HAMILTON — Success has become an expectation with the Hamilton Broncs football program, but even coming into 2021, there were question marks as to who would step up to fill shoes left by seniors a season ago. But once again, the Broncs find themselves in the final week of the football season as they get set to play in their third state championship game in five years.
And all of that success continues to build on itself.
"I’ve heard this quote from high school and colleges that winning is contagious and so is losing, so I think when we have the ability to win games in the past I think the kids get the feel of how we want to win and that winning is good and we are able to squeak games out sometimes," Hamilton coach Bryce Carver said. "So when kids come up in our program they’re used to winning and I think that kind of becomes the norm."
In fact, it's been quite a run by Hamilton. Since Carver took over in 2017, the Broncs have advanced as far as the Class A semifinals every year, with state championship appearances in 2017 and 2018. In 2019, Hamilton fell to eventual champion Miles City in the semifinals, and dropped a close contest with Laurel at home in 2020, as the Locomotives went on to win state the following week.
The Broncs went back-to-back in 1997-98 — the only two state titles in program history — but after losing the last two so recently, they're hoping the third time is the charm.
The Broncs are led by Tyson Rostad who will play for the Montana Grizzlies next year, and fellow returning star Liam O'Connell. Rostad has thrown for 2,223 yards and 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions while rushing for another 560 yards and 15 more scores. O'Connell has been one of Rostad's favorite targets and has 39 catches for 724 yards and seven touchdowns. Defensively, O'Connell leads Hamilton in total tackles (66) and tackles for loss (11).
But the Broncs were still looking for other playmakers to fill in.
That's where guys like Tim Zohner and Eli Taylor have come in to help propel the Broncs back into championship contention. Zohner has broken out in a big way on the ground with 977 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns and has caught another 13 passes for 302 yards and four more scores, and defensively has 62 total tackles, six for loss. Meanwhile, Taylor has 49 receptions for 658 yards and 10 touchdowns and also has five interceptions on defense.
Other guys have stepped up as well as Taylor Searle leads the team with six interceptions, while linemen Derrick Saltzman and Andrew Burrows lead Hamilton with five sacks each.
"It’s going to be the first state championship I’ve ever played in but I know that this team has played in a lot of state championships and knows what it’s like to be there," Zohner said. "It’s still a big thing because it’s the state championship but I know that we’re ready because our coaches and most of our players have already played in the state championship. So I feel like we’re really ready for it."
That's been a familiar refrain for a lot of Carver's team this season, as they now take their undefeated record on the road to Laurel in the final game of the year, in what will be a rematch of last year's thrilling semifinal.
"(We're) kind of playing for some of those seniors last year that never got a chance to put their helmet on again," Rostad said. "So it’s kind of big for us to be able to go out and try to get that win not only for ourselves but for all of those kids last year and not only that, just to try and get a state title.
"We've been really close the past couple of years. We just need to do our thing, go over there, play it just like any other game and take care of business."