MISSOULA — University of Montana football fans are going to want to grab a front-row seat for Friday night's 7 p.m. kickoff at Billings' Daylis Stadium. Two future Griz wide receivers will be opposite each other in the Class AA semifinal matchup between top seed Billings Senior and No. 7 Missoula Sentinel.
Not only is a state title game berth on the line, but bragging rights for the future college teammates.
"It's going to be fun playing against him, because haven't played against each other (since we've committed to Montana)," said Sentinel's Nick Germer of Senior's Gabe Sulser. "We're just not gonna be future teammates, we're going to be in the same position group and everything, so we get to see who the better one this game is," Germer added, laughing.
The two are actually friends off the field. Nick's dad, Chad Germer — the Grizzlies' offensive line coach — was friends with Gabe's dad in college, too. Before the boys committed to UM, Nick and Gabe would meet up when one made the trek across the Continental Divide.
"We always try to find time to hang out whenever I make the trip. It's not often he comes down to Billings, so this will be fun to have him here for once," Sulser said Thursday. "And Sentinel's playing really well right now. ... Our coach has really talked about, they have a lot of good football players, there's no weak links — so it's going to be fun."
Adding to that excitement will be the individual battle between the friendly rivals. Germer is the Spartans leading receiver according to maxpreps.com, as the senior had 570 yards and six touchdowns after week 7. He's added at least another 114 yards and one more score since Sentinel (6-4 overall) knocked off No. 2 crosstown adversary Missoula Big Sky in the state quarterfinals, 26-6.
Sulser may have the upper hand, however. The senior does a bit of everything for his undefeated Broncs (11-0), as he's both their leading receiver and rusher despite being split out wide. He has over 1,000 yards receiving and is closing in on the millennium mark running the ball.
"They move him around so much it's hard (to stop him)... We're not the New England Patriots where we can game plan all week and have a different combo coverage everywhere he lines up." Sentinel coach Dane Oliver said. "You just have to know where he's at and keep him in front of you."
The Spartans have more than Sulser to beware, however. The Class AA champions are on a 24-game winning streak for a reason.
Coach Oliver knows about winning streaks. The former Griz wide receiver was a part of Montana's 2001 Division I-AA national champion team, which won 13 straight games to close out that season.
Oliver's Grizzlies in 2002 tacked on another 10 straight wins before falling to Eastern Washington and Montana State to close out the regular season. Simply put, it's hard to move on to win Nos. 24 and 25.
That's what makes Senior's run of dominance so impressive.
"... You saw that last week against Bozeman. (The Broncs) were down, and that's what championship-level teams do, they come back and battle," Oliver said.
The Broncs were nearly tripped up by the eighth-seeded Hawks in the first round. Bozeman held a 25-15 advantage into the third quarter before Senior stormed back for a 35-25 win. Quarterback Nolan Askelson had three second-half rushing touchdowns and Sulser put it away with a late score.
As for Askelson, he's another guy that makes the unbeaten Broncs tick. He has over 2,000 yards passing, 700 yards rushing and the middle linebacker leads his team with 109 total tackles, according to maxpreps.com.
Coach Oliver compared him to another big-bodied signal caller who the Spartans were tasked with slowing last Friday: Missoula Big Sky's Levi Janacaro.
"(Askelson's) definitely a powerful running back, he's a game manager when he throws the ball — he (places) the ball extremely accurate," Oliver said of the Bronc QB, who is a Montana State commit. "And then defensively he's a wrecking ball at linebacker."
The Spartans have playmakers to compete with the Broncs, though, and Sentinel has been playing its best football of the season, as Sulser alluded. The Spartans are coming off back-to-back wins against Big Sky and Helena Capital (playing in Friday's other semifinal against Helena High).
"We've caught lightning in a bottle the last two games," Oliver said. "The preparation, the work; we're healthy. You need that combination to put those games together.
"We're playing physical too, I think when you can punish people, that breeds confidence in the game of football."
Running backs Elias DeWaters and Caden Messer combined for 52 carries and 251 yards on the ground last week. Junior QB Rylan Ortt was an efficent 8-for-10 passing the ball in a blizzard and he can air it out more often when called upon.
Ortt also had 56 yards rushing and two scores on the ground as the Spartans, who ran the rock 65 times against Big Sky, showed they can ground and pound with the best of them.
And Billings Senior is the best of them, at least until proven otherwise.
Sentinel, though, has already slayed one giant this postseason. They'll load another rock in the sling Friday night under the lights.