SCOBEY -- If you would have told Scobey head coach Brock Berryhill after his team’s season-opening 28-22 loss to Westby-Grenora that the Spartans would win the conference title, he’d have thought you were crazy.
Despite a steep climb, Scobey scaled the mountain to claim the 8-Man East throne by ripping off seven consecutive wins to close the season. That gives the Spartans a home game through at least the first two rounds of the 8-Man football state playoffs, which will force their opponents to travel great lengths. Cascade’s one-way trip to Scobey is north of 380 miles.
“We played Westby-Grenora on a Friday night. Saturday I’m at my in-laws' overlooking the football field. There’s about 15 of our kids practicing on Saturday evening,” Berryhill told MTN Sports via phone. “Nobody had said anything to them. I didn’t say anything to the kids. We have good chemistry this year. We have guys that want to work together and win. It was totally unprompted and unscripted by any coach. They just showed up like, ‘Let’s fix this.’"
“We would have looked at you sideways” Berryhill said in regard to the conference championship. “Like, are you kidding me? That’s football and that’s life. You do the best with the cards you’re dealt. It’s crazy.”
The meat of Scobey’s schedule came in the opening half of the season. The Spartans opened with the loss to Westby-Grenora before rebounding to beat Circle. Wins over Broadus and Ekalaka set up a rivalry showdown with defending state champion Fairview, which was unbeaten at that point.
Scobey dominated the Warriors, 36-6, to put itself in the driver’s seat for the conference crown. It was the Spartans’ first win over Fairview since 2010.
The two rivals have grown especially familiar with each other on the hardwood, where the Spartans and Warriors have played in three consecutive Eastern C divisional title games. The two were also slated to meet in the State C championship game in March before the coronavirus pandemic led to a co-championship for the two adversaries.
“The kids were excited, they were happy, but it wasn’t like a shocked, 'oh my gosh we did it' kind of moment. We worked hard, we prepared and we played really well. That’s what should have happened. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great anytime you beat Fairview in anything, but it’s not like our kids were popping champagne bottles and going crazy,” Berryhill said. “That Fairview game probably meant a little bit something more to the guys that played basketball last year. There was probably something in it that might have been a little more than about football, to be honest with you. And that’s fine.”
Scobey’s constant improvement throughout the season is evident in the growth and maturation of its offensive line. The Spartans had an inexperienced group up front at the beginning of the year led by returning all-conference guard Josh Hammerly, but as the hogs up front have gotten stronger and more comfortable Scobey has, too. Center Philip Haynes, a sophomore, didn’t start playing football until last season, but Berryhill loves his potential.
It helps to have some of the core skill guys back, like all-state quarterback Jayce Tande and wide receiver Parker Cromwell, but the biggest addition to the offense was senior Caden Handran. Handran, who played quarterback his first two years of high school, is known for his talents on the basketball floor, which is why he took his junior season away from football. According to Berryhill, Handran missed the gridiron and wanted back out there.
He’s been a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, too. Handran stands 6-foot-5 and is as long an athlete as you’ll find in the state. It’s no surprise when the Spartans throw a fade to Handran when they’re deep in the red zone. Those ball skills translate to the defensive side, too.
“He’s a really tough guy to cover. Even if you’re on him, he’ll out-jump you and get those 50-50 balls and come down with it. … People start to bring pressure and we’ll just throw it up there and let him be who he is and let him go and get it,” Berryhill said. “He’s so long. He’s all of 6-5 and he’s a very intelligent guy. He just gets things, gets concepts and sees the field really well. What’s been a really pleasant surprise is him on defense and being our free safety. He can see everything and cover ground. His first love is basketball, but he’s all-in in football.”
Handran and Cromwell are such threats on the outside that it’s really opened up lanes for the Scobey running game. Peyton Leibrand played most of the 2019 season at guard before switching to fullback to close the season. A physical, north-south runner, Leibrand’s hard-nosed style has rubbed off on his backfield mate Colter Oie.
“What I love about (Oie) is every time he gets hit he falls forward. In kind of a crucial point in the game against Fairview, that moment where it could have gone either way, we went for it on fourth down and gave the ball to Colter. He gets hit two or three times in the backfield and somehow he stretches the ball out and gets his body long enough to barely get the first," Berryhill said. "I love his toughness and his demeanor. He’s probably not going to take it 60 yards, but he’ll get you what you need.”
Tremendous balance on offense and a defensive full of athletic playmakers has Scobey primed for a deep postseason run, which the 8-Man East champion has become accustomed to in recent years. For the past 11 years, the 8-Man East regular-season champion has made the semifinals in the postseason.
There’s been a special group of athletes to roll through Scobey in the past few years. This year’s senior class is looking to cap its career with more hardware.
Scobey will open up the playoffs at home on Saturday afternoon against Cascade, the 8-Man North’s No. 5 seed. The winner of that game will face the winner of Simms and unbeaten Thompson Falls.