ST. IGNATIUS — It’s been a steady climb for the St. Ignatius (Mission) Bulldogs over the last couple of years on the football field.
In 2019, the Bulldogs snapped an 18-year postseason drought, and made the playoffs again in 2020, both under former head coach Tyler Murray. But last Saturday, the Bulldogs again made school history when they won their first football playoff game in over 30 years.
St. Ignatius made the long trek out east to take on Joliet in the first round of the 8-Man playoffs on Saturday. The Bulldogs, the No. 3 seed out of the 8-Man West, left little doubt as they won the game 34-12, the school's first playoff football victory since 1988.
It's Carson Oakland's first year as head coach, and the Glendive native and former Dickinson State player and coach said the playoff experience his players have gotten over the last two years paid dividends in this latest win.
"It’s all the kids, man. All the credit goes to them," Oakland said during practice on Tuesday. "They have bought in to this thing. They’ve been here the past two years, didn’t get the job done, and I think they’re a little bit hungrier this year and some guys who played as sophomores and freshmen, they’re now juniors and seniors and they know what it’s like to play in that playoff atmosphere so that was good for them."
It's been step-by-step growth for Mission's program, something players like Kellen McClure have seen first-hand.
The junior is in his third year as the starter at quarterback and threw three touchdown passes in Saturday's win.
"It was super awesome, especially with the seniors now, they were sophomores back then when we first made the playoffs and just to see the growth," McClure, who also plays safety, said. "Losing out in the first round the past two years sucked but coming back here and finally getting one more step, I mean, it’s one more step on that ladder, felt great to climb."
With just 22 players on this year's team, including eight seniors, their work is still cut out for them, as St. Ignatius (7-2) will hit the road again this week to take on the top seed from the north in Fort Benton (7-1).
But for the Bulldogs, climbing over that latest mountain was another step in the right direction for the program.
"Sophomore year we were kind of working towards it and junior year working towards it and senior year finally got it so it’s pretty big," said senior running back and linebacker Charley Adams. "It means a lot because we started out not winning games to having that winning culture. We’re just changing the culture here."