BILLINGS — With the high school football season in the books, here is a look back at the five teams that were crowned state champions over the weekend.
New year, same result
Twenty-six up. Twenty-six down.
Two state championships.
Billings Senior's historic run of success continued on Friday night when the Broncs defeated Helena 21-12 at Wendy's Field at Daylis Stadium. Senior's repeat championship was the first in Class AA since Helena Capital won three in a row from 2006-2008 and the first in Billings since West went back-to-back in 1997-1998.
Though the Broncs' sport two years in a row with spotless records, Friday night's game was anything but spotless. The Broncs overcame four turnovers and a blocked punt to withstand a Helena team that went toe-to-toe with the defending champions. Senior got rushing touchdowns from Gabe Sulser, Blake Allred and Nolan Askelson in the contest. Sulser and Askelson also came away with interceptions. Senior's defense stopped Helena from scoring twice on fourth and goal from inside the Senior 10-yard line, including Noah Christopherson's arm block with about six minutes left in the game.
"We were all saying defense wins championships and that's what you saw down there. That was great," Allred said.
A lot of doubt was cast at the beginning of the year about a Senior repeat after the team graduated 22 seniors. That doubt fueled the Broncs, who still turned heads with their up-tempo, big-play ability and a shutdown defense. The Broncs averaged about 36 points per game this year, while allowing around 13 a game.
While some games were closer than others, Allred, Sulser and Askelson knew their team was capable from the start.
"We had so many doubters with all of the seniors that we lost but look at these dudes. They don't give up," Askelson said, gesturing toward his teammates. "It's awesome. I love sitting there with my brothers and celebrating. The hard work is paying off and we get to go celebrate and have a little fun finally. I'm just really excited."
More doubt and questions will be cast next year as the Broncs lose 26 seniors. But, the current Broncs will enjoy two years of perfection.
"It's definitely just as sweet," Sulser said. "Every championship is an amazing feeling so I'm just really happy right now. Things couldn't be better."
New year, different result
Columbia Falls seemed like the unlucky team to run into the Dillon buzz-saw a year ago in the Class A playoffs.
This year, the Wildcats returned to the state title game, and topped Hamilton 26-14 for the school's first football state championship.
The Wildcats were once again tasked with a tough challenge in Hamilton, a team that was leading the Class A in scoring. The 14 points were the lowest Hamilton had all season.
"This means everything. This town has always been big on their sports, and we couldn't have done this without their support," Columbia Falls' Austin Green told Kyle Houghtaling of the Missoulian and 406mtsports.com after the game.
Last year, Eureka flew far under the radar on its way to winning the school's first state football championship.
This year, the Lions were at the forefront of contender conversations from the beginning. On Saturday, they affirmed that belief.
The Lions, a team that has dominated all year long, defeated Shelby 47-7 to win back-to-back titles. They join Senior as the only two football teams to repeat from a year ago. The Lions won their 20th game in a row.
The game was a metaphor for Eureka's season: score a lot, allow a little. Simple, effective, and a coach's dream. The Lions averaged almost 44 points per game this season, while allowing an average of eight. They shut their opponents out four times and allowed double-digit scoring only three times, none of which came in the playoffs.
It's a trend the Lions have worked on over the last two years.
“I hope it means that we have a winning tradition established, that we can continue to be in the conversation every year,” Eureka coach Trevor Utter told Frank Gogola of the Missoulian and 406mtsports.com. “That’s what you dream of is being a program rather than a one-year wonder.”
Looks like the Lions are here to stay.
Come together...right now
A pair of teams looking for firsts was on hand in the 8-Man state championship game. Drummond-Philipsburg was trying to earn its first state championship as a co-op while Forsyth, a team that played Class B last year, was playing in the school's first state football championship.
After a tough game, the Titans walked away the victors with a 44-30 win.
From 2003-2009, Drummond won five 8-Man titles. Now, as Al Balderas of the Montana Standard and 406mtsports.com notes, Drummond and Philipsburg, once rivals, had to come together to win the state championship this year.
“It’s these two communities and these kids,” Drummond-Philipsburg coach Mike Cutler said. “Both communities supported this co-op four years ago and neither one of us would be here if we didn’t work together. We’re welded together now, so it’s awesome.”
Third time's the charm
Westby-Grenora football coach Troy Walters said it best after his Thunder won the 6-Man title.
“For those guys, we’ve been here three times before and finally we got the third one,” he said. “What do they say? The third time is the lucky charm? So I guess we’re pretty happy.”
Westby-Grenora defeated Bridger 68-37 on Saturday to claim the co-op's first state championship in its six-year history. It was the third time the Thunder had been in a title game, but losses in 2014 to Geraldine-Highwood and 2016 to Hot Springs made this year's breakthrough that much sweeter.
"There were so many of our fans here that have played for me over the last six years," Walters said. "This is just as important to them as it is to the kids right now because they really made this program work."
Thunder quarterback Jeremiah Paine continued his record-breaking season, throwing for eight touchdown passes to increase his career total to 153 and season amount to 69, both 6-Man records.
It was all Thunder from the start, as they jumped to a 22-6 lead and never looked back.