HELENA — You’ve heard it before and you're hearing it again — Bozeman High School is back in the State AA football semifinals.
It was a 35-28 victory over Helena High at Vigilante Stadium on Friday evening that pushed the Hawks back into this year's round of four, their third consecutive trip, and they’re now one win away from going back to the state championship game.
For years fans and media have talked about key Bozeman players in the positions of quarterback, running back, receivers, safeties and defensive backs, but what about the boys in the trenches? The forgottens. That’s been a lot of the success according to head coach Levi Wesche, who knows a thing or two about the position.
“I think it’s safe to say that the two strengths of our teams are the lines. We’re great on the offensive line, I feel like, and we’re great on the defensive line," said Wesche. "In the games we’ve won, we have been able to control the line of scrimmage. That’s huge. You can’t say enough about it. That’s how we build our program, we want to control the line of scrimmage any way we can.”
Frontier Conference football fans will remember Wesche from his all-conference offensive lineman days at MSU-Northern. It’s a position he heavily values, and this year, one he returned to mentoring.
“I’m back coaching the offensive line for the first time since I took over as head coach, so it’s been four years, but I’m back now. I have to admit, that’s been the highlight of my year is going back and coaching those big guys because they just have a different work ethic," Wesche said. "It takes a different attitude to play in that area. It’s been really fun for me to see how far they’ve progressed.”
“My brother actually had Wesche as his (offensive line) coach when he played, and with him they won the state championship in 2013," said senior offensive lineman Jacob Keim, referencing his older brother, Brandon Keim. "I love Wesche ... I think he really pushes us.”
“Wesche, he’s always on the guys to be perfect every single day. They’re watching film every single day, whether it’s in class or on Zoom, he’s always demanding perfection from those guys," said senior defensive end Luke Fedyk. "Over the season it’s showed. Since that first game we lost to Billings Senior, we struggled a little bit, but to see those guys grow and how much they’ve progressed throughout the year, that’s been impressive. I’m super proud of those guys.”
Bozeman’s offensive line understands Wesche holds higher expectations of them because he’s played and coached the position. Their response? Often getting better as the game goes on.
“Our guys fight hard. They play snap to whistle every down. Do they get beat sometimes? Yeah. But they don’t give up, either," said Wesche. "They come back with just as much intensity, fire and physicality. They’re going to keep grinding on you, grinding on you and grinding on you.”
“That’s why we play the game. We love the physicality," said Keim. "I’m just excited to play one more week.”
“I think it’s awesome. I think that’s the way we like it," echoed Fedyk. "Obviously our defensive line, we get after it, but our offensive line, as well. They’re a bunch of dogs. We like to be physical. We’re physical in practice every day and we like to get after it. (We) definitely like these games where we can really put our hand in the dirt and get after it.”
Fedyk and Kenneth Eiden IV certainly draw their share of praise on the defensive line, but senior Camren Spencer and junior Jaden Perkins make their own noise in the backfield.
“Big Cam Spence, he’s always, every single day, he’s grinding. He’s trying to get better, trying to be the best he can be," Fedyk praised his teammate. "Big Perk, he’s stepping up. He’s obviously a junior this year, so he’s going to have a great year next year, but he’s stepped up for us this year, so that’s awesome.”
The Hawks' offensive line, meanwhile, may not have the name recognition, but teammates know where the credit belongs.
“The running backs and QB, Jordan (Jones), they always give us love. They always know we’re the bread and butter. It’s awesome they give us credit, but it’s pretty cool to get an interview from you guys one time,” admitted Keim.
Don’t worry, young fella, the physical play isn’t going unnoticed.