For Billings West, it's sure nice to have Josh Pelczar back on defense full-time. And Golden Bears fans also know it's a luxury to have a backup quarterback like Brian Schwarzkoph.
Pelczar intercepted three passes and Schwarzkoph threw two scoring passes in relief of starter Jase Muri on Friday in a 31-7 semifinal rout of Great Falls C.M. Russell at Wendy's Field at Daylis Stadium.
So, now it's on to Helena, where defending champion Helena Capital (12-0) awaits next Friday night. The Bruins claimed their 20th straight victory by obliterating Great Falls 47-13 in Friday's other semifinal.
Back on Sept. 26, Capital scored on the last play of the game and then got a two-point conversion to beat West 22-21. The Bears have been seeking a rematch ever since.
"That's right, Capital. We've been waiting for that one for a while," Muri said. "We're all ready for it and this is a great way to have momentum for that game."
Muri sprained both of his ankles late in the first half, but said it won't be a problem.
"It happens," Muri said. "I could have come back in, but I would have only been about 90 percent. Brian's just as good or better than me and I had to turn it over to him. He doesn't miss a beat. He hasn't practiced a lot (at quarterback) all week and he just throws two touchdown passes. That was a tremendous effort on his part."
Schwarzkoph came in midway through a 93-yard drive. He scrambled for seven yards and then found Bryce Worthington for 20 yards to the CMR 23. With just 14 seconds left, Schwarzkoph threw a laser to Josh Swain to give West a 21-0 lead.
In the second half, he threaded another 23-yard strike to Josh Swain for a 31-0 lead in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
"As the backup quarterback, you always have to be ready to go," Schwarzkoph said. "Jase and I watched film together this week, and we just know what they're doing. I just tried to step in and threw the passes and the receivers did a great job catching it."
West (11-1) never really let CMR (9-3) get in the game. They rolled up 443 yards and the defense came up with six turnovers while limiting the Rustlers to just 244 yards.
Muri ran for 136 yards on just nine carries and scored two touchdowns. Eli Swain pounded out 154 on 29 attempts.
Muri scored on a 60-yard run just over half way through the first quarter. Pelczar swiped his first pass at the West 1 to thwart a CMR scoring chance. The Bears drove 99 yards with Muri getting the final 16 for a 14-0 lead at the 11:02 mark of the second quarter.
The Rustlers only managed four first downs in the first half and could get no offensive rhythm going. Quarterback Dan Olinger managed just 37 yards rushing and had nearly as many interceptions (4) as completions (5). Running back Spencer Thomsen got just 34 yards on eight carries and lost to the ball to West's Pat Webster on CMR's first possession of the second half.
The Bears turned that into a 24-yard field goal by Pelczar, who has been hampered by a hamstring injury over the last few weeks. He saw some time in last week's first-round victory over Kalispell Flathead.
"It's amazing to be back," Pelczar said. "I just love to be out here with these guys. I played a few plays, but it didn't feel that great last week. It was still a little tender, but it's all out of there now and should be good to go next week."
West didn't capitalize on Pelczar's second interception, but they converted on his third pick for their final touchdown.
"Our D-line and linebackers were pressuring them so much, their quarterback didn't have time to think and just was throwing it where he didn't want to throw it," Pelczar said.
Josh Swain also made an interception and Webster said Sesar Bonilla had the other fumble recovery.
"Our defense, they're the best," Schwarzkoph said. "You can't beat our D. When you get the ball on the 50 every time, it makes it easy on us. We just drove down and scored."
West is the last team to beat Capital, winning 47-28 at Helena last September.
West 31, CMR 7
CMR 0 0 0 7 - 7
West 7 14 3 7 - 31
West - Jase Muri 60 run (Josh Pelczar kick) 5:20
West - Jase Muri 16 run (Pelczar kick) 11:02
West - Josh Swain 23 pass from Brian Schwarzkoph (Pelczar kick) 14.6
West - Pelczar 24 FG 4:11
West - Josh Swain 23 pass from Schwarzkoph (Pelczar kick) 11:34
CMR - Gavin Hagfors 3 run (Brian Spencer kick) 2:49
First downs 12 25
Rushes-yards 26-92 56-343
Comp-Att-Int 12-29-4 6-16-2
Passing yards 152 97
Total yards 244 440
Punts 4-33 3-17
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 1-0
Penalties-Yards 3-25 6-59
Rushing - CMR: Dan Olinger 11-37, Spencer Thomsen 8-34, Payon Skawinski 2-11, Hagfors 2-8, Tanner Bleskin 1-6, Jade Klette 2-minus 4. West: Eli Swain 29-154, Muri 9-136, Schwarzkoph 4-24, Shaun Wolf 6-9, Bryce Worthington 4-10, Domingo Cano 1-5, Derek Dennehy 1-3, Jace Van Zee 2-2.
Passing - CMR: Olinger 5-17-4-75, Klette 4-6-0-38, Jake Bleskin 2-5-0-20, Tanner Bleskin 1-1-0-19. West: Muri 3-9-1-31, Schwarzkoph 3-7-1-66.
Receiving - CMR: Tanner Bleskin 5-56, Skawinski 3-55, Greg Oswood 2-28, Jordan Harper 2-13. West: Josh Swain 2-46, Worthington 2-35, Schwarzkoph 2-16.