ST. IGNATIUS — Over the last four years, the St. Ignatius high school football team has seen incremental success within their program, and a big reason behind that is this senior class, as these players have found a way to sustain success as the Bulldogs are undefeated so far this year and look to make a deep push in this year's 8-Man playoffs.
St. Ignatius rolled through the regular season with a perfect 8-0 record — all of which were blowouts — en route to locking up the conference crown and No. 1 seed from the 8-Man West.
Last week against Circle, the Bulldogs hosted their first playoff game since 2001, a game they won 48-34 to improve to 9-0, and now they prep to host Ennis in the quarterfinal round this Saturday.
"We're always looking at the older kids, and it's weird to see that now we're the older kids playing here, but we've just been doing it a long time," senior wide receiver/defensive back Bryce Umphrey said. "We've been together for a long time. I remember like sixth grade year our coaches used to tell us stick together, stick together, because this could be the team to do it."
The Bulldogs sport eight seniors on their roster this year, with quarterback Kellen McClure having been a starter since he was a freshman in 2019, and a number of other talents who were thrown into major varsity minutes as sophomores. McClure and Umphrey are joined by Canyon Sargent, Kenny Ness, Chance Bockman, Carmine Adams, Nic Frost and Winter Gopher as the other seniors on the team.
Since snapping an 18-year playoff drought in 2019, and winning the program's first playoff game since 1988 last year, this senior class has seen step-by-step improvements in St. Ignatius, with eyes on the grand prize in their final campaign.
"Since that freshman year, it's been we make the playoffs, like that's our expectation every year now, and now the goal is just getting bigger and bigger so it's been really fun," senior running back/linebacker Canyon Sargent said. "We had a great senior class to look up to and lead us then, and they kind of set the path, and we followed it."
Under second-year coach Carson Oakland, this undefeated streak has been a culmination of the team's growth, including weathering their first challenging game of the season against Circle in the first round of the playoffs. St. Ignatius holds home-field advantage through the semifinals of the playoffs, with a chance to host the state championship if Drummond-Philipsburg were to lose at any point, and if the Bulldogs continued to win.
But for a group that grew up together in the small town beneath the Mission Mountains on the Flathead Reservation, it's been a special run, and one they hope lasts a few more weeks.
"It's just been a grind, just have to get through it, work as hard as you can, don't regret nothing," Bockman, a linebacker and offensive lineman, said. "It's a good feeling, just gives us a little bit more confidence just to push harder and just want to know what the end goal is like."