The four Class B football conference champions, led by defending champion Fairfield, made it through the regular season with unblemished records. They weren’t without their challengers, though, which sets up an interesting slate of games in the playoffs. All eight first-round games are scheduled for 1 p.m. kickoffs Saturday.
Fairfield will enter with a target on its back and draws Townsend in a first-round game. Manhattan, the South’s No. 1 seed, will face Cut Bank, while East No. 1 Red Lodge will host Bigfork and West No. 1 Eureka will play Baker.
The other first-round games: Shepherd at Florence, Missoula Loyola at Huntley Project, Glasgow at Columbus and Jefferson at Malta.
No. 1 seeds: Red Lodge (East), Manhattan (South), Fairfield (North) and Eureka (West).
There was preseason talk that Red Lodge would be much improved this season from years past, and the Rams delivered behind a strong rushing attack featuring multiple ball carriers, including Finn Davis. Manhattan has employed its own explosive offense with Lane Veltkamp and Kyle Hotvedt, among others, playing big roles. Keeley Bake has been the ‘next man up’ at Fairfield, helping replace much of the Eagles’ graduated production from last season, while Eureka has benefited from the return of Hank Dunn, Chet McCully and Jake Kindel.
It’s become cliche to say, but Fairfield continues to reload rather than rebuild. This year’s version of the Eagles is no different, as Bake has elevated his game and plenty of other players have assumed bigger roles. After graduating 12 seniors from last year’s team, this year’s squad doesn’t have the playoff experience of teams past, but the road to the championship still travels through Fairfield.
While all that is true, that will be plenty of challengers to Fairfield’s throne, including Eureka, Manhattan and Red Lodge, who dominated their respective conferences. There are worthy contenders beyond the No. 1 seed line, too, with teams like Malta, Huntley Project, Jefferson, Florence, Missoula Loyola and others posing potential threats.
Dark horse (No. 3 seed or lower): Glasgow.
The Scotties gave Fairfield its first big test of the fall to close out the regular season last week, playing the Eagles within one possession, 34-26. After starting the year with four consecutive wins, Glasgow suffered three late-season losses, none of them by more than eight points.
Best first-round matchup: Missoula Loyola at Huntley Project.
Huntley Project and Missoula Loyola met at Bobcat Stadium on Aug. 30, a game in which Loyola came from behind to win 25-20. Both teams have experienced some growing pains in 2019, and Loyola has faced its share of injuries. But both the Red Devils and Rams had high preseason expectations with talented rosters, so the winner of Saturday’s game figures to be a difficult out in the second round of the playoffs.