It had been a long time — 12 years to be exact — since the Sheridan football team had punched its ticket to the postseason.
It was 2009 and the Panthers, still a 6-Man squad at the time, went 8-0 in the regular season and advanced to the semifinals.
Success like that has been hard to come by for Sheridan over the past decade. But this past season, in their second year after moving up to 8-Man, the Panthers had the breakthrough they had been searching for. They pieced together a 5-3 regular season campaign and made it back to the playoffs.
A key piece of that success was the production of do-it-all player Kaiden Batzler, who averaged over 135 rushing yards and eight tackles per game while scoring 15 touchdowns. Those numbers earned him an invite to the Montana East-West Shrine Game as well as the Bob Cleverley 8-Man All-Star Game which will be held in Butte on Saturday.
"We actually had a really good year, especially for Sheridan," said Batzler, who will line up at tight end for the Blue Team on Saturday. "We had a couple close games at the end (of the regular season) and we couldn't pull through but we still made it to the playoffs. Still very pleased with that."
Sheridan transitioned to 8-Man in time for Batzler's junior season in 2020. The change from 6-Man — where games are often determined by sheer speed — was a welcome one for the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder.
"First of all, it was great," he said. "Eight-Man is a lot more like 11-Man. When you're playing 6-Man it's really just if you're fast, you're good. We weren't the best, we weren't the fastest. 8-Man was a lot more like 11-Man a lot more fun to play, a lot more things you could do. I really enjoyed it."
After the Clev, Batzler will head to Great Falls for the Shrine Game. He said he was taken aback to find that he had been tabbed as the best tight end out of the West.
"Honestly, I was a little surprised," he said. "I mean, a Sheridan kid, that doesn't usually happen. So I'm very happy with my selection and I look forward to that game. Should be super fun."