COLUMBIA FALLS – Dakota Bridwell has re-written the Montana High School Association record books in 2016. But Columbia Falls’ senior quarterback’s only remaining concern is adding his high school to the list of past football champions.
Columbia Falls, one of the more decorated schools in Class A, has appeared in only one football championship – the 1970 state title game, a 34-18 loss to Havre High.
Saturday, the Wildcats can add to their growing trophy case when Columbia Falls hosts Dillon for the 2016 state championship.
“They’re really excited, the whole town and school are excited,” said Wildcats’ head coach Jaxon Schweikert. “They’ve worked hard and it’s an exciting time to see their work pay off.”
No one has put in more time than Bridwell, Schweikert’s senior quarterback. Earlier in these playoffs, the Wildcats’ signal-caller tossed a Class A state record eight touchdown passes, five to receiver Braxton Reiten. Bridwell already owns the state record for touchdowns in a season, surpassing former Kalispell Glacier QB Brady McChesney’s 41.
“That doesn’t happen by luck or anything. The kid has worked extremely hard for four years,” Schweikert said. “This summer he threw every single day, Monday through Sunday, and he usually had all those guys out there, 20-25 receivers and defensive backs and linebackers. He studies as much film as any quarterback I’ve ever had. He spends every lunch in there with us, we met every day in the summer, we had quarterback school and he’s been through that all four years.
“We’ve always said, ‘If you’re quarterback is tough your team is going to be tough,’ and he’s about as tough as they come in high school, mentally and physically.”
Columbia Falls edged Dillon 28-21 in late September, rallying from a 14-0 defecit in the victory. Bridwell scored the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.
Schweikert admits Dillon coach Rick Nordahl will have a special game plan aimed at slowing Bridwell and the Columbia Falls’ receivers, but says the Wildcats will focus on their own strengths.
“We do what we do. I’m pretty sure they knew we were pretty good the first time and that we threw it a lot the first time,” Schweikert said. “Out of 60 plays they blitzed us like 45 times and couldn’t get to us. I’m sure they’re going to try again, a lot of teams tried. You have to be confident in what you do and how you do it.
“We’re pretty confident in what we do and how we do it and the one thing is with them blitzing us so much, it kind of blew up our run game. We need to make some adjustments there and make sure we can run the ball on them, not have to throw it every down. But we are willing to throw it every down if we need or run every down if we need. We’re the type of team that whatever we need to do we’ll do. We’ll attack.”
Across the field Saturday will be another star quarterback in Dillon’s Troy Andersen. Unlike Bridwell, Andersen makes his living with his feet, scoring four touchdowns in last week’s semifinal win over Billings Central.
Schweikert is quick to credit the athletic ability of the future Montana State Bobcat but believes his defense can limit the big-play potential of Andersen
“We’re pretty fast defensively. Our outside linebackers can really run, we’re really good at cornerback so we expect (Andersen) to have to try and buy time,” said Schweikert. “We send a lot of defensive linemen after him, we were able to pressure him the first time without blitzing. What we tend to do with the running quarterbacks anymore, you know we used to drop our middle linebackers and get a lot of depth to take away post routes and stuff, now with these running guys we don’t get as deep of drops. As soon as those guys start to flush we can run them down. … That’s what we do, we defend the run. That’s funny, we’re a pass team (offensively) but defensively we’re built to defend the run better than anything.
“Colton Bonny at the nose guard, he has been an amazing kid for us,” Schweikert continued, praising his defensive lineman. “We always believe we have to build our defense inside out. Our linebacking crew, we have a quick and aggressive linebacking crew. Trevor Hoerner is our guy. He’s a kid that has committed to the Griz and he can play inside, outside, on the defensive line and he’s a tough one to block that’s for sure.”
Schweikert is in his fifth season with the Wildcats but can already feel the community’s desire for a football championship.
“It would mean a lot to our town and community,” he said. “I want to win it for these seniors who four years ago we came in and said, ‘Ok here’s the plan and here’s what you have to do to get to a championship and win it. You have to have some blind faith and put your whole heart into it.’ I really want to win it for the coaches like Bill Coleman and Jamie Heinz and Kelly Houle that have been here for years and years and haven’t been able to get to that level. We’re finally there and it’s cool for those guys to put so much time in it and finally get to that position and have a chance at it.”