It's hard to believe, but the fall sports season is now officially over with the state's football teams wrapping up their championships this past weekend. By next week, we'll be looking ahead to the basketball seasons. But, before we do that, a look back at the football season that was, with special attention to the Billings area schools:
- By now, you know that Bozeman finished the regular season 10-0 and won their three playoff games to finish the season undefeated and claim their first state championship in over 90 years. Tanner Roderick showed that he was the best player in the state this season, and the Hawks are definitely deserving of the state title.
- Billings Senior took another step in the rebuilding process with a solid season that ended with a loss in the first round of the playoffs. Senior definitely still looked to throw the ball, but Chad Newell was outstanding running behind an offensive line anchored by University of Montana commit John Schmaing. I look for the Broncs to continue their upward trend with Newell and quarterback Ben Sulser returning next year.
- With injuries decimating their lineup, it would've been easy for Billings Skyview to give up on the 2010 season. Quarterback Connor Lebsock and running back Ryan Guelff wouldn't let that happen, though, and they carried (literally, at times, in Skyview's run-first offense) the Falcons back to the playoffs. Skyview's defense was stout again, holding Billings West to only 14 points in the opening round of the playoffs and nearly pulling the upset.
- Of the three Billings schools, I felt like Billings West had the most unknowns entering the season. The Brady Gustafson to Lee Hardt connection developed as the year progressed, and the defense showed drastic improvement. Gustafson and running back Clay Compton return next season for the Bears, who could be one of 2011's preseason favorites.
- On Saturday, in the cold and snow, Miles City avenged their earlier loss to Billings Central, shutting out the Rams, 8-0, to win the State A championship. Shane Cooley definitely isn't the biggest player on the field (he might actually be one of the smallest), but he's just a good football player. He made plays all over the field and gave the Cowboys the spark they needed with his long touchdown run in the third quarter.
*By the way, thank you so much for watching the video of Miles City's championship win over Billings Central and justifying me standing in the cold and snow to shoot the game. It was the highest viewed sports video of the season, even though the camera lens fogged up when we moved inside for the postgame interviews.
- 2010 marked the third straight year that Billings Central hosted the State A championship game at Wendy's Field at Daylis Stadium and lost. (If anybody knows if there has ever been another team to lose three straight championship games at home, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.) Central's defense was stingy, as usual, behind a strong group of linebackers - Max Tolstedt, Bridger Smith, and Quinn Huppert. Quarterback Cole Moller and wide receiver Ryan Burke put more emphasis on the pass for the Rams, but I would be surprised if that was the case next season.
- Head coach Mike Ludwig is building a solid program out in Laurel. The Locomotives lost plenty of talent off of last year's team, but they got big efforts out of Dylan Kramer and Ethan Albrecht. Laurel played one of the toughest schedules in the class, losing to Dillon, Butte Central, Billings Central, Miles City, and Belgrade in the first round of the playoffs. Kramer should be back next year to help lead Laurel back to the playoffs for a third straight year.
- In my preseason blogs, I probably mentioned six to eight teams to watch for this season. Three of the final four teams - Bigfork, Manhattan, and Cut Bank - didn't make my list. The one I did mention - Fairfield - lost in the state championship for the fourth consecutive year, this time to Bigfork. The Vikings had two losses - to Missoula Loyola and Fairfield - in the regular season, and avenged both of them during the playoffs.
- After starting the season 0-2, Huntley Project won their next five to win the 4B again. The lone returning starter on the team, senior quarterback Zach Wohlfeil, provided leadership and made plenty of plays for the Red Devils. Junior Austin Pond made his presence felt on both sides of the ball and should be a key contributor going into next season.
- I didn't really know what to expect out of Columbus, but they made another trip to the playoffs. Quarterback Tim Yeager made plenty of plays for the Cougars and came thisclose to leading his team to a win over Huntley Project, coming up just short when he slipped after taking the last snap of the game. In the playoffs, the Cougars beat Eureka in double overtime in the first round and fell to Manhattan in the quarterfinals.
- 2010 is a season Baker will remember for a long time, but not for the best of reasons. Colstrip beat the Spartans in the regular season finale to end Baker's reign as the 3B conference champion. Colstrip went on to beat Big Timber in the first round of the playoffs, before losing to Cut Bank in the quarterfinal round. Baker, meanwhile, lost to Manhattan in the opening round, and legendary coach Don Schillinger retired after the season.
- There have been some heated exchanges between commenters on last week's "What I'll Be Watching" post, and I wish I could be the one to straighten it all out. However, I wasn't at the game in Chinook, so I can't really say why the score ended up being so lopsided. I can only imagine the conditions were as bad or worse as those in Billings or Missoula (the two places where I can actually comment on the weather since I was either there or saw video on television). No matter how big of role the weather played in the outcome, Chinook won the C-8 state championship, their first in school history.
- If Michael Robinson hadn't gotten hurt for Joliet, things might have been a little different. As they were, though, the J-Hawks advanced to the quarterfinals of the State C (8-Man) playoffs on the legs of Zach Dunn. Dunn was an animal down the stretch, including a 355 yard rushing performance in Joliet's first round playoff win over Lincoln. In the next round, the J-Hawks lost to eventual runner-up Wibaux.
- Absarokee ended up being the three-seed from the South (behind Twin Bridges and Joliet) and nearly upset Drummond in the playoffs' first round, losing 32-28. A name to watch next year is Kyle Easley. He is a 200 pound running back and linebacker. Every time I watched the Huskies, I was not only impressed with Easley's size and power, but also with his speed.
- I think most fans and coaches would agree that the two best Class C (6-Man) teams played for the championship when Denton traveled to Savage. Both teams sat at or near the top of the rankings all season and really put up impressive stats. After losing in the 2009 championship, Denton broke through in 2010, topping the Warriors, 58-38.
- Custer-Melstone won the top seed in the South, but, in the first round of the playoffs, ran into a Hysham team that got hot at the right time of year. Senior quarterback E.J. Warren ran, threw, and caught touchdowns during the Pirates' three-game postseason run, which ended with a 47-26 loss to Denton in the semifinals.