POLSON - The Miles City Cowboys used two days to make the nearly 600-mile bus trip across Montana to play Polson in the State Class A football quarterfinals.
They used two huge plays Saturday to beat the Pirates 26-20 and make the trip home seem a little shorter.
Miles City quarterback Jordan Bryant passed for 207 yards and three touchdowns as the 10-1 Cowboys - ranked second in the state - advanced to a semifinal matchup at home next week against 8-1 Frenchtown.
Bryant's first touchdown toss, a 79-yarder to Hayden Kalfell after the Cowboys started with four straight runs on their opening series, seemed to catch the Pirates off guard.
The last, a 45-yarder to J.T. Keith in the fourth quarter, came one play after a 34-yard touchdown pass from Bryant to Kalfell was called back for holding.
On the next play, on third-and-18, Keith outmaneuvered single coverage, hauled in Bryant's heave, and gave Miles City a 26-13 lead with 5:11 to play.
"That's football," said Miles City coach Dan Stanton. "You had two teams fighting hard, and everybody's got to make plays."
So it was Polson's turn.
Quarterback Craig Bagnell drove the Pirates 59 yards in just over two minutes, hitting brother Kyle Bagnell on a 4-yard scoring strike with 2:57 remaining. Craig Bagnell's PAT kick made it 26-20.
His ensuing onside kick didn't go the required 10 yards, but a penalty and Polson's defense drove the Cowboys backward, forcing a punt on fourth-and-21.
The Pirates took over at their own 29 with 1:39 remaining. Miles City safety Derick Singleton ended unranked Polson's upset bid two plays later, intercepting Bagnell with 1:18 to go - Singleton's second interception in the fourth quarter.
The 79-yard TD strike helped Miles City establish a 12-0 lead after one quarter, and a 20-6 advantage at the half.
Even though the Cowboys rolled up 207 of their yards through the air, it's not as if they abandoned their running game. Indeed, Bryant attempted just 14 passes, but connected on 9. His third TD strike was an 18-yarder to Kyle Stanton in the second quarter.
"They were coming up in the box and trying to take the run away," said coach Stanton. "Jordan threw some nice balls for us."
Cowboy running back Brennan Haughian carried the ball 19 times for 127 yards - including one tote that went for 50 - and scored a touchdown on a 2-yard run.
Polson's Tim Rausch had 94 yards on 16 carries, and scored on a 3-yard run late in the third quarter to pull the Pirates within 20-13.
Craig Bagnell was 14 of 24 for 183 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. He also scored from 1 yard out in the second quarter.
But it wasn't enough to extend the season for the Pirates, who also would have hosted Frenchtown - a 14-7 winner over Hardin on Saturday - had they prevailed.
The Broncs edged Polson 21-19 in an exciting nonconference game earlier this season, but instead of a relatively short jaunt up U.S. Highway 93 for a rematch, Frenchtown will make the 1,000-mile roundtrip to Miles City to play in the semifinals.
For Stanton, he's glad this trip - and game - is behind him.
"Did you know," he said after the game, "that Miles City is closer to Denver than it is to Polson?"
"I know it's an old saying," he went on, "but in a game like this it's a shame one team has to lose. I have a lot of respect for Polson. They were a tough team to play."
Miles City 12 8 0 6 - 26
Polson 0 6 7 7 - 20
MC - Hayden Kalfell 79 pass from Jordan Bryant (kick failed)
MC - Brennan Haughian 2 run (pass failed)
P - Craig Bagnell 1 run (run failed)
MC - Kyle Stanton 18 pass from Bryant (Haughian run)
P - Tim Rausch 3 run (Craig Bagnell kick)
MC - J.T. Keith 45 pass from Bryant (kick failed)
P - Kyle Bagnell 4 pass from Craig Bagnell (Craig Bagnell kick)