Tonight is homecoming. And the Billings Skyview Falcons football team hopes to post a big win over Missoula Hellgate in front of the hometown crowd at Daylis Stadium.
Game time is 4 p.m.
Although the Falcons (5-2, 4-2) hope a big victory is in store for tonight, this season Skyview has done its share of dishing out disappointment for opposing teams' homecomings. Just ask Billings Senior; Gillette, Wyo.; and Butte.
"We've been to three opponents' homecomings," said Ron Lebsock, the only head coach in Skyview's history. "So we're kind of getting used to them. We hope we can play well for our community in our homecoming game."
One of Skyview's most inspiring victories this season came against Gillette on Sept. 19. After taking a long bus ride, the Falcons were able to shake off the jitters and crush Wyoming's then-top-ranked team, 49-10. The victory gave the Falcons a 4-1 record.
"It surprised me we won as we did," Lebsock said. "Gillette is an excellent program. You have to credit the excellence of the players and their love of playing the game."
In their season-opening game, the Falcons traveled to Bozeman and were downed 34-14. It wasn't a good way to start the season, especially after Skyview's season ended last year with a 42-0 loss to Kalispell in the first round of the playoffs.
After that loss to Bozeman, the Falcons responded with a 37-7 win at Missoula Sentinel, a 35-14 victory over perennial-power Great Falls Russell, a 26-9 victory over Billings Senior, the win over Gillette and a 35-13 road win over Butte. The then-fourth-ranked Falcons lost a close contest to third-ranked Great Falls High, 34-28, last Saturday.
"There's a reason you win and a reason you lose," Lebsock said.
"The reason we got beat in the first game was cured by the fact these guys decided they weren't going to let that happen again. Whether that be missed tackles or blocks, et cetera, I really think their attention to detail has helped us be a better football team."
Although Hellgate hasn't been exactly one of the premier teams in the league the last couple seasons, Lebsock said his team must not overlook the Knights. Every game from now on will count in determining the rest of the season. "That's stressed every day in practice," Lebsock said about the Falcons not becoming complacent.
"You can't be happy where you are. We need to get better every day or at least work to get better every day. Before the last five weeks, there may have been a few questions, but I really believe they believe in themselves and their capabilities."
At the start of this season, Lebsock and his coaching staff told the players to have a positive view. The coaches also told players things that were expected. The goals are the same tonight against Hellgate as they have been against Russell, Gillette and Senior.
"Our goals are always to prepare well and give our best effort," he said. "Every week requires that we get better at something, and so far you can see a little bit of improvement each week whether it be blocking a certain play, or tackling or a player or two or three getting better at what they're doing.
"For the most part, every player has given better effort, which points to an improvement in our conditioning."
Quarterback Matt Lebsock, running back Dan McInerney and fellow running back Chad Geering were all key players on last year's team. Lebsock has gone on to play for Montana, while McInerney ended up at Montana State. Offensive tackle Ryan Gustafson also graduated from last year's team and was signed by the Grizzlies.
Skyview finished 6-5 last year and made the playoffs for the second straight year. The player losses could have been significant, but the Falcons have responded to the challenge.
"Losing so many players that have been in those positions a couple years created plenty of opportunity for the players coming in," Lebsock noted.
"Every year it comes down to the question: What are you going to make of your year and what kind of player and team do you want to be? So far this year's players have done a good job of taking over the program."
Skyview's last three games are scheduled for Daylis, which means the Falcons have home-field advantage. Although one of the games is against Billings West, the advantage could fuel Skyview to wins and a good seed for the playoffs.
However tempting that sounds, Lebsock isn't looking that far ahead.
"We don't look at the playoffs much, but that's always in the back of everyone's mind," he said. "We do look at these games one game at a time, and, when you get right down to it, we try and be the best we can be one play at a time."
One play at a time, look for the Falcons to give a tremendous effort tonight.
John Letasky can be reached at email@example.com.