MISSOULA — Joy and celebration surrounded the Missoula Sentinel football team on Friday evening.
The Spartans defeated Billings Senior 42-7 to advance to the school's first Class AA state championship game since 1984 as they improved to 9-0 on the season.
It was a long time coming for a group that came just short last year in the semifinals against Bozeman. Disappointed from previous seasons, many Spartan players have made sacrifices for the good of the group to get to this point.
A prime example? Senior quarterback Dayton Bay.
Bay started all season last year for Sentinel as the Spartans enjoyed success. Coming into this season, Bay had the challenge of incoming transfer Camden Sirmon, a talented dual-threat QB whose family moved to Missoula from Washington over the summer.
But according to his coaches and teammates, Bay never complained about the idea of his reps dropping from where they were a year ago, and he embraced the competition brought to the table by Sirmon and the idea that they would be co-starting quarterbacks.
“It took a while to process but after a while I accepted my role, and I do it to the best of my abilities and just go out and have fun and play football," Bay said. "It was a different perspective but the coaches have been very helpful communicating with me each week about a game plan, and me and Cam have been pushing each other all week, and year, competing on and off the field in the weight room and in practice and just make each other better.”
Humble words from the down-to-earth Bay. But the senior stays true to himself in order to step up when called upon.
Bay even writes the words 'be me' on his wrist tape, a personal motto he uses as a reminder of the task at hand.
“I try to keep everything the same. I’m a guy who just likes to do the same thing. I have to have a plan every day," Bay said. "I write on my wrist every game 'be me.' Coach Troy Dennison, he’s a great guy, we have some great one-on-one talks and he helped me through the process when we talked about splitting the reps between Cam and I. He was very helpful and 'be me' just let me focus on being myself, doing my thing, trying not to do too much and just going out and playing football.”
Sentinel coach Dane Oliver said Bay and Sirmon have embraced that competition between the two and, in turn, each has prospered from it.
“It’s not easy. It’s almost like a college room when you get kids moving in and we talk about competition, and competition makes people better," Oliver said. "At the quarterback position, in particular, when you have that competition, it makes people raise their level of play of the whole team, and so both of those kids deserve a ton of credit for the team success because just that innate competition has forced everybody to raise their level of play.”
The duo brings unique elements under center. Bay typically is your standard pocket passing quarterback who is capable of running occasional read-option sets, while Sirmon makes a lot of plays with his scrambling and speed while also hurting teams through the air.
Through nine games, Bay has completed 69 of 90 passes for 848 yards, 13 touchdowns and two interceptions while also carrying the ball for two scores. Sirmon, meanwhile, is Sentinel's leading rusher with 85 carries for 795 yards and 11 scores and has completed 54 of 79 pass attempts for 839 yards and 11 more touchdowns and just one pick.
For Sirmon, he knew the situation he was transferring into and has been ever grateful for Bay's leadership and guidance, as well as his support, as the two split reps.
“At first it was different. Just never split reps before," Sirmon said. "But you got to do what’s best for the team. He’s been here his whole life and I respect that, and Dayton’s a hell of a player, too. I think we’ve grown together and accepted those growing pains and he’s helped me be a better quarterback and same otherwise. Competition makes the best out of you. That’s just what we’ve been kind of going by and we just kind of plug away.”
A team captain this season for the undefeated Spartans, Bay is one of many cogs that make the Sentinel machine work, with the Spartans now looking for history and for their first state championship victory since 1972 when they match up with Billings West next week.
“We’re a family-based team, team first, we over me, so taking that mindset into every week," Bay said. "We know that anyone can be successful so we just have to get the ball in playmakers' hands and go do our thing.”