There were no unlikely heroes for Miles City on Saturday.
Shane Cooley and a relentless defense have done the job for the Cowboys all season, and both delivered once again on Saturday. Cooley's 59-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second half was all the offense Miles City needed for an 8-0 win over Billings Central in the Class A championship football game.
The Cowboys' win in bitterly cold and snowy conditions at Wendy's Field at Daylis Stadium is Miles City's ninth state title overall and second in the past three years -- the Cowboys also beat Billings Central in the 2008 title game.
"We knew we could do it," said Cooley. "You can't ever go into a game thinking you're not going to win. Central beat us during the season, but we had confidence that we would be the better team today ... we just stuck with our game plan and played our game."
As always, that game plan included a heavy dose of Cooley -- who is generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds on the roster -- but plays even bigger. Splitting his time between quarterback and running back, he finished with 96 yards rushing on 18 carries.
On defense, Cooley had 12 tackles -- including a couple of the bone-jarring variety -- an interception and three pass breakups. He also had 90 yards in punt and kickoff returns.
"Kids like that just don't come along very often," Miles City coach Dan Stanton said of Cooley. "He does so many things for us in all phases of the game. When we need a big play, he makes it."
None were bigger than the one he made to start the second half, which began on a bizarre note.
Central was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct to start the half because the team was not back on the field before the three-minute mark. That pushed the Rams back to their own 25 for the kickoff, and Cooley scooped up the low, bouncing kick and returned it 10 yards to the Cowboys' 41.
On the next play, Cooley -- lined up at running back -- took a handoff from Brian Askin and ran into the middle of the line. He was stuffed initially, but stayed on his feet and found a crack in the left side of the line. An instant later, the senior speedster was running at full speed through the Rams' secondary and went untouched up the left hashmark to the end zone.
"That was just our basic iso play," said Cooley. "I just ran it into the middle of the line and I put my head down to get ready for contact. But I just kind of bounced off one of our linemen and nobody wrapped me up, so I just kept going."
Stanton was not surprised to see Cooley turn the seemingly harmless play into the biggest moment of the game.
"Shane never gives up on a play," said his coach. "I think that's the wrestler mentality in him (Cooley is a three-time state finalist and won the Class A 145-pound title last year). He's tough to bring down ... he keeps battling on every play, just like he did on that one."
Prior to his game-breaking play, Cooley had just 23 yards on 10 carries and Central had limited Miles City to just three first downs in the first half.
"One big play," said Central coach Jim Stanton. "There was really one big play in the game, and it was theirs. We felt good about things at halftime. With the conditions, we knew we just had to stay patient and take advantage of our opportunities when they came.
"But them getting the first score changed things, and their defense deserves a lot of credit ... they played a heck of a game."
The Cowboy defense, which allowed just 102 points all season, dominated the game. Central had just five first downs on the day and never got closer than the Miles City 24-yard line.
The Rams' best scoring chance came with 10:13 remaining when Max Tolstedt stripped the ball from Cooley after a short run and Avery Baldry pounced on the loose ball on the Miles City 24.
But Central was called for holding on first down. After a 4-yard run by Quinn Huppert on first down, Central quarterback Cole Moller threw three straight incomplete passes -- with Cooley knocking the ball away from Joe Barta in the end zone on fourth down.
Moller's precision passing was a huge weapon for the Rams all season, but he completed just 6 of 27 attempts for 51 yards and was intercepted three times on Saturday.
"You can control a lot of things, but the conditions aren't one of them," said Jim Stanton. "The things we were able to do all year were taken away today. It's unfortunate, but there's nothing you can do about it."
The Cowboys' defense scored a safety with 4:41 left to put the exclamation point on the win.
After a booming 45-yard punt by Taran Harbaugh rolled dead on the Central 8, James Stanton was tackled for a five-yard loss on first down. On second down from the 3, Moller flipped a shovel pass to James Stanton, who was immediately smothered a yard deep in the end zone by defensive tackle Ryan Armstrong.
"We were expecting a pass on that play, so I was rushing through there to get to the quarterback," said the 6-3, 260-pound Armstrong. "When Stanton caught the ball, he was right in front of me and I just brought him down."
"Our defense has been amazing," added linebacker Kyle Stanton. "Coach (Jeff) Regan has done a great job with our defense ... we've gotten better and better as the season went on. In the playoffs, our guys were flying to the ball and just shutting people down."
The loss marks the third straight year Central has fallen in the state championship game on its home field. The championship losses -- to Miles City in 2008 and 2010 and to Frenchtown last year -- are the only three games the Rams have lost in the past three seasons.
"It just wasn't our day today," said Jim Stanton. "Miles City is an outstanding team and they were the better team today.
"This performance isn't close to an indication of what these kids are all about or what they've accomplished in their career."
NOTES: The game started 36 minutes late as the officiating crew was late arriving from Bozeman due to poor driving conditions. Kickoff was at 1:36 p.m. ... Jim Stanton said his team was late coming out after halftime because workers were still on the field at the three-minute mark. "One of our assistants came out (of the locker room) to check and there was a snowplow and a bunch of shovels working on the field, so there wasn't really much we could have done out there," said Stanton. "It was unfortunate. I've never seen that call before. I'm sure there's a time and a place to make that call, but I'm not sure that was it." ... Miles City's other state championships came in 1922, 1928, 1981, 1985, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 2008.