MISSOULA — The Missoula Sentinel football team has been the face of the Class AA scene for the last two seasons.
The Spartans had won 21 straight games coming into this season, and they opened the year with a 24-21 victory over Billings West in a rematch of the last two title games, in a game where Sentinel was pushed, and found ways to battle through adversity.
"We definitely had some mistakes, but it shows us where we can clean it up and starting with a great opponent like West, we got exposed on our weaknesses and where we need to work on right off the bat," senior lineman Tate Templeton said. "But then it just gets the morale of the team up and we just get to go into this week with a good attitude."
That 22nd win Sentinel achieved on this remarkable run for the Spartan program is beginning to enter historic levels among Class AA's elites.
Helena Capital owns the record of 33 wins in a row which they earned from 2006-2009. Billings Senior isn't far behind with 27 straight victories from 2016-2018, and the Bruins also own a streak of 26 straight victories from 1999-2001, making those the top three Class AA winning streaks.
So for Sentinel, a few more wins, and they're right atop that leaderboard with the rest of those dynasties.
"I mean, you talk about phenomenal athletes and so that's what it comes down to," Sentinel coach Dane Oliver said. "Those guys (the past two years), they were great competitors and great leaders in the school. What I'm most proud of is those guys come back to practice. They want to be a part of it. They've had a great experience and they want these kids and this team to have the same experience they did so it tells you it impacted their life in some way."
Like every year, Sentinel was tasked with reloading after a second consecutive all-star class graduated.
But the program is at a point where younger players see the field more often, so the turnover isn't as drastic, and the new core players hit the ground running.
"I felt like we were going to bring a pretty good squad back," Templeton said. "Just the family aspect too, it's always working together. We have a bunch of great guys but we may not be person for person the most talented team on the field but we're going to be the tightest team on the field and that's what's kind of driven us to success. So I think we haven't gotten away from that at all and that's kind of been our emphasis all year."
And getting that first win of the year sets the tone in a major way.
"It really allows a team to settle into the season," senior running back and defensive end Kellen Curtiss said. "Takes away a lot of nerves from the rest of the games because you already know how the general structure of it is going to be so it makes it a little easier."
Joining Templeton and Curtiss as returning starters is also Montana State commit Adam Jones as well as fellow senior JJ Dolan. The four of them make up 15 seniors on Sentinel's roster this year. Dominic Umile, Trevor Rausch, Shaun Liechty, Riley Allen, Danny Sirmon, Evan Hafliger and Hunter Sellers, among others, make up some of the players who are Sentinel's core this year.
It's about reloading, and not rebuilding for the Spartans, as they aim to add to that streak in 2022.
"It was a little intimidating for me for sure because you really have to step up and take a leadership position," Curtiss said. "You really have to mentor the young kids as well as keeping your own class in check and so losing all of that leadership from last year, you just have to step up and be able to take on roles that you may not be comfortable in."