SCOBEY — Brock Berryhill was feeling good after his Scobey football team defeated Thompson Falls 40-24 in last week’s quarterfinal round of the 8-Man state playoffs.
Then he saw that Shelby scored 87 points in its win over Park City.
“The cool thing about football and kind of the bummer about it is, you get to enjoy your success for about a night, then you’ve got to focus on the next one,” said Berryhill, who is in his seventh season coaching the Spartans. “We’re glad we won and we’re glad we played well against Thompson Falls, but that’s in our rearview mirror now and we’ve got to worry about the Coyotes. It’s going to be a tough task.”
Scobey will host Shelby in an 8-Man semifinal game on Saturday. It’s a matchup that few likely would have predicted after the first week of the season. Both Scobey and Shelby lost their season openers — Scobey 28-22 to Westby-Grenora and Shelby 46-26 to Joliet — but both teams have steadily improved as the season’s progressed. Neither has lost a game since, as Scobey cruised to the 8-Man East conference championship and Shelby finished second in the North behind unbeaten Fort Benton.
Now, the teams are just one win a way from playing in the state championship game.
“We’re really similar in a lot of ways, but they’re massive up front. They’ve got some big dudes,” Berryhill said.
Fortunately for Berryhill and his team, they got a preview of what to expect against Shelby when they played Thompson Falls last week. The Coyotes aren’t a carbon copy of the Bluehawks, but Berryhill said there are some schematic similarities that should help his team prepare.
“Thompson Falls and Shelby, they run some similar stuff — a lot of traps, a lot of counters, a lot of misdirection,” he said. “They’re both really physical football teams, and Shelby has some really good athletes, too. It’s going to be another tough one.”
As football cliches go, coaches saying they need to stop the run and win the turnover battle are among the tried-and-true formulas. Berryhill admitted as much.
“I think a lot of coaches say that, but it’s true: If you can run the ball and stop the run, you’ll probably win more than you lose,” he said.
And that figures to be the case on Saturday. Both the Spartans and Coyotes like to play physical football, establishing their run games to open up other aspects of their offenses. Shelby has gotten a big season out of Cameron Brusven carrying the ball. Scobey counters with a two-headed punch of Peyton Leibrand and Colter Oie.
“Both of our backs are physical, they’re not scat guys,” Berryhill said. “They know what they are and who they are, and they run accordingly. They like to lower their pads and fall forward every time.”
That style bodes well for northeastern Montana, where teams often have to overcome the elements, specifically strong wind gusts.That came into play in the Spartans’ 50-0 win over Cascade in the first round of the playoffs when Berryhill estimated the teams faced wind gusts of up to 40 miles per hour.
That creates some gamesmanship and strategy opportunities, but both Shelby and Scobey have trump cards to help elevate their passing games on windy days. The Coyotes can go to 6-foot-8 tight end Rhett Reynolds, and the Spartans can go to 6-5 Caden Handran. Both guys have impressive wingspans that make life easier on their quarterbacks.
For Scobey, that’s quarterback Jayce Tande.
“Jayce, he’s having a great year. He’s just a playmaker. No moment is really too big for him. He’s a great leader for us and gets guys to rally around him. He’s always positive,” Berryhill said. “He’s kind of like a little coach on the field, because he’s been playing for four years and he’s seen a lot, so he can relay to me what he sees and what he thinks will work. I’ll listen to him, because he’s out there and he makes plays. There’s times when he makes plays and coaches don’t call the play, but he does something and you’re like, ‘Oh man, I’m pretty smart.’ He’s nice to have and each year he’s just gotten better and better and better, but really the thing I’m proudest most of him this year is just his leadership ability and how he’s improved as a leader. He’s our guy. He’s the bell cow of the team, and he’s just been great to coach, great to be around and just a phenomenal person.”
Tande’s leadership has been evident all season, going back to that season-opening loss to Westby-Grenora. Tande and some of his fellow leaders orchestrated a players-only practice the Saturday after that loss. That’s the moment Berryhill knew he might have a special team this fall.
“It’s been a great ride, man. It’s been fun,” he said. “This is probably the most enjoyable year I’ve had coaching just with the kind of kids that we have and the camaraderie. When the chemistry’s right, it makes it really, really enjoyable. And it’s been a pretty tough year in terms of the (COVID-19) restrictions and all the things like that. From the offset, we’ve made it a point to worry about the things that we can control and kind of tune out the other stuff, and so far we’ve had positive results.”
Kickoff between Scobey and Shelby is set for 1 p.m. Saturday, and the game will be broadcast on www.nemont.tv.