EUREKA – A dominating defending state champion keeps finding ways to surprise people, Eureka has blown out each opponent on its way to a 6-0 record this season, thanks in large part to one of last year’s heroes.

Garrett Graves and the Lions made history last November. The quarterback’s heave at the buzzer somehow found his receiver’s hands, and Eureka won its first-ever state championship. It’s hard to top that moment, but the Lions are trying.

“We’ve had a little time to soak it in over the offseason,” said Graves. “But you better believe that our goals have been a state championship. You get a taste of that, and you want to taste it again.”

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Eureka is learning how to become a powerhouse program. And it keeps passing every test.

After 12 extremely talented seniors graduated, many expected these Lions to take a step back. Instead, they’ve become even better. The defending champs have won every game by at least 35 points except for a 51-28 runaway victory in a state championship rematch with Missoula Loyola.

“We definitely had to figure it out, figure out our new identity,” said Graves, “because we are pretty much a whole new team. People didn’t expect us to be good, but we knew we were.”

The Lions did get Graves back, and Class B football fans have learned to expect greatness from the senior quarterback/linebacker/safety. He passed for 223 yards five touchdowns, and rushed for another 95 yards and a score, in that huge win over Loyola two games ago.

Graves added three more rushing touchdowns with 102 yards on the ground, plus another 107 yards passing versus Florence last week. The future Montana Grizzly provides a perfect example for the inexperienced Lions to follow.

“The difference that I would almost guarantee Garrett’s going to make it is the work ethic he has,” said head coach Trevor Utter, a former Grizzly himself when asked why Graves will succeed at the next level. “If you come to our weight room any time in the morning any day of the week, Garrett is the one in there, sometimes by himself. Sometimes I have to hold him back and say, ‘Hey, you know what? We have a game tomorrow. Why don’t you chill out today?'”

Eureka enjoyed the underdog role in the playoffs last year, but now Graves and company are growing comfortable in a new position: the No. 1 Class B team in the state.

“We’re not sneaking up on anybody, and we don’t get to relax ever,” said Utter.

“They know who we are, and they know what we’re capable of now,” added Graves. “So this year we’ve definitely been prepared for a lot more than we were last year, but, you know, we’re prepared, as well.”

The Lions finish their regular season at Deer Lodge this Friday. Then they take a week off before heading back to the state playoffs.