LAUREL— Jakob Webinger seems to be saving his best for last, even if not by choice.
In Laurel's semifinal against Frenchtown a couple weeks ago, he shot through the offensive line to block a punt that was scooped and scored for a 7-3 Locomotives lead.
"I got held a little bit, got through the line, saw the punter still had the ball and was like, I've got to get this," Webinger recalled to MTN Sports before a recent practice. "I jumped up and somehow was able to get it. Actually screwed up my shoulder a little bit, so, I guess that was worth it, but yeah, it was very exciting."
Head coach Mike Ludwig described it like this: "He had to fight and scratch and claw, and he was almost crawling on the ground, but yeah he was able to reach out and get the block. That was tremendous, it was a huge momentum play for us against Frenchtown."
Webinger wasn't sure his fate would work out this way early this season when he was stuck in a boot.
"I had two fractures in my foot in (suffered during a game) Lewistown and it was just a struggle from there," Webinger said.
"He tried to practice on it, and it was just getting worse, so we decided to shut him down," Ludwig said. "(We thought) let's just try to get through the next three or four weeks, that'll put it at about six weeks, and then have him come back."
The fractures occurred in Week 3, meaning the senior was stuck watching all five games to close Laurel's regular season. The Locomotives (10-0) clinched their first division title in over 20 years to earn an opening round playoff bye, which bought Webinger another week of rest. They finally turned him loose in the quarterfinal win over Frenchtown when he blocked that first quarter punt.
Playing both offense and defense, Webinger is turning in an outstanding playoff performance. When Laurel has the ball, he's a gutsy receiver who runs accurate routes and isn't afraid to lay out his body. He showed that in Saturday's semifinal with a twisting, off-balance catch to keep Laurel's time-consuming touchdown drive alive.
"The wind had a big factor in that," Webinger explained. "I couldn't really gauge it so I had to jump up, hope I could get it and somehow came down with it."
Webinger can also catch on defense. He picked off a pass on the opening drive of that same semifinal, quickly shifting momentum in Laurel's favor on the way to a 28-14 win over Polson.
"I felt like I had to make a play then and it was right there in my hands," he said. "I felt like if I made that play it could've made a difference in the game."
Which it did.
Laurel plays in its fifth State A championship — third in a row — and will host for the first time on Saturday at 1 p.m. against Hamilton. Last time these two squared off in a title game — 1999 when the Locomotives won their first title 21-10. Now they're chasing a repeat.
But here's a question: how did Webinger when he comes from such a die-hard golf family? His dad Drake dominated years ago at West, and later in college, and his sister is a member of Laurel's State A championship golf team.
"I've played golf since I was three but football has always been my passion and always will be," Jakob said without hesitation.
Ludwig remembers testing the waters a few years ago.
"I talked to Jakob a little bit in middle school and asked him, and I think I even asked Drake too, and Jakob was like, 'I'm all football, I'm all football.' And I was like, good, I'm glad to hear that!"
That doesn't mean Webinger entirely avoids the course. Far from it. He says he's about a 10 handicap which, by his standards is "not terrible."
Truthfully, it's impressive.
But in the end, there was never a doubt for Jakob Webinger. It was always gridiron over golf.