BILLINGS – Sidney has been the talk of the Eastern A in football this season, and rightfully so.
The Eagles are 7-0, having recently defeated Laurel (6-1) and are ranked No. 2 in the 406mtsports.com high school football rankings.
Behind them are the Locomotives and Billings Central (6-1), two teams that despite a huge turnover from a year ago, are right in the thick of the best teams in the state.
But there is another in the Eastern A which has quietly been winning and cruising through the latter part of its season.
The Miles City Cowboys.
After starting the season 0-2 with losses to Central and Laurel, Miles City has won five games in a row to improve to 5-2. The Cowboys most recently defeated rival Glendive 41-14 on the road, and have a big game against Sidney on Friday.
Jeff Regan, Miles City’s second-year coach, said the team did not take care of the ball well in the first two games of the season. As the year has gone on, the team has fixed some mistakes and lately have been playing their best football of the season.
“The kids didn’t get down on themselves early. They were madder at themselves at missed opportunities,” Regan said over the phone on Wednesday. “They’re just working every week to get better and it’s just a good group to be around.”
Prior to Glendive, Miles City had back-to-back shutout victories over Hardin (27-0) and Livingston (48-0).
“Our defense has been playing well,” Regan said. “I think we’ve played really well for the majority of the year.”
Regan said his offensive and defensive lines have been the rock steady groups of the team. Receivers Kip Krebsbach and Zach Dinardi have stepped up lately as well as quarterback Gabe Gundlach. Because of their play, Regan said, they have passed the ball a little bit more though the team normally likes to run the ball.
Because of their response to the early adversity, Miles City is sitting in fourth place in the Eastern A standings now. But their road does not get easier, and it is now their turn to challenge the undefeated Eagles.
“We’re really excited,” Regan said. “It’s a big rivalry for us for a long time and they’re a great program. But our kids are excited to play and it’s a big game and this is why you play football. Good matchup here in Miles City.”
No. 1 vs. No. 2.
What could be better?
6-Man football fans are in for a treat this weekend when top two teams in the 6-Man East will go head-to-head as top-ranked Westby-Grenora (7-0) will host No. 2 Wibaux (7-0).
Both teams bring different stories into the game. Westby-Grenora is in its sixth year of being a 6-Man powerhouse, while Wibaux is in its first year of the classification after being a staple at the 8-Man level. The Thunder were last year’s 6-Man runner-up. Wibaux was stopped in the 8-Man semifinals a year ago.
Westby-Grenora has been cruising this season, with quarterback Jeremiah Paine recently breaking the 6-Man passing touchdown record. They had a one-point victory over Bridger earlier in the year and close games with Bainville and Richey-Lambert, but the last three games the Thunder have won by a combined 168-19.
“They have a lot of weapons that we have to deal with,” first-year Wibaux coach Craig Lunde said. “We’ve been watching a lot of game film to prepare for them. We’re trying to see if we can find any tendencies or anything that we can work off of.”
Wibaux is coming off of a 61-58 comeback win over Richey-Lambert. The Longhorns have not missed a step at the 6-Man level, averaging 53 points a game while allowing about 27 points per game. Quarterback Tel Lunde scored eight touchdowns in the game. Cade Dschaak has been the team’s primary running back and linebacker and has sparked the team on both sides of the ball while Cobe Begger has provided a tall and lethal option at receiver for the Longhorns.
Lunde said the team has 11 players on its roster. The change has been going well, but Lunde said he and his players still have taken some getting used to it. As expected, open-field tackling is the biggest adjustment, as well as the usual challenge of dealing with scrambling quarterbacks, but the players have responded well.
“It was (tough) to start off with because not many of us had even seen a 6-Man game,” Lunde said. “We watched a little bit of film prior to the season, not much. The first two to three games it took us a little while to learn some things from some of the other teams and watching more film of what might work. So we’re adapting that way as we go here.”
And though the 6-Man East is rugged, Wibaux will get a real baptism by fire once it suits up against the Thunder on Friday night. And it is a challenge they look forward to.
“They are definitely the cream of the crop,” Lunde said. “It’s an important game. We’re going to treat it like any other game and enjoy the excitement of the week here.”
Joliet bowls its way to 6-1 start
After getting handled by Ennis 58-18 three weeks ago, the Joliet football team needed to have a short memory.
Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap was next on the agenda, and were coming into the game 5-0.
So Joliet coach George Warburton decided to do something a little different to get his team ready for the game.
They went bowling.
“My coaching staff decided to go bowling that Friday night and we completely surprised them,” Warburton recalled with a laugh. “I don’t know if that was a difference-maker or not but I do know the kids had a blast and realized there’s a lot more to this game than wins and losses.”
But the bowling had to help, right?
“I would like to say that was part of it,” Warburton said. “Some teams go on camping trips to bond. We bowl.”
Joliet went on to win 42-36, and most recently topped Lone Peak 56-21 to improve to 6-1 in its return season to 8-Man football.
Last year Joliet competed at the Class B level before dropping to 8-Man this season. Six years ago Joliet made the jump up from 8-Man. Now in their return, they are currently in a three-way tie in the 8-Man South with Ennis and Tri-Cities. Warburton said that drop down has benefitted the team because it is what the team is used to doing, as well as reigniting some old rivalries.
Led by senior leaders Brett Robinson and Taylor Rowlison, Warburton said they were some eye-opening moments in that first game back to 8-Man. But after a while the kids were used to the flow of the game.
“They adapted quickly,” Warburton said. “Right now, they’re playing with instincts because they did a good job of realizing it’s still throwing, catching, running and tackling. They were excited for it so it wasn’t a tough adjustment.”
Joliet will finish its season with games against Park City and Gardiner. The J-Hawks sport a roster of 23, and have shown that they are not only comfortable at the change to the 8-Man level, they are able to thrive in it.
And Warburton says the team’s motto is six seconds, which is something he borrowed from Carroll College football coach Mike Van Diest.
“He used the term six seconds, because each football play averages six seconds,” Warburton said. “I stole that and give him all the credit but we’ve been using that as our motto. That kind of reiterates that they go all out every play and I think that’s helped. That, I think, is the main reason why we’re at where we’re at right now because of that six-second mentality.”