Paul Klaboe and Ron Lebsock will put a new twist on an old rivalry tonight.
The longtime friends and fellow Butte High grads will meet at Wendy’s Field at Daylis Stadium, where their Billings West and Billings Skyview teams will play in a first-round Class AA football playoff game. The game will mark the first time West (8-2) and Skyview (6-4) have met in a playoff game.
“It’s too bad it’s not for the state championship,” said Klaboe, who’s in his 25th year as the West coach. “It’s always fun to go up against Skyview, and it’s always a great game.
“Ron and I are great friends … that makes it even more special. We talk at least once a week during the season and sometimes at least once a day during the offseason.”
Lebsock, who’s in his 26th year as the Skyview coach, expressed the same respect for his colleague.
“We’ve had some great games against West over the years,” he said. “It’s one of those games where you know the kids on both sides are going to give their best effort. We always know we have to play a sound football game when we go up against Paul’s team.”
Billings Senior (6-4) travels to Helena Capital (6-4) for its first-round game, a 1:30 p.m. start on Saturday at Vigilante Stadium.
The other two Class AA first-round games are tonight, with Butte (5-5) visiting Bozeman (10-0) and Kalispell Glacier (6-4) playing at Helena High (9-1).
West played one of its best all-around games of the season in the first meeting with Skyview this season — a 35-21 West win on Sept. 24. The Golden Bears controlled the game from the start and led 35-7 midway through the fourth quarter before Skyview put together a pair of late touchdown drives.
After the loss to West, the Falcons bounced back to win three of their next four to secure a playoff berth.
“We found out that night (against West) that we needed to play better on both sides of the ball,” said Lebsock. “Not just X’s and O’s type stuff, but fundamental things like blocking and tackling and carrying the ball with a purpose.
“And we have played some sound games since that first game (against West). Our kids have worked hard. We had to earn our way into the playoffs, and we did that.”
Skyview’s ground game, which ranks third in Class AA at 225 yards per game, is led by senior tailback Ryan Guelff. The 5-foot-10, 205-pounder — the nephew of West offensive coordinator Steve Guelff — is fifth among Class AA rushers with 966 yards and eight touchdowns.
Senior quarterback Connor Lebsock, the coach’s youngest son, is the Falcons’ second-leading rusher with 567 yards and 13 TDs.
“There’s no question Skyview has gotten a lot better since that first game,” said Klaboe. “They’re running the ball better, which is always a strength of their teams, and they’re playing better on defense.
“Our kids have to forget about that first game against Skyview. This will be a completely different game, which it usually is when you play the same team twice in a season.”
West’s offense is spearheaded by junior quarterback Brady Gustafson and junior running back Clay Compton.
Gustafson ranks third among Class AA passers with 2,397 yards, 17 touchdowns and five interceptions, while Compton is the fourth-leading rusher with 1,023 yards and 17 TDs.
Senior Lee Hardt has been Gustafson’s primary target. With 56 catches for 1,095 yards and 10 TDs, the 6-foot-2, 175-pounder leads the state with an average of 19.6 yards per catch.
“West has a lot of weapons … any team that plays them has to have a great effort on defense,” said Lebsock. “Our kids know they have to play their best game of the season to win this one, and that’s the way it should be in the playoffs.
“This is a great opportunity for us. There are only eight teams still playing in AA, and we want to be one of the last four playing after this game.”
Senior at Capital
Senior is 3-0 in games outside of Billings this year, including a 16-13 win over Capital in Helena just two weeks ago.
If the Broncs can make it 4-0, they’ll return to the Class AA semifinals for the first time since 2007.
Senior is coming off a 24-21 loss to West in last week’s regular-season finale — a loss that snapped the Broncs’ four-game win streak.
“Hopefully that game will allow us to focus on how we need to prepare and how we need to start a game,” said Senior coach Mark Sulser, whose team trailed West 18-0 at halftime before rallying. “You always learn more from a loss than you do from a win … hopefully we’ll apply what we learned to this week’s game.”
Defense was the theme of Senior’s win over Capital two weeks ago. The Broncs led 13-0 at halftime and stayed in front in the second half behind the running of junior quarterback Ben Sulser and junior running back Chad Newell.
Sulser rushed for 140 yards and threw for 152 — surviving three interceptions — in the win. Newell, who ranks third in Class AA in rushing with 1,033 yards and 12 touchdowns, rushed for 100 yards and caught six passes for 56 yards.
Capital is second in the league in rushing offense at 226 yards per game. Senior Jacob Grover and junior Brice Burton both rushed for more than 130 yards in the Bruins’ win over Missoula Sentinel last week.
“We know we’ll get a heavy dose of their running game,” said Sulser. “They’ve got good skill players as Capital always does … we need to play good team defense and tackle well.
“We’ve been taking a business-as-usual approach this week, but there’s no question the kids are excited to be here after missing the playoffs the last two years. But at the same time, they know we haven’t accomplished all of our goals. We’re not ready for the season to be over yet.”