BOZEMAN -- No. 4 Bozeman used a handful of big plays to take down No. 2 Billings West 26-20 and clinch the Eastern AA regular-season conference title on Friday night in Bozeman.
Billings West opened the game with a 10-0 lead after Josh Erbacher found Connor Ryan for a touchdown on the opening Golden Bears' opening drive and a34-yard field goal by Spencer Berger with 3:31 left in the first quarter.
Bozeman answered late in the first quarter when Kenneth Eiden IV ran right through four West defenders on the goal line and was able to reach the ball across the plane. Bozeman's PAT was blocked, so West held a 10-6 lead.
But then Bozeman's big-play ability began to hurt the West defense. Asher Croy ripped of a 73-yard run down to the West 2-yard line, and then Eiden punctuated the drive with his second touchdown of the night. This PAT would clang off the upright, though, so Bozeman's lead was just 12-10 at halftime.
Billings West again struck quick in the second half, as DeMarcus Carr ripped off a 60-yard touchdown run to give the Bears a 17-12 lead. After forcing a Erbacher interception, Bozeman hit the West defense with another big play. Jake D'Agostino found Carter Ash on the sideline, and Ash broke two tackles on his way to a 52-yard score, putting Bozeman up 20-17 after a successful two-point conversion.
Turnovers hurt the West offense in the second half. Following Erbacher's interception, he was unable to handle a shotgun snap. Brooks Talbot eventually came up with the ball for Bozeman. The Hawks were unable to score on the drive, so the two sides entered the fourth quarter with Bozeman still leading 20-17, although West was deep in Bozeman territory.
Bozeman's defense stood tall, though, as the Hawks held on fourth down to force a turnover on downs. The Hawks gave it back to West but the defense quickly forced a punt, which led to yet another big play from Ash. He fielded the punt on his own 40 and took off right, but he reversed field back left and waltzed into the end zone to put Bozeman up 26-17 with 7:56 to play.
Erbacher turned it over again on West's next possession, as he airmailed a throw and Hudson Willett picked it off for Bozeman. West would kick a field goal with 2:-6 to play and force a Bozeman punt with 1:06 to play. With no timeouts, West ran the ball on second down and was tackled in bounds. The Bears spiked it to stop the clock on third down but failed on fourth down to turn the ball over on downs again and end the game.
Bozeman will host Missoula Big Sky in the first round of the playoffs next weekend. Missoula Big Sky is the only team to beat the Hawks this season. Billings West will host Kalispell Flathead in a rematch of the 2018 State AA title game.
To view the (unofficial) Class AA playoff pairings, please click here.
Class AA football scores
(Scroll through the videos above to watch video highlights)
Belgrade 12, Billings Skyview 7
Bozeman 26, Billings West 20
Butte 60, Missoula Hellgate 13
Great Falls High 35, Great Falls CMR 6
Helena Capital 7, Helena High 6
Kalispell Flathead 19, Missoula Big Sky 7
Missoula Sentinel 28, Kalispell Glacier 25