BILLINGS – With Week 5 of the high school football season in the books, here is a look at five of the best storylines from the weekend.
Class AA: Weekend of exciting finishes
The parity within the Class AA has been a storyline from the beginning of the year, and Thursday and Friday night only amplified those thoughts.
The top AA storyline of the weekend, without question, was Missoula Hellgate’s victory over Great Falls CMR (1-4). The day after the Cleveland Browns ended their own losing ways, the Knights topped the Rustlers 28-20 to snap a 57-game losing streak dating back to 2012.
Hellgate (1-4) winning was a story that resonated nationally. Reddit, one of the world’s largest news aggregating websites, had a 406mtsports.com story from Amie Just about the Knights winning as their second top story on their sports page in terms of traffic and popularity and trending on the site. It’s one game, but a win like that demonstrated that a program stung with tough loss after loss, and even a forfeited season, has improved, something all football fans can get behind.
Hellgate’s win highlighted a great week of AA football. Five games were decided by one score with three contests split by three points or less. Beginning with a top-five showdown on Thursday night, top-ranked Bozeman (5-0) needed a touchdown with 14 seconds left to top No. 5 Billings Senior (3-2) 36-29 in the only ranked game of the week. Butte (2-3) used a two-point conversion in overtime to stun Missoula Sentinel (2-3) 39-38. Helena (4-1) scored a late touchdown then locked down on defense to top crosstown rival Capital (2-3) 20-17. And way up in the northwest, Kalispell Flathead (4-1) stopped Kalispell Glacier (1-4) on a two-point conversion with about two minutes left to hang on and win 28-27.
Bozeman remains the only undefeated team, but the playoff seeding gets murkier by the week. If the second half of the regular season is as entertaining as the first half in the AA, fans of all kinds are in for a treat come playoff time.
6-Man: Another No. 1 falls
The 6-Man ranks have been a hotbed of upsets as of late, and Saturday was no different.
Five days after earning a No. 1 ranking in the 406mtsports.com high school football rankings, Richey-Lambert fell to No. 6 Geraldine-Highwood 59-40. Liam Laws ran for four touchdowns for the Rivals while Brady Duvall threw three touchdown passes, finding Maverick McKinlay, Rylan Bowman and Zeke Davison. Davison also ran for a score.
Geraldine-Highwood (4-1) lost a tough game to No. 2 Wibaux, 40-38, to open the season, but have been on a tear since. With two tough nonconference matchups with Wibaux and Richey-Lambert in the books, Geraldine-Highwood is prepping itself for a deep postseason run.
And with Richey-Lambert, even though it lost, expect the Fusion to bounce back. After beating Westby-Grenora a week ago, Richey-Lambert has proven it has the capabilities to compete with 6-Man’s best.
In other 6-Man news, White Sulphur Springs (4-1) fell from the ranks of the unbeaten as West Yellowstone (4-1) defeated the Hornets 52-32. With Hot Springs (4-1), Valley Christian (3-2), and Noxon (3-2) also in the mix, the 6-Man West race has now become wide open.
Class A: Unbeaten no more
And then there were three.
No. 3 Belgrade lost its first game of the year, falling to Laurel 29-14. Gage Hull ran for a touchdown and threw another to Gaje Leischner. Cameron Younger and Noah Gunther also ran for scores. The Locomotives improved to 4-1, while the Panthers fell to 4-1.
Laurel’s lone loss was a one-point defeat to Miles City in Week 2, but otherwise the Locomotives have cruised through the season. A statement win over Belgrade puts them among the Eastern A’s best.
With Belgrade's loss, only three teams remain unbeaten in Class A in No. 1 Hamilton, No. 2 Billings Central and No. 5 Frenchtown. Hamilton (5-0) topped Stevensville 48-14, while Billings Central (5-0) beat Livingston 52-0 and Frenchtown (5-0) defeated Corvallis 31-8.
Class B: Big Timber continues to impress
Big Timber seems to be getting better each and every week.
Most recently, the Herders defeated Townsend 46-17. Blake Finn threw two touchdown passes to Casey Gunlikson and ran for another. Orry Carroccia and Connor Dringman each rushed for a score as well.
Big Timber, ranked No. 4 this week in the 406mtsports.com rankings, tightened its grip on the Class B South, a rugged division with Townsend, Columbus, Three Forks and Whitehall all in the mix. But each week Big Timber keeps separating itself from the pack, and putting the Class B on notice that the Herders are legit.
8-Man: No. 1 seeds on the line in South, East
Multiple 8-Man teams are separating themselves from the pack as the regular season begins to wind down.
In the 8-Man South and East, the tops spots are about to be grabbed.
No. 6 Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap (5-0) defeated Park City (3-1) 52-14, while No. 4 Joliet (5-0) topped Ennis (2-3) 48-6.
With both teams sitting at 5-0 and 4-0 in conference, the two will clash on Friday in Joliet in what could ultimately decide who takes the top seed from the 8-Man South.
On paper, both teams match up well. Joliet is averaging 53 points while allowing almost 10 per game. Tri-Cities averages around 51 points and allows 18 on per game. Both teams have wins over Twin Bridges, Lone Peak and Park City.
In the 8-Man East, No. 3 Fairview (5-0) defeated Scobey (3-2) 46-14, while No. 9 Culbertson (5-0) handled Plentywood (2-3) 46-6. Now the final undefeated teams in the 8-Man East, both will also meet on Friday in Fairview to decide who will take the conference lead. Culbertson is averaging almost 44 points per game, while Fairview is at 56 points per game.
Games like this late in the season are what fans are waiting for. And with playoff seeding on the line, expect a pair of good ones this week in 8-Man.
Extra point: What to watch for
Bozeman (5-0) will host Kalispell Flathead (4-1) on Friday in a matchup of ranked teams in AA. Hellgate (1-4) will be looking for its first road win since 2007 and back-to-back wins for the first time since 2001 when it travels to take on Billings Skyview (0-5) on Friday night.
Frenchtown (5-0) will travel to take on Butte Central (2-2) in Class A, while Hamilton (5-0) visits Corvallis (3-2). Billings Central (5-0) heads to Belgrade (4-1).
In Class B, Columbus (3-1) will take on Three Forks (3-2), while Cut Bank (3-2) makes the trip to Glasgow (2-2).
The 8-Man ranks feature another good group of games. Along with Joliet vs. Tri-Cities and Culbertson vs. Fairview, Chester-Joplin-Inverness (3-1) will host Great Falls Central (5-0). Centerville (5-0) and Shelby (4-0) will also meet in Shelby in a big matchup. The winner of that game will take a lead in the 8-Man North B Sub-Division. The winner of the B Sub-Division will play the winner of the A Sub-Division — which is currently led by Great Falls Central — for the No. 1 seed in the postseason from the 8-Man North.
In 6-Man, Denton-Geyser-Stanford (4-1) will host White Sulphur Springs (4-1) on Saturday, while Bainville (3-2) will travel to Jordan (3-2).