MILES CITY -- Miles City opened up a 21-0 lead by halftime and forced four Hamilton turnovers to top the Broncs 28-14 on Saturday at Connors Stadium and advance to the Class A championship for the first time since 2010.
Miles City struck first, as a long drive culminated in an 8-yard touchdown run by Aidan Barrows. The Cowboys ate up almost seven minutes of clock before scoring, and that would be a common theme for Miles City on Saturday afternoon.
"Our guys were real physical. They've been real physical all year," Miles City head coach Jeff Regan said of his offensive line. "Our guys that get the ball and score touchdowns, they get a lot of the credit, but that's where it all starts. They've been great all year. ... That's part of our best defense, is when they don't have the ball."
"It's unbelievable what those guys can do in the trenches," Miles City quarterback Carson Hunter said. "Those are some of the toughest guys I've been alongside. Talk about from weight room to field, they're just gnarly guys. They push every single play. A lot of those guys are going two ways, so they deserve a lot more credit than they get."
Hamilton drove down the field on its ensuing possession, but Carson Rostad fumbled when he was hit by Jess Bellows. The loose ball bounced toward the sideline, but Damian Leidholt smacked the ball back into play and teammate Jack Cline recovered the ball on Miles City's 5-yard line, costing Hamilton a valuable opportunity for points.
The Cowboys added to their lead when Hunter found Barrows for a 22-yard touchdown on fourth down, putting Miles City up 14-0 with 4:10 to play in the opening half. After a pair of punts, Hamilton had possession with 1:40 to go in the half and a chance to cut into Miles City's lead.
Miles City's defense, though, came up with another big play. Rostad was strip-sacked by Logan Peila and the ball was recovered by Jacolby Mattoon in Hamilton territory with 24 seconds to play. The Cowboys capitalized with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Hunter to Cline to push their lead to 21-0 at halftime.
"Carson Hunter is a pretty good football player. That's all I'll say. I'm glad he's on our team," Regan said.
"A team like that, they can get back into a game really, really quick. The kind of talent they have, it takes one drive to turn a game's momentum around. That fumble was huge for us," Hunter said.
Rostad and Hamilton wouldn't go quietly, though. Rostad led the Broncs on a quick scoring drive to open the second half, capping it with a beautiful toss to the back of the end zone to Tyson Rostad.
The Broncs looked like they would trim Miles City's lead further, as Carson Rostad again drove the Broncs into Miles City territory. Carson Rostad, though, was pressured and threw it into the hands of Barrows, who returned the interception near midfield. Miles City essentially put to rest any hopes of a Hamilton comeback shortly after, as Bellows took a screen pass from Hunter and made multiple defenders miss on his way to a 63-yard score to put the Cowboys up 28-7 with 11:49 to play.
A Rostad 2-yard touchdown run cut Miles City's lead to 28-14 with 10:36 to play, but the Cowboys then took just more than seven minutes off the clock again. This time, though, Miles City was stopped on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line with 3:15 to go, giving the Broncs a glimmer of hope. After a pair of completions, Rostad committed his fourth turnover of the game, as Dayron Johnson intercepted a pass over the head of Rostad's intended receiver.
"We've been real good about making turnovers this year," Regan said. "Our (defensive backs) did a good job. Keeping them to 14 points is pretty amazing. ... Shutting them out in a half is a great accomplishment for those guys. That just goes to how they prepare and how locked in they were during the game."
Miles City will host Laurel in the Class A state championship game next Saturday at home. It's the first appearance in the title game for Miles City since 2010, where the Cowboys beat Billings Central, 8-0.
"Growing up in this community with this support, this is what you dream of, playing for state in front of your home crowd," Hunter said. "It can't get any better than this, so we are absolutely thrilled. One more week. One more week is what we're going for. We're excited."
"We've been looking forward to this for over a year. Even our class, our senior class, we've been looking forward to this since we were in middle school, so it's nice to finally get this opportunity and go out and do it," Barrows said.