MISSOULA — Defense wins championships, even in 6-Man football.
“The whole year, it started on defense. If our defense plays well, we play well,” Froid-Lake coach Michael Reiter said during a phone conversation with MTN Sports.
If that quote makes you pause and scratch your head, you’re not alone. The Redhawks, who will play for the 6-Man state title Saturday for the third time in four years, enter the championship game having allowed 75 and 70 points in their past two playoff games.
“I kind of realized those last two games, when we fall behind and it’s not going our way, it’s like the worst feeling ever. But all credit goes to the kids, they never gave up. They were so resilient, they overcame that adversity,” said Reiter, insisting his team employs a “tough-nosed defense” that has carried it to an 11-0 record with one game left to play.
“It was some of the most gratifying wins we’ve ever had,” Reiter continued. “It doesn’t happen every day you’re able to dig yourself out of a hole.”
Froid-Lake might have been fighting an uphill battle in those playoff wins — 79-75 over Chester-Joplin-Inverness in the quarterfinal round and 82-70 over Harlowton-Ryegate in last week’s semifinal matchup — but Reiter is right. Up until those games, the Redhawks’ defense certainly looked the part.
They allowed only 106 points during the regular season, barely more than 13 points per game. While Montana State Bobcats commit Mason Dethman gets much of the attention — and he does lead the team in tackles and interceptions — it’s been a collective effort. Guys like Nate Stentoft, Daniel Forizs, Cian Logan, Landen Kelm, Jacob Martensen, Joseph Robertson and others play big roles on both sides of the ball.
“Mason makes everyone around him better. It’s just a thing where the other guys have talent and they have skills they can contribute,” Reiter said. “We have had times where Mason had to come out for a drive or two just for a break, the other six guys have to hold their own and make sure the offense goes or our defense holds up. We’ve done a nice job with that. Everybody plays their part, everyone’s vital to our team, everyone is important.”
In fact, when Froid-Lake won 6-Man championships in 2020 and 2021 when this year’s seniors were freshmen and sophomores, the Redhawks did so with a stout defense. They gave up only 19 points to White Sulphur Springs in the 2020 title game and shut out Power-Dutton-Brady in 2021.
Going through the annals of 6-Man history, no state champion has allowed more than 38 points in the championship since 2003 when Geraldine outlasted Custer 80-78. That might be the kind of high-scoring game many expect this weekend between Froid-Lake and visiting Centerville — after all, the Redhawks are averaging more than 66 points per game and the Miners 55 — but Reiter cautioned against that.
“I assume they’re going to run the ball until they can throw over the top of us,” Reiter said of Centerville. “I expect them to give up some yards, but they’re going to wrap up and try to keep us from having a big explosive play. We’ve got to do a good job ourselves taking care of the ball.”
Centerville, for its part, has been stingy on defense all season, even avoiding fireworks in the playoffs. The Miners advanced to the championship with 43-6, 48-15 and 65-37 playoffs wins over Power-Dutton-Brady, West Yellowstone and Custer-Hysham-Melstone, respectively, but they’re in relatively uncharted territory. Centerville has never played for a 6-Man championship and last played for a title in 2006 when the Miners defeated Wibaux on the 8-Man gridiron.
“Experience is huge. It’s nothing like you expect until you’re there, in my opinion,” said Reiter, who has coached the Redhawks since 2018. “We’ve had guys that have been there. The first two championships these guys were freshmen, sophomores, they were playing behind some pretty good juniors and seniors. They have an idea of what it’s like, how to play for it, how to prepare. They know every practice counts, every rep counts, and to take the most advantage of any time you have to prepare.”
The 6-Man championship between Froid-Lake and Centerville kicks off at 1 p.m. Saturday in Medicine Lake.