COLUMBIA FALLS – Jaxon Schweikert believed his Columbia Falls football team had the best defense in Class A this season. The Wildcats backed up his claim with another dominant performance in the state championship on Saturday, shutting down Hamilton’s high-powered offense in a 26-14 win.
The Broncs entered the game averaging more than 40 points per game, but Columbia Falls brought in a defense that had allowed a total of just seven points in two previous playoff games.
“We were so good defensively,” Schweikert said. “We have by far have the best defense since I’ve been here. We were almost impossible to run the ball on, and we’re really hard to throw against because we get so much pressure on the quarterback with our defensive line, it’s amazing. We didn’t want to put them in any bad positions, so we weren’t going to be our usual selves and air the ball out. We decided we would grind it and run behind our big offensive line, use our good running backs and not put the defense in bad positions. We thought we could grind it out and win it.”
The Wildcats used that powerful rushing attack to move the ball deep into Hamilton territory and eventually build a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. Auguste Emond got Columbia Falls on the board first with a short field goal before Austin Green found Ben Windauer for the game’s first touchdown. That duo hooked up for two scores on the day, helping Columbia Falls win the first State A football championship in school history.
Emond added his second and third field goals of the day in the second quarter, sandwiching Hamilton’s first touchdown. Tyler Chouinard caught a five-yard scoring pass from Carson Rostad to help the Broncs keep the game at a one-score deficit, 16-7, at halftime.
The second half brought more of the same, as Columbia Falls moved the ball seemingly at will to drive deep into Hamilton territory. The Broncs’ defense rose to the occasion, forcing field goal attempts. Emond added his fourth and final field goal of the day in the third quarter to put the Wildcats up 19-7.
“You get to this level, and it comes down to just a couple plays here or there,” Schweikert said. “Usually in a championship game it’s four or five plays. It really was. We had a couple of stops on fourth and short for them, those were backbreakers for them. It kept the momentum going the whole game for us.”
Hamilton struggled to find room against the Columbia Falls defense all game, but the Broncs put together a sustained drive to the end the third quarter. On the first play of the fourth, Rostad found Bridger Bauder for a five-yard touchdown, and it was suddenly just a five-point game.
The teams traded possessions, and Columbia Falls – following another fourth-down stop by its defense – surged ahead with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Green to Windauer, who snuck behind the Hamilton defense and scampered in for the score.
From there, the Wildcats’ defense again shut down the Hamilton offense, giving the ball back to Green and Co. Columbia Falls ran out the clock to ice the win and put the finishing touches on a 9-1 season. The Wildcats, who lost in last year’s state championship, allowed only 21 points in three playoff games.
“I’m sure we’ll celebrate a little bit. I’m not a big celebratory person, but the kids and coaches are. I like to stay in the background,” Schweikert said as the players dumped the Gatorade jug on their head coach.
“I think it means a lot for this community,” he added. “Our community has done a magnificent job supporting these kids. The letters to the kids, the community coming together and feeding them, and they eat a lot, but everybody was pulling for these kids and letting them know how much they support them and how much they love them. With that many people behind you it’s hard to lose.”
Hamilton, under first-year coach Bryce Carver, finishes the season with a 10-2 record. Both losses came against Columbia Falls.