Billings West coach Paul Klaboe worries about his team having a letdown the week after a big win.
That’s not the case this week, even though his Golden Bears are coming off an impressive and emotional 41-7 road win over defending state champion Helena Capital.
“You do think about that … I think all coaches do,” said Klaboe, who’s in his 27th season at West. “But in this case, these kids have been playing against each other since they were little kids. We shouldn’t have to worry about that (a letdown) this week.”
The coaches from Billings Senior, Billings Central and Laurel share that thought as their teams get ready to take the field in a rivalry matchup Friday night. With a chill in the air, the first Friday in October features a pair of hot matchups.
Central and Laurel - both 6-0 overall and 2-0 in the Eastern A and ranked No. 1 and 2 in the Class A media poll - will kick off at 7 p.m. at the LHS Sports Complex in Laurel.
Thirty minutes later, Senior (3-3) and West (4-2) will kick off at Wendy’s Field at Daylis Stadium in a game that will certainly have playoff seeding implications with four games remaining in the Class AA regular season.
“It’s always a huge game when we play West, and this year is no different,” said first-year Broncs coach Chris Murdock, a 1998 Senior grad. “West is always one of the toughest opponents we play every year, and it’s the game our kids look forward to more than any other game in the regular season.”
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For West, the storyline tonight is no different than that of Senior’s first six opponents — try to contain Nolan Saraceni. None have been able to do it so far.
The 5-foot-11, 200-pound speedster has rushed for 1,151 yards — an average of 192 per game — and 15 touchdowns this season.
“He’s the guy who can hurt you the fastest,” Klaboe said of Saraceni. “He’s fast, but he’s also so strong and physical. Nolan might be as good as there is in AA this year.”
West bottled up Capital standout Gunnar Brekke last week, holding him to 34 yards on 12 carries. For the season, West ranks third in Class AA in rushing defense, allowing 105.2 yards/game.
“Our guys really showed up last week,” said Klaboe. “Brekke is a great runner, too. We did a good job of getting to him and getting him down.
“Last week was our best game this season, without a doubt. It’s the first game we’ve played well in all phases and didn’t turn the ball over.”
West’s offense has been led by senior quarterback Ryan Gallogly, who’s thrown for 1,370 yards, 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His favorite target has been Trace Alkire, who leads Class AA in receptions (44) and receiving yards (638).
“He’s played well, and he’s getting better every game,” Murdock said of Gallogly. “They haven’t been as balanced as in past years, but their running game is coming along the last few weeks.
“Both teams have had their ups and downs this year. West put it all together last week, and we’re still looking for that game where we do that. I really like the way our kids compete … that’s the strength of our team right now.”
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Central began the season as the consensus team to beat in Class A, and the Rams have not disappointed — outscoring their first six opponents 280-43.
A stable of talented running backs — led by Connor Cerkovnik — and the dual threat ability of quarterback Jacob Stanton has helped Central average 261 rushing yards per game. Cerkovnik has rushed for 474 yards and eight touchdowns, while Stanton has rushed for 393 yards and eight TDs and passed for 627 yards and four TDs.
“They just don’t have a lot of weaknesses,” Laurel coach Mike Ludwig said of Central, which has played in the State A championship game each of the past five years. “They’re well-coached … Jim (Stanton) and his staff do a great job and they’ve got talented kids.
“You could see when this group were freshmen that they were going to be solid. And they are.”
Laurel improved to 6-0 with a 27-21 overtime win over Hardin last week.
Like Central, the Locomotives do most of their damage on the ground — led by quarterback Brett Thompson and running backs Kameron Fisher and Bryce Herman. The three have combined for 1,399 yards and 23 touchdowns this season, while Thompson has thrown for 653 yards and eight TDs.
“The last three years against Laurel we’ve gone right down to the last possession, so we’re preparing for that again,” said Jim Stanton. “This is a typical Laurel team … they’re well-prepared and they’re solid in all phases of the game.
“It’s definitely a game that our kids look forward to. It’s a great environment over there in Laurel … they’ll have a great crowd and Laurel always plays well at home. It should be a fun night.”