SUPERIOR -- In late 2015 it was announced the Alberton and Superior high schools would combine football teams to become the Clark Fork Mountain Cats.
Now, nearly four seasons later, the Cats are heading to the 8-Man state title game for their first time in their combined existence.
Superior has been on the state title stage just two times, in 2008 and 2012, winning both of those games. For Alberton, it's new territory. Although Class C is now split into 8-Man and 6-Man, according to Montana High School Association archives, Alberton had never reached a title game since Class B and C football began in 1973.
“At the beginning of the year, we knew we could do things but we had to have buy-in. We had to have the guys drinking the Kool-Aid, and so they all did that and it’s been pretty special,” said Mountain Cats head coach Jeff Schultz.
The difference between this team and those the past three years? Both the players and coaches agree it's the leadership from the upperclassmen.
"Hands down it's been our juniors and seniors that have battled through. You know, they had a lot of learning when they were freshmen and sophomores. We didn't have as good of a record as we do now, but through their leadership, with all the struggles, those guys have powered us through," said Schultz.
While the Mountain Cats feature a number of skilled players on the field, they still give a ton of credit to the Alberton and Superior communities that support them.
"They travel really, really well. They come together and they cheer for us. I mean, it's been awesome, two communities instead of one, we are spoiled," said Schultz.
"The past four years have been great. We've had more people show up as it's gone on, and we're just seeing everybody come out and support us. That's how we are winning, by them cheering us on," said offensive lineman Aaron Waddle.
Another reason this team has found success in 2019 is the fact that no kid on the team has worn anything other than a Clark Fork jersey.
"We don't have a single kid that has ever been a Bobcat or a Panther. I mean, they start in junior high for us here in the co-op, so they've never been anything other than a Mountain Cat," said Schultz.
While the community support is nice, the Mountain Cats know they'll need more than just moral support to win on on Saturday. The Fairview Warriors are the only thing standing in the way, and Clark Fork knows they're for real. Not only is Fairview also undefeated at 10-0, they're also searching for their first title in program history.
“They’re athletic, they’re fast. The running back (Cody Asbeck) is super fast. Up front, they knock you off the ball. They’ve got some big strong athletes," Schultz said.
Obviously, winning the game is the No. 1 priority for the Mountain Cats, but they're confident that win or lose, they're set up well for the future.
“I feel like we’re leaving it in a good spot. I feel like they’ll take notes from this team and build on them, and hopefully next year we’ll be here again, we’ll be in the state chipper again. I’m ready for it,” said Waddle.
The Warriors and Mountain Cats kick off at 1 p.m. Saturday at Rocky Mountain College's Herb Klindt Field in Billings.