BILLINGS — What Billings Senior has done over the last two football seasons has been nothing short of historic.
The Broncs have won 24 straight games, a school record that continues to increase and dates to August of 2016.
That success can be attributed to numerous players who have walked through Senior's program over the past two seasons.
Now the Broncs (11-0) turn to Missoula Sentinel (6-4) in a semifinal on Friday at Wendy's Field at Daylis Stadium at 7 p.m. The Spartans upset crosstown rival Missoula Big Sky 26-6 last Friday.
Coming into the season, Senior had plenty of questions across the board after losing 22 talented seniors, most of whom were starters, from last year's state championship team. Yet despite that, players who saw limited to no time last year, slid right into the mix for the Broncs and they seemingly took off right from the beginning in Week 1 with a 37-21 victory over Kalispell Glacier.
From there, Senior showed it was not planning on missing a beat.
The 24th consecutive win was a challenge though, as Senior was down by 10 points to Bozeman in the third quarter before ultimately rallying for a 35-25 win over the Hawks last weekend in the Class AA quarterfinals.
"Going into it I knew that Bozeman was talented," Senior coach Chris Murdock said. "You watch them play their last four games and you realize they were as talented as anybody. So we knew it was going to be a dogfight. We prepared as well as we ever had with the best week of practice we'd had. That really gives them confidence."
Murdock said the poise of his vets kept the team composed going into the second half as the team understood they had an uphill battle but not an impossible one.
Senior receiver Ben LaBeau was a player who saw significant minutes a year ago, including a two-touchdown performance against Big Sky in the opening round of the playoffs. LaBeau has started as a receiver this year and transitioned to the defensive side as a corner.
"It's been a little bit harder, conditioning-wise because I had to get used to that at first and that was sort of tough but throughout the season we've done that a lot," LaBeau said. "I was excited (for the expanded role). I don't mind hard work. I enjoyed working in the summer and learning what to do. It's fun to step up and take on a bigger role."
LaBeau has 38 receptions for 436 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, he has racked up 52 tackles and three interceptions.
"This year it seems like I have a lot more responsibility," LaBeau said. "It's nice to step into a role and take some leadership. When we get into these situations where it's a lot closer, it's fun to help get the guys going. Those close games are fun though because they really show what our team is made of and how tough we are."
LaBeau is joined by receivers Carter Garsjo and Colton Eliason, who have also embraced expanded roles after seeing some time a year ago.
“I think it’s super cool to be a part of one of the best team streaks,” Eliason said. “I think it’s the same joy every week (when we win). Every Friday, when 'Fishin’ in the Dark' comes on, it’s the same joy.”
"Fishin' in the Dark" has been Senior's go-to song after the team wins and regroups in the locker room. The music blares throughout the hallway underneath the stands at Daylis Stadium and can sometimes be heard outside when the players join in and sing.
Eliason has reeled in four touchdown receptions this year on 28 catches. Garsjo has also caught 28 passes, and like fellow senior Gabe Sulser, grew up in the Senior program. When he was young, Garsjo was introduced to Senior's tradition when he was a ball boy for the team.
"It's awesome just getting to help out," Garsjo, who has four touchdown catches on the year, said. "It means a lot to me, at least, because it's something that's kind of been there for awhile. Getting to experience that as a kid and see how different high school football is compared to the football I was playing at the time. It was eye-opening to me.
"Seeing all of those guys work hard and do what they do everyday made me definitely want to follow in their footsteps for sure."
Murdock praised his three senior receivers for their improvement and impact they have had this season, saying they have completely taken advantage of their new opportunities, which the players have enjoyed.
“I think maybe it’s a little bit different for me at least because I’m in a different role that I was last year,” Garsjo said. “Just putting on the uniform is something I've enjoyed all season and been looking forward to my whole life.”
Murdock added that he has been pleasantly surprised by how other players have stepped up, especially in the trenches. Juniors Max Evenson and Gunner Hegg have joined fellow junior Garrison Poetzl as two-way players on the line, with the offensive side being a new transition for Evenson and Hegg. Senior Shawn Anderson has come up clutch on the defensive line, especially against Billings West. Linebacker Blake Allred has also seen time both ways, scoring two touchdowns as a fullback.
"He's like a throwback linebacker so it's funny to see him play offense," Murdock said about Allred. "He is the prototypical, throwback linebacker. He also wants to win as much as anybody."
The defense and lines saw the biggest turnover, but new faces have stepped into big shoes. Safety Micah Ans grabbed six interceptions in the Broncs' first six games as he filled in for last year's Class AA defensive MVP and current Montana State Bobcat Keaton Anderson. Alex Watterson and Noah Christopherson have also filled in nicely for Senior on defense, while Adan Trevizo has given the team a threat in the running game.
If the Broncs defeat Sentinel, they will host either Helena or Helena Capital in the state championship game next Friday.
“I think we can feel pretty confident and know we worked hard this week,” Eliason said. “We got ready for Sentinel and I think we’re confident and ready to go out there and play. You always dreamed of winning a state championship. I think it's pretty cool that we have an opportunity to play for two in a row.”
The team doesn't talk much about the winning streak. Whether superstition or knowledge of it, they prefer to focus on the task at hand on a week-to-week basis.
But that doesn't mean they haven't enjoyed all of the winning.
“It’s special to be around all of these good guys and all of this talent,” LaBeau said. “It’s fun to be a part of it and in the mix.”
And how would Murdock describe this year's team compared to last season's squad?
"So similar, yet so different," Murdock said.
Old and new faces make up the foundation of Bronc football.
And the results continue to be the same.