 miles round-trip in the last two weeks, the Wildcats will almost equal it this week when they make the 868 mile trip to Dummond.
"It would be nice to have one at home one of these days," Eissinger said with a laugh. "We're used to it now."
Circle's strength is in its defense and backfield according to Eissinger. He said running backs Calder Fleming and Trey Taylor have done a good job of moving the offense, something both were accustomed to a year ago. Eissinger said the team had to fill the shoes of former quarterback Brett Delp, who represented Circle in the Class C All-Star Classic and in the East-West Shrine Game over the summer.
"They've done a heck of a job, they're workhorses that's for sure," Eissinger said.
That was prevalent in Circle's win over Tri-Cities. Trailing 22-20 at halftime, the Wildcats held the Titans scoreless in the second half as they came back for the win with fourth quarter touchdowns from Fleming and Taylor. Eissinger also praised Fleming's defensive performance.
"Defensively, I've never seen a kid take over like he did," Eissinger said. "He had 22 total tackles in the game. He was just everywhere."
And after they punched their tickets to the semifinals, one would expect the party to be on for the Wildcats.
Well, that was not quite the case.
"They were exhausted. It was a quiet ride home," Eissinger said with a laugh again. "It was a grind. Tri-Cities is a heck of a team. (Monday) when we got back together after school, we were feeling good and ready to get back to work. It should be a fun one this weekend. We have our hands full for sure."