HAMILTON — The Laurel Locomotives advanced to their second straight appearance in the Class A state football title game on Saturday afternoon after beating the Hamilton Broncs 28-21.
Laurel quarterback and Montana State football commit Eli Aby ran for two touchdowns and threw another to Emmet Renner, while Beau Dantic also tallied a rushing touchdown for the Locomotives, who will play Billings Central in the Class A state championship game.
Last year Laurel lost to Miles City in the state title game.
Laurel led 21-7 at halftime on Saturday, but Hamilton mounted a furious comeback in the second half. Hamilton quarterback Tyson Rostad ran for a score to make it 21-14 on the first play of the fourth quarter before connecting with Liam O'Connell to tie the game 21-21 with 10:17 left in the game.
"I tell the kids a lot it’s about composure and it’s about not hitting the panic button. And after they scored I stopped the defense and said, 'It’s OK, it’s alright. We’re going to be just completely fine,'" Laurel coach Mike Ludwig said about dealing with the comeback. "I knew that we could move the ball, we were just kind of making some mistakes. I always tell our kids don’t hit the panic button, keep your composure, keep your chin up and just keep grinding and moving forward."
Aby scored the game-winning touchdown on a run up the middle on a 7-yard scamper with 7:52 left to play and Laurel held on from there.
After forcing a Hamilton turnover on downs with about five minutes left in the game, Laurel converted a fourth down of its own on a keeper from Aby, and the Locomotives milked the clock the rest of the way as they punched their ticket to the title game.
"(We were) going for it, we wanted to finish that thing," Aby said about the late fourth-down conversion.
After failing to get Hamilton to bite on a hard count, Laurel took a timeout, but Aby said the plan was to go for it no matter what.
"We didn’t want to give them the ball back because they’d been going right down the field on us in the second half," Aby added. "We wanted to finish that game as quick as we could. It was probably one of the funnest games I’ve ever played in. It was really competitive and getting back to that is just a great feeling, to the state championship."
"Physical game. We knew that Hamilton was going to be a hard team to get around and those guys are really good," Renner said. "We just knew that we had to get better week by week and trust the process each day and really trust the game plan of what the coaches were saying."
Rostad also connected with Ben Rooney for a touchdown for the Broncs. Tristan Lewis added an interception for Hamilton, while James Ochs also had a pick for Laurel, both of which came in the third quarter. Hamilton ends its season at 10-1 in what was its fourth straight appearance in the Class A semifinals.
"The first thing I told them was I was proud of them," Hamilton coach Bryce Carver said. "These kids have had to deal with a really bad situation with what’s going on in life, and I said the way you guys were able to fight through our quarantines and our having to wear masks and what we were able to do with no fans, they got the short end of the straw here, and it’s not just us, it’s everybody across the state and the country. They fought and battled and were able to overcome a lot of adversity."