MISSOULA — It's the roaring 20's for the Missoula Sentinel Spartans, who just won their 20th game in a row last weekend over Kalispell Glacier to punch their ticket to the Class AA state football title game for the second straight year.
Next up, it's a familiar opponent for Sentinel in Billings West, as both teams played to a classic championship game last November.
Only this time, the game will be played in Missoula on Friday, the first time the Garden City has played host to a AA state title football game since 1994.
"It’s very exciting," senior lineman Connor Hangas said. "We know Billings West is going to bring it. They execute on offense, defense, special teams and everything like that. They’re a great team, they’ve got talent, they’re coached well and everything. It should be a great game Friday night."
The two schools also met in a thriller in the first game of the season at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, one Sentinel also won 22-19.
Now, it's the third meeting in the last year between the two programs, and if it's anything like the first two, fans are in for a show.
"It’s been so much fun," senior fullback and defensive lineman Charlie Kirgan said. "I love everything that we do here at Sentinel, the team has been great, the coaches are awesome and everything, it’s just a fun environment to be in regardless of how well the season has been going and we’ve just been fortunate enough to have really good seasons these past couple of years, and we’re all really enjoying it. We’re super excited about this week, super excited to get back to this point."
Lofty expectations were there for the Spartans after winning it all in 2020, but head coach Dane Oliver, who is in his 10th year leading the program, said his players do a good job of blocking out the noise.
"Great leadership is always key and when your best players are your hardest workers and best people it’s amazing what you can get done and that’s where we’re at," Oliver said. "These kids, I mean if you pull up their GPA, I ran a grade check middle of the season, I was blown away by these kid's grades in the classroom so they’re great student-athletes. That leads to them doing all of the right things habits-wise and leads to behaviors that allow them to be successful and so the credit goes to those kids."
The Spartans are averaging just over 33 points per game and allowing just over nine per game en route to their current 10-0 record. After transitioning from tight end back to quarterback, Zac Crews has thrown for 1,651 yards this season and 17 touchdowns to just three interceptions and has also run for 808 yards and nine more scores.
Junior running back Adam Jones has broken out in a big way this season for Sentinel and currently has 164 carries for 845 yards and 16 scores. Jones has also caught 23 passes for 236 yards and three more touchdowns and in Sentinel's two playoff games has accounted for eight total touchdowns. Junior Kellen Curtis has also helped aid the ground game with 384 yards and two more touchdowns.
Through the air it's been a committee approach for the Spartan receivers. Drew Klumph leads the field with 25 catches for 483 yards and six scores while Joe Weida and Easton Leadbetter each have a pair of touchdown receptions.
Defensively, JJ Dolan leads Sentinel with 48 total tackles while Klumph has tallied 40. Crews and Jack Gibson lead Sentinel with 8.5 tackles for loss each. Kirgan leads the team in sacks with four and has 7.5 tackles for loss on the year. Dolan and Trevor Rausch lead the team in interceptions with two each.
Since their loss to Sentinel in the first week of the season, West has reeled off 10 straight wins and has averaged 41.3 points per game during that stretch, while allowing just over eight points per contest with four shutouts on the year. West has also been a successful program of late with a win in the 2018 state championship game also under their belt.
"It starts off with coach (Rob) Stanton, he and I are very aligned in how we approach coaching and teaching and leading young men," Oliver said. "So I just have a ton of respect for him and have grown to be friends with him. Boy, they're big up front, they have great speed, everyone knows the athletes they have. They're similar to what we were last year and so we have to play almost a near-perfect game to be with them."
It's been a special run for the Spartans over this two-season stretch thanks to last year's seniors and now this year's that have carried the torch forward. The Spartans sport 19 seniors on this year's roster, including their four captains in Crews, Hangas, Chase Williams and Connor McCarthy.
Even with the loss of last year's talent, Sentinel's tight-knit program reloaded, and the Spartans find themselves one game away from going back-to-back.
"We have been and have continued to be just a super tight group of individuals," Kirgan said. "Good team that really just enjoys being around each other like we’re all really good friends, we’re all hanging out outside of school. Love spending time with the coaches. Coaches are great, they love hanging out with us, so it’s really just a big family over here."
"Being a Spartan is everything," Hangas added. "Everything we’ve done for this program and everything, impacting everything has just been awesome. These are some guys you’ll remember forever. You get this job done with some of the guys you’re best friends with. It means a lot to this school, family and even Missoula."