3 Eastern Montana teams vying for state titles

 

It's state championship weekend for football in the state of Montana and the Eastern part of the state is well represented once again.

Billings Central is looking for their second straight Class A state championship, while Baker and Wibaux are looking to regain their traditional spot at the top of Class B and Class C, respectively.

Billings Central will be hosting Dillon, Baker will be hosting Missoula Loyola and Wibaux is traveling to Ennis. All three games will be played on Saturday afternoon.

The Eastern part of the state has pretty well dominated Class A, B and C over the years. In the 40 years with the current classifications, an Eastern A team has won the state championship 27 times and have reached the the championship game 33 times. 

Dillon at Billings Central

The Billings Central Rams have been on quite a run over the last few years. They have reached the state championship game each of the last seven seasons, having won the state title in 2007 and again last year. Both those wins came against Dillon. 

Only Sidney, when they won seven straight Class A titles from 1987-1993, can beat Central's current run of dominance.

The Rams enter the state championship game with a 9-1 record and have won their last seven games, including a 55-10 win over Hamilton in the quarterfinals and a 33-21 win over Columbia Falls in the semifinals.

They face a Dillon team that handed them their only loss this season, 31-14, in Dillon.

"We better be ready to go," Rams Head Coach Jim Stanton said. "We had a good week of practice and we've made a lot of strides the last few weeks, especially on the defensive side of the ball."

Dillon and Central have met three times for the state championship, and have had a long regular season series as well.

"It does help to have that familiarity," Stanton said. "It helps with shrinking down the preparation. We still have to defend and move the ball. But, this is getting to be like a conference game at this point. You get to know their kids and their personnel as if they were a conference team."

Central averages 385 yards of offense this year, 304 coming on the ground led by junior Holden Ryan. Ryan has rushed for 1,513 yards and 20 touchdowns this season. He was banged up a bit in the semifinals, but is expected to play on Saturday.

"He's good," Stanton said. "He had a little foot injury, not sure if it was a stress deal. But he's been doing well preparing for this week."

Missoula Loyola at Baker

The Baker Spartans have been one of the dominant teams in Class B. They have won six state championships since 1986 and reached seven state championship games.

But the Spartans haven't made an appearance in the championship game since 2007, their longest drought since winning it in 1986 and getting back to the championship game in 1986.

Waiting for Baker in the championship game is one of the newer powers to Class B, Missoula Loyola. The Rams are the defending state champions and have consistently gone far in the Class B playoffs.

"I think we're ready to go," Baker Head Coach Dave Breitbach said. "We've practiced well all week and are ready to play on Saturday."

Last year, the two teams met in the semifinals with Loyola hammering Baker 54-17 in the semifinals.

"We played them a year ago and they pretty much took it to us in every facet of the game," Breitbach said. "They have great skill kids. Their quarterback has great feet and throws it well and they have good receivers. Defensively, they're good up front. They're just a solid team all around. There's a reason they are playing in this game."

As always, Baker features a grind-it-out rushing attack led by senior Mason Melby. Melby has rushed for 1,116 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, including 189 and three in Baker's 22-7 semifinal win over Glasgow. 

"Offensively, we know we're going to grind the ball and everyone in the state knows we are too," Breitbach said. "And until someone stops us, we're going to do it again. We want to be physical and run the ball hard."

Both teams are 12-0 on the season, but the Spartans come in battle tested. They won close games over Huntley Project (21-19) and Forsyth (15-14) during the regular season and had to come from behind to beat previously undefeated Bigfork 34-28 in the quarterfinals.

"Any time you came win close games, it builds confidence," Breitbach said. "The kids don't panic. Last week was a great example. It was a close game, but the kids knew if they held through, they would be fine. That comes from the Forsyth and Huntley Project games."

Wibaux at Ennis

From the beginning of the season, the matchup everyone in Class C expected was Wibaux and Ennis. They were the preseason favorites and the bracket worked out perfectly for the two undefeated teams to meet on Saturday for the state title.

"They're ready to go," Wibaux Head Coach Jeff Bertelsen said. "We had a good week of practice. They're real focused and worked hard all week. We're as ready as we can be."

Wibaux (11-0) holds a distinct advantage in program history. They have reached 11 state championship games and have won five titles. They have lost their last five trips to the state title game.

Ennis  (12-0) has not reached the state championship game since 1983. They do have a pair of state titles in 1982 and 1978. In 1982, they beat Wibaux 38-28.

This years game is expected to be just as good.

"Ennis is extremely athletic," Bertelsen said. "They have so many weapons on offense, you have to pick and choose your battles. And then defensively, they just keep people out of the end zone. We have to find ways to put points up. They're going to score points, they're too talented not too, but we have to find ways to match that."

Ennis features a balanced offensive attack that averages 55 points per game. The Mustangs throw for 169 yards per game and rush for 227. 

Quarterback Walker McKitrick has completed 99 of 132 passes for 1,910 yards and 30 touchdowns, compared to just three interceptions. He has also rushed for 480 yards and nine more touchdowns.

Senior running back Roy Moe has gained 847 yards on the ground and scored 15 times.

Wibaux also blew away their competition through the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs. In the semifinals, they were without fullback/linebacker Chase Bertelsen who was battling the flu, against Belt. The Longhorns had to battle back to win 18-14.

"It was good to have that challenge," Bertelsen said. "They had to fight through some adversity. Some kids had to step up and play new positions. To be able to grit that out and get the win, it was a good boost for the kids. I'm real proud of them and the effort they had."

Wibaux gets most of their yards on the ground at 276 yards per game. They also throw for 99 per contest.

Quarterback Jacob Bakken has been efficient in the passing game. He's completed 67 of 117 passes for 1,046 yards and 17 touchdowns to four interceptions. He's also rushed for 885 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Tailback Colton Tousignant has rushed for 946 yards and 21 touchdowns, while Chase Bertelsen has 11 scores on the year.