DILLON — Eli Nourse has been immersed in Dillon's high school and college football programs for just about as a long as he can remember.
"This town, this community is perfect," said the senior. "It's just what you'd want. You have everyone in the town's support. Friday nights your under the lights. Then Saturday's you come to the Bulldog game and there's a huge tailgate. It's just special. The community is behind you win or lose."
Considering Eli's dad is Ryan Nourse, head coach of Montana Western's football team, it's little surprise that Vigiliante Stadium has long been like a second home to him.
Yet the past two seasons saw Nourse spending more time as a spectator than player as a hamstring injury sidelined him early during his sophomore year and a broken leg at a summer camp before his junior season kept him on the bench until the Beavers first-round playoff loss to Sidney.
But Nourse's final season has seen him stay healthy and evolve into a key offensive, defensive and special teams cog for the 8-1 Beavers — their lone defeat being a 34-7 loss to Hamilton in Week 2 — who outlasted a furious comeback attempt by Frenchtown at home in the opening round of the Class A playoffs.
Dillon survived 42-34 to sew up its first playoff victory and trip to the quarterfinals since 2019. The Beavers will head to Billings to take on 8-1 Billings Central, the No. 2 East seed, on Saturday with a 1 p.m. kickoff.
"A firm reminder that you have to finish four quarters," said Dillon head coach Zach McRae of weathering the Broncs rally from a 35-7 deficit to make it 35-28 in the fourth quarter. "Thankful that we get the opportunity to coach this week. We felt like we were really good for three quarters and certainly got some things to work on."
That first-round win — which saw junior quarterback Kee Christiansen pile up five rushing scores — was sparked by Nourse returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown. The wide receiver and defensive back has been making plays for the Beavers all season, leading his team with over 100 all-purpose yards per game. On defense he's recorded 37 total tackles and a pair of interceptions.
"Having Eli back full time this year has been incredible," McRae said. "His presence in practice and his presence in games offensively and defensively...he's an impact player in what we do."
For Ryan Nourse, it's been refreshing getting to watch his son excel in a season that has thankfully been void of the injuries that kept him off the field for most of 2020 and 2021.
"I've just been proud of him," Ryan said. "He didn't really get a football season his sophomore or junior years. He's lived in disappointment since basically eighth grade. He puts the time in he puts the work in, he goes out and does his best out on the field and performs really well this year."
Dillon and Billings Central head into Saturday with identical 8-1 records but the underdog Beavers are still aware of what a formidable challenge awaits them in the Rams, a team coming off a bye week and that through nine games allowed its opponents to score a combined 45 points.
"Yeah, Billings Central is really good," Nourse said. "But you know we have a good gameplan. If we play hard and we do what we're supposed to do I think we can win, but it'll be tough."
Said McRae: "We know Billings Central is a great opponent. They've got some things they do that's gonna be a real challenge to stop. But why not us?"