Shelby head coach Mike White runs drills during a practice in Shelby. (TOM WYLIE/MTN Sports)

HELENA — The path to an 8-Man state football championship just got a little more challenging.

After 8-Man football lost four teams — Broadview-Lavina, Denton-Geyser-Stanford, Gardiner and Hot Springs — in November, the classification added one in January. Shelby’s petition to drop from Class B 11-man football to 8-Man was approved at the Montana High School Association’s executive board meeting earlier this month, according to MHSA executive director Mark Beckman.

The Coyotes, who lost to Eureka in the Class B state championship last fall, requested to move to the smaller classification at November’s meeting, citing decreasing enrollments. That request was denied, but the board approved the move after Shelby appealed the decision in January.

Prior to the 2017 football season, the MHSA adjusted its enrollment guidelines for each classification. Schools with 66-130 students — whether Class B or C in other sports — can play 8-Man football. Schools with 131-350 students play Class B 11-man football, and schools with 65 students or fewer play 6-Man football.

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Shelby had 114 students, according to the 2017 spring enrollment, the latest available information at www.mhsa.org.

The Coyotes finished second in District 1B last fall and made a surprise run to the state championship game. They defeated Bigfork 23-20 with a fourth-quarter field goal in the first round, Whitehall 16-13 with another late field goal in the quarterfinals and Missoula Loyola 28-27 with a late touchdown in the semifinal round. Shelby lost to Eureka, 47-7, in the championship game to finish with an 8-4 overall record.

Beckman said Shelby will begin playing 8-Man football this fall in the North Division, which will expand to 13 teams. The divisions break down as follows for the 2018 season:

East (10 teams): Broadus, Circle, Culbertson, Fairview, Forsyth, Lame Deer, Lodge Grass, Plentywood, St. Labre, Scobey.

North (13): Belt, Box Elder, Cascade, Centerville, Chester-Joplin-Inverness, Chinook, Choteau, Fort Benton, Great Falls Central, Hays-Lodgepole, Rocky Boy, Shelby, Simms.

South (8): Absarokee, Ennis, Harlowton, Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap, Joliet, Lone Peak, Park City, Twin Bridges.

West (10): Arlee, Charlo, Darby, Drummond-Philpsburg, Plains, Saint Ignatius, Seeley-Swan, Alberton-Superior, Troy, Victor.

Flint Creek, the Drummond-Philipsburg co-op, defeated Forsyth 44-30 for the 8-Man championship. Forsyth was playing its first year of 8-Man football after dropping from Class B prior to the 2017 season.

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