Missoula Sentinel hasn't had a lot of success in football in nearly two decades.
That might change this year. The Spartans used a big punt return by Jace Prideaux and a sterling defensive effort to turn back Billings Skyview 17-6 at Wendy's Field at Daylis Stadium Friday night.
Oh, and about that Spartans' sophomore quarterback Riley King? It looks like he's going to be just fine.
King threw for 169 yards and a touchdown in his varsity debut as Sentinel won its first season-opener since 2000.
"It's our expectation,'' said coach Pete Joseph. "This is my fifth year. We didn't plan on staying down for long. Our kids believe. We've worked very hard, coaching staff, players. We've got talent, too, I'm not going to lie about that.''
One of those talents is Prideaux, who gave the Spartans the lead in the first quarter with an 88-yard punt return. He sealed the victory with an interception in the final minute.
Ryan Mutzenberger gave Sentinel a ground presence with 108 yards on 23 carries. The Spartans finished with a 291-201 advantage in total offense. The defense kept the Falcons' ground game in check for the most part. Skyview, which averaged 274 yards rushing last season, managed just 127 yards on 36 attempts.
"We came out and performed really well,'' said Sentinel linebacker Brian Maus. "Our D-line and O-line, they're the hogs up front pushing. Our skill positions came through and got us the win.''
Sentinel had a 5-5 season last year and lost to Skyview in a tie-breaker for the eighth and final playoff berth.
"Our team motto is unfinished business,'' Maus said. "That's really a statement because we want to make it the state playoffs and want to make a run at the state title and I think we can do it.''
For a team that hasn't had a winning season since 1992 and a playoff appearance since 1989, that's a challenge. But the Spartans embraced it early.
Skyview made just one first down in its first three possessions. After the Falcons second possession, Prideaux ran down a punt at his own 12, cut to the sideline where he found a wall of blockers. After breaking a tackle near mid-field, Prideaux pulled away to put the Spartans ahead.
"That really did get us going,'' Prideaux said. "I thought I was going to let it go and I just picked it up and ran for it. My guys blocked for me.''
Skyview came back and put together a 16-play drive, but it died on the Sentinel 10 after two incompletions. The Falcons opened the second half with a 55-yard march. Carson Hilliard scored on a 13-yard run, but A.J. Harmon missed the extra point attempt.
Sentinel answered with a 43-yard touchdown pass when King found Ben Roberts open on a post pattern. Justin Mayer made a 31-yard field goal after a nearly five-minute drive in the fourth quarter to make it 17-6 with 7:07 remaining.
King connected on 11 of 23 attempts, but hit on 7 of 10 throws during a three-possession span that included the touchdown to Roberts and Meyer's field goal.
Defensively, the Spartans did a good job of containing Skyview quarterback Connor Lebsock, who was playing with a hamstring injury. Lebsock gained 39 yards on 10 carries and completed 8 of 17 passes for 74 yards.
"Sentinel's a good football team,'' said Skyview coach Ron Lebsock. "There are things we can do better. It's the first time out for a lot of these guys. We'll look at the film and we'll see what we need to work on and what we need to improve on. I think we got some good things done today and some things we really need to improve if we're going to be effective.
"The kids' effort I thought was a good as we could get for right now with a lot of guys going both ways. We're going to have look at that really close, but hey, Sentinel came to play. They did a great job.''
Sentinel 17, Skyview 6
Sentinel 7 0 7 3 - 17
Skyview 0 0 6 0 - 6
Sentinel - Jace Prideaux 88 punt return (Justin Meyer kick) 4:05
Skyview - Carson Hilliard 13 run (kick failed) 6:49
Sentinel - Ben Roberts 43 pass from Riley King (Meyer kick) 3:50
Sentinel - FG Meyer 31
First downs 15 12
Rushes-yards 33-122 36-127
Comp-Att-Int 11-24-1 8-18-1
Passing yards 169 74
Total yards 291 201
Punts 3-35 6-40.3
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 2-0
Penalties-Yards 3-20 4-36
Rushing - Sentinel: Ryan Mutzenberger 23-108, Jake Smith 4-9, Prideaux 2-6, Brian Maus 1-2, Roberts 1-minus 1, Team 2-minus 2. Skyview: Kyle Solheim 5-47, Connor Lebsock 10-39, Hilliard 10-27, Preston Roberts 2-19, Casey Bigelow 8-10, Jake O'Brien 1-minus 15.
Passing - Sentinel: King 11-23-0-169, Meyer 0-1-1-0. Skyview: Lebsock 8-17-0-74, Roberts 0-1-1-0.
Receiving - Sentinel: Roberts 5-98, Tyler Jacobsen 2-24, Tyler Ramos 2-22, Prideaux 1-13, Brody Miller 1-12. Skyview: A.J. Harmon 3-37, O'Brien 2-19, Hilliard 2-16, Adam Delvo 1-2.