BAKER – Five teams in District 3B have yet to suffer a loss this football season.
That will change this Friday as conference play kicks off. Upstart Shepherd (3-0) travels to Forsyth (3-0), and Huntley Project (3-0) visits Baker (2-0) at recently named Schillinger Stadium.
Both Baker, in the semifinals, and Huntley Project, in the championship, lost to Fairfield in the Class B playoffs last season. Colstrip, which is also undefeated to start the season, lost to Fairfield in the quarterfinals.
“Our conference is pretty good this year,” said Baker coach Dave Breitbach. “We have a lot of good depth from last year, returning a lot of people. It’s a balanced conference, it’s a good conference, and any one of, really, five of us could come out on top. It’s going to be a dogfight week in and week out.”
Since Huntley Project rejoined District 3B prior to the 2013 season – coach Guy Croy’s first year with the program – the Red Devils and Spartans have played three times. Baker has won two of those games, both by two points, including last year’s meeting.
The games are typically hard-fought, physical meetings between the familiar foes. And though both coaches acknowledge having more team speed than the programs have had in the past, they expect another knock-down, drag-out slugfest.
“I still feel if you get to 28 (points), you’re going to have a good opportunity to win,” Croy said. “I think we both still pride ourselves on defense, and honestly our defense right now is the strength of our team. We’re getting to the football. We can’t get in a track meet, I don’t feel. I think we’ve got to make them work and try to keep the big play from just blowing the game open on us.”
Baker is 1-0 in Schillinger Stadium, which was named after brothers Don and Jim Schillinger earlier this month. The Spartans defeated Wolf Point 47-0 in their season opener, but Friday’s challenge will be Baker’s stiffest test of the season – certainly to this point, but maybe through October.
Even after graduating key players off of last year’s championship-contending team, Croy’s Red Devils are again poised to challenge for the District 3B crown, if not more. Differing a bit from years past, this Huntley Project team features fast, explosive athletes at the skill positions.
“We have the most speed we’ve had in probably five, six years at least here,” Croy said. “We’re not as big, so we can’t just lean on people. We’ve been mixing a lot of pass. In fact, against Columbus, our varsity threw more than we ran.”
The speed element starts with Lane Sumner, who won the 100-meter dash at the state track and field meet in the spring, but it doesn’t end there. Croy has a lot of offensive weapons – mostly juniors and younger – at his disposal, including Tylan Croy, the coach’s son, at quarterback and Keenan Reynolds at receiver.
“It looks to me like they just have great team speed all the way around, both sides of the ball, offensively, defensively,” Breitbach said. “Huntley year in and year out, they’re going to be fundamentally sound. They tackle, they do all the little things right, they get to be where they need to blocking. We’re just going to have to be on our A-game, and hopefully we can play with them for a while.”
Baker counters with its own set of speedsters, though. Luke Gonsioroski is back at quarterback, and Cleet Wrzesinski transferred in from Ennis after his dad, Jon, got the superintendent job at Baker.
Wrzesinski ran the anchor leg on Ennis’ two record-breaking relay teams at last year’s state track meet, and also set the Class C record in the 300-meter hurdles. He’s playing wide receiver in Baker’s typically run-first offense, as well as lining up at cornerback and in the return game.
“(Wrzesinski) was a great addition, needless to say,” Breitbach said. “He’s got the great speed on the outside, he can extend the field. … Cleet does some great things returning the ball. He’s as good of return kid as we’ve had around here for a while. Defensively, he had a pick-6 the other day as a corner. He’s an all-around athlete and does some wonderful things for us.”
Breitbach said Gonsioroski is picking up right where he left off last season when he was one of the most dangerous threats in all of Class B. One of Montana’s more highly recruited high school players last season, Gonsioroski was diagnosed with cancer in the spring. Doctors discovered a tumor in Gonsioroski’s chest, which they treated with chemotherapy before removing the tumor in its entirety during a June surgery at Yale.
Gonsioroski is cancer free, so he’s back to doing what he loves: terrorizing District 3B defenses.
“I truly respect Baker. I’m very happy that Luke is able, with what he has gone through in the last six months, to be able to compete and play. I truly respect him as a young man, and respect their program,” Croy said. “It’s just fun stepping on the field and competing with the Baker Spartans.”