Nobody knows for sure how these Class AA football playoffs are going to work. All 15 teams are in the bracket for a first round of cross-conference playoffs this weekend.
The winners will be re-seeded for next week’s second round using Class AA’s strength-of-schedule tie-breaking formula, which means Butte, which has a first-round bye after an undefeated regular season, will be the overall No. 1 seed. The Bulldogs won’t leave the friendly confines of historic Naranche Stadium in November.
Across the state in the Eastern AA, Bozeman edged defending champion Billings West for the conference’s top spot. The Hawks bounced back from an ugly loss to Missoula Big Sky on Sept. 6 to win their final six games, including a 26-20 win over West last week to close out the regular season.
Here are the first-round matchups: Missoula Big Sky at Bozeman, Great Falls CMR at Helena High, Missoula Hellgate at Billings Senior, Billings Skyview at Missoula Sentinel, Kalispell Glacier at Great Falls High, Belgrade at Helena Capital, and Kalispell Flathead at Billings West.
No. 1 seeds: Bozeman (East) and Butte (West).
Since its loss to Big Sky, Bozeman has been one of the best teams in Class AA. The Hawks’ defense was never really an issue, but it’s played lights-out football over the second half of the season. The offense, too, has seemingly gotten better each week, thanks in large part to Huntley Project transfer Asher Croy.
Butte’s defense hasn’t been as stingy, but it hasn’t needed to be. The Bulldogs feature the state’s most prolific offense, as they’ve scored at least 35 points in ever game this season. Quarterback Tommy Mellott has the keys to the offense, and he gets the ball out to a lot of different weapons.
The Bulldogs have had a couple close calls this season — including a thrilling game at Missoula Sentinel that came down to a game-winning field goal — but the bottom line is they’re the only undefeated team remaining. And they have the best home-field advantage in the state.
Dark horse (No. 3 seed or lower): Helena High.
Butte is in a tier of its own, and Bozeman, Billings West and Missoula Sentinel look like they occupy the second tier of contenders. The next level includes teams like Helena Capital and Helena High, the third and fourth seeds out of the West. Capital just ground out a 7-6 crosstown win, but the Bengals have played top competition tough. They have a defense that’s going to keep them in games, as all four of their losses were by one score. If the offense can find a spark, they’re a team that could pull an upset or two.
Best first-round matchup: Kalispell Glacier at Great Falls High.
Their records might not show it — both teams finished the season with sub-.500 records — but Glacier and Great Falls High started to play well in the second half of the season. Since losing to Butte on Sept. 20, Glacier went 3-2, losing to Helena High and Missoula Sentinel. Great Falls closed the season winning three of four games, only suffering a narrow 14-7 defeat to West.