COLUMBUS — The Columbus football team made history last week with its 16-10 win over Red Lodge in the first round of the Class B football state playoffs.
The Cougars became the first No. 4 seed to win in the State B playoffs. Now they’re looking for more history as they head to Glasgow for a quarterfinal game. It’s a rematch of a 2019 first-round game that Columbus won 28-24.
“It’s kind of that old (matchup of opposing styles), they’re the big, strong run team, and we’re going to be the kind of flashy, finesse pass team,” Columbus coach Blake Hoge said. “And we’re going to see which one comes out on top.”
Granted, Columbus, as the No. 4 seed from the Southern B, didn’t buck a long trend last week — Class B has only used four conferences, with four qualifying seeds each, since 2017 — and Glasgow, too, went on the road to win in the first round, running past reigning state champion Eureka 28-6 last week.
Still, Columbus and Whitehall, the South’s third playoff seed, helped the conference to a 4-0 sweep in the first round of the playoffs. Whitehall defeated Shepherd 6-2, and No. 1-seeded Manhattan (52-0 over Colstrip) and No. 2-seeded Townsend (42-14 over Huntley Project) also won.
“We always talk about the South is the toughest conference. We have teams that are making those big runs. We kind of proved that this year when all four of our teams won their first-round games,” Hoge said. “There’s some high points in the other conferences up in the North or West, they’ve got one or two good teams, but usually four teams is hard to pull. In the South, I’m confident there’s probably five teams that could probably win a playoff game just about every year.”
“And then just this year in general has been weird with all the COVID stuff,” Hoge continued. “We missed a few guys throughout the season for quarantine issues and that, and I’m sure other teams are the same. It’s kind of weird. Class B football there’s not a lot of guys on the team, and if you’re missing the one wrong guy that can really change a whole game for you. Looking at that, that’s why there’s some kind of weird aberrations in the scores and stuff on the week-to-week basis.”
Hoge said his team will be missing a few players for Saturday’s game, absences due to both coronavirus quarantines and injuries. Such is life in Class B football, though, where the healthiest teams are often the teams playing deepest into November.
Columbus is one of eight teams still playing football in this pandemic-altered season, and the Cougars like the progress they’ve made this season. After a rousing 62-40 win over Red Lodge to start the season, Columbus was inconsistent for much of the rest of the season. The Cougars followed the impressive season-opening win with a 20-18 loss to Jefferson. They then won two games before losing three of their final four games, with all three losses coming by at least 21 points.
“We kind of anticipated a few trials and tribulations when things didn’t go our way, and I like how our guys responded. It wasn’t perfect every time, but it got better, they matured a little bit, they figured out those leadership roles. Now that’s really helping us in the playoffs here,” Hoge said. “I hope we can kind of keep stringing these together and keep getting those extra weeks of practice to keep going forward.”
While there were wild swings in the results, Columbus featured one consistency week in and week out this fall: Trey Johannes. The junior running back/middle linebacker has been a reliable tone-setter for the Cougars on both sides of the ball.
“Trey Johannes has been our guy. … He’s kind of been slow and steady. He’s getting 100 and some yards a game, he’s getting eight or nine tackles. He’s just kind of always there. He doesn’t have those slumps where he doesn’t do anything,” Hoge said.
But it’s obviously not a one-man show for the Cougars, who got big plays from Colby Martinez and Cooper Cook in last week’s win. Martinez had 143 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown, on seven catches last week, while Cook added the go-ahead score on a 60-yard TD run in the third quarter.
While Johannes, Martinez and Cook are among the guys regularly finding the end zone, Hoge said Columbus has been reliant on its senior leaders this fall. Senior captains Braydin Ellis, a wide receiver and weakside linebacker, and Domonic Fitch, a left guard and defensive tackle, have played crucial roles in helping the Cougars remain composed and focused despite this season’s challenges.
“I don’t get to put their names in the paper, because they’re not doing a lot of flashy or stat stuff,” Hoge said of Ellis and Fitch, “but if we didn’t have them we would be in a world of hurt, just because they do that stuff every play that kind of lets the other guys do their thing.”
Both Ellis and Fitch figure to be key components to Columbus’ defense on Saturday, though, as the Cougars try to slow Glasgow’s powerful rushing attack. The Scotties are a run-first, run-second and run-third team.
Offensive lineman Mayson Phipps helps them set the tone. Phipps announced on Twitter last month he would continue his playing career at Montana Tech.
“(Phipps is) kind of the real deal,” Hoge said. “We’re going to get a heavy dose of lead run and power run and run-right-at-you, smash-mouth football, so we’re going to try and get them out of their comfort zone. If we can force a bad snap, a holding penalty, get a zero-yard gain on a play, that really messes with their offense, so we’re going to kind of come at them a little bit.”
If his defense can slow down Glasgow’s offense, Hoge is confident his offense can cause problems for the Scotties’ defense.
“Traveling up to Glasgow is never going to be a whole heck of a lot of fun,” he said, “but I’m confident in what we do and I think we can kind of pull this one away as long as we can kind of execute the game plan and play how we’re supposed to play.”
Kickoff between Columbus and Glasgow is set for 1 p.m. Saturday.