The Class A football playoffs get started Friday with, essentially, conference playoffs. Two games feature all-East matchups, while the other two are all-West matchups.
Billings Central, the perennial power and defending state champion, is new to the first round. The Rams last played in the first round in 2016 when they were the East’s No. 2 seed, and they finished outside the top two of the conference for the first time since 2002, the last time they missed the playoffs. Overlook Jim Stanton and Billings Central at your own peril, though. The Rams open the playoffs with a first-round game Friday against Glendive before a potential showdown with Hamilton, a rematch of the 2018 championship game.
Havre, the East’s fourth seed, also opens up the playoffs at home, hosting Lewistown on Saturday. Western A teams Libby and Frenchtown also draw home games in the first round: The Loggers host Butte Central in the No. 3-vs.-No. 6 game, while Frenchtown hosts Whitefish in the No. 4-vs.-No. 5 matchup.
Undefeated Miles City (East) and one-loss Dillon (West) are the No. 1 seeds, with Laurel and Hamilton also getting first-round byes after finishing second in their respective leagues.
No. 1 seeds: Miles City (East) and Dillon (West).
The Cowboys are the lone undefeated team in Class A, and they’re a well-balanced club. The defense has allowed just 10 points or more twice all season, and the offense has hit the 40-point mark in all but two games. Quarterback Carson Hunter had a monster game against Lewistown on Oct. 18, passing for 400-plus yards and eight touchdowns. Jess Bellows, who has been one of the best receivers in the state this season, was on the receiving end of four of those touchdowns.
Dillon, meanwhile, survived the gauntlet at the top of the Western A, losing only one game all season — a two-overtime thriller against Frenchtown. Justus Peterson triggers the offense for the Beavers, who spread out their contributions to a handful of talented skill players. Defensively, the’ve shut out three of their past five opponents.
Favorite: Miles City.
Miles City approached this season with expectations of playing for the state championship. So far, so good, as the Cowboys rolled through the regular season without a loss. The Cowboys are undefeated and the top-ranked team in the polls, making them the team with the biggest target on its back this postseason.
But coaches all season have said this is the most competitive the top of Class A has been for a number of years, and teams like Dillon, Hamilton, Libby, Frenchtown and Laurel are certainly capable of hoisting the championship hardware.
Dark horse (No. 3 seed or lower): Libby.
Libby seemingly came out of nowhere to start the season 6-0. The Loggers closed with their top three competitors in the Western A — Dillon, Hamilton and Frenchtown. They put up respectable fights against Dillon and Hamilton before closing with an 8-6 win over Frenchtown in less-than-ideal conditions. Libby is reliant on its rushing offense, meaning its built for November football.
Best first-round matchup: Havre at Lewistown.
Havre and Lewistown should be familiar with each other — they played just last week, with the Blue Ponies getting a 30-8 win to secure the East’s No. 4 seed and a home game in the first round of the State A playoffs.