BILLINGS — Many thought Friday's football game between Billings Senior and Billings West could be the game of the week -- two 3-0 teams and a crosstown rivalry that’s hard to beat anywhere else in Montana. But after the final whistle sounded, all people saw was a dominant West win in all three phases.
The two teams felt each other out early, and it was scoreless after the first quarter. But a pair of fourth-down conversions were the key in the second. The first was fourth-and-11 from Senior’s 34-yard line, where the Broncs made a big mistake, biting on a flat route and leaving star receiver Taco Dowler wide open for a touchdown.
“We have some guys we can get the ball to, and I trust those guys," said West head coach Rob Stanton. "I don’t ask them if they want to go for it because they're always going to say yes, but you use the eye test. We had a couple of fourth-down conversions. It was nice.”
The other was a little easier call -- fourth-and-goal from the 3 -- and junior quarterback Isaiah Claunch kept it up to the middle and bullied his way in for a 17-0 lead at half. But West knew the game was far from over.
"I felt like we were reading them well, but we always knew they were a good team and they were going to bounce back," said West linebacker Neil Daily. "They were going to have a good series, and they had two good series. They put the pressure on."
The first resulted in a Junior Bergen-to-Jackson Burckley touchdown, one of the deadliest combinations in the state. The second was maybe the play of the year from Bergen.
Six West defenders hit the senior QB, including maybe the best linebacker in the state in Daily, but Bergen somehow escaped it all to go 64 yards down to the 1. He’d finish it off one play later.
“I’ve never seen a kid just about tackled at the 50, his body’s all out of whack, looks like he has a knee sticking straight up, and our best defensive player has him in his grasp, and the next thing you know, he's down at the 1-yard line," Stanton said about Bergen's incredible run. "I have so much respect for that kid.”
That made it 27-14 late in the third, but it was all West from there. Senior’s offense never threatened again thanks to a Bears defense that never quit.
“This was the most energy I’ve seen here in two years at West," Daily said. "We played our butts off (Friday)."
West's offense, meanwhile, kept adding to the lead in the fourth. Junior Caden Dowler took a punt return near midfield and weaved all the way down to the 6-yard line to set up another touchdown. Then it was Michael DeLeon capping it off late, part of a punishing committee with Jaymn Medlock that is helping West replace all-time great Demarcus Carr.
“He’s one of the best that went through the program, so it's hard to fill his shoes," DeLeon said of Carr's legacy. "(Medlock and I) came together as brothers almost. We're doing pretty good during the game -- we split reps on offense and defense, which keeps us fresh throughout the game.”
“All respect to those two, Demarcus is so amazing. He's so good," Stanton said. "But those two, we have a pretty good 1-2 punch. I have no idea what they had for yards (Friday), but hopefully they want to carry on a running back tradition we have here at West.”
They carried West to 4-0, and they don’t seem like they’re stopping anytime soon.