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What caught my eye: Conference title races heating up

Fort Benton Great Falls Central football
Posted at 5:12 PM, Oct 01, 2019

With Week 5 of Montana's high school football season complete, we're entering the final month of the regular season.

Week 5 set the table for the final month, though, with some thrilling games between teams competing for conference titles.

The Western AA saw a pair of unbeaten teams fall, but one of those teams didn't move in the polls after a heartbreaking loss. 2018 Class A runner-up Hamilton rebounded from its first loss of the year to jumble the Western A playoff picture.

There were some surprising outcomes on the 8- and 6-Man fields, where two-time defending 8-Man state champion Drummond-Philipsburg finds itself fighting for a playoff spot. Fort Benton stayed unbeaten, while Centerville handed Belt a gut-wrenching defeat. The top two 6-Man teams cruised to wins, while the 6-Man East had a phenomenal finish between two 2018 semifinalists.

Class AA

  • Butte held on to the No. 2 spot in the MontanaSports.com power rankings after a thrilling 39-36 win at No. 3 Missoula Sentinel. Butte rallied from an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter and forced a turnover to set up the game-winning field goal. with the win, Butte is the only remaining unbeaten team in Western AA conference play and is in the driver's seat for the regular season title and a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
  • Helena High improved to 4-1 and is No. 4 in the MontanaSports.com power rankings after defeating previously unbeaten Missoula Hellgate, 42-20. The Bengals' only loss this season is to conference leader Butte. The win also gives Helena the tiebreaker over Missoula Hellgate, which could prove crucial late in the season. There are four teams behind Butte at 2-1 in conference play, and only three of those teams can get a home game in the first round of the playoffs.

Class A

  • Hamilton rebounded form a devastating loss to Dillon by handing Frenchtown its first loss of the season. Hamilton ripped of 20 unanswered points through the third and fourth quarters to upend the Broncs. Hamilton's win also jumbles the playoff picture in the Western A, where 5-0 Libby is the only team without a loss. Four teams sit at 4-1.
  • According to Class A football historian Brian Reed, Browning's 32-26 win over Columbia Falls was the Indians' first victory over Columbia Falls since 2006. It also suddently vaults the Indians into the playoff conversation in the Western A, where six teams will make the postseason. Browning, sitting at 2-3 currently, is the No. 7 team in the conference. Browning will likely need some games to fall in their favor to make the playoffs, but the Indians' final three opponents have combined for a 3-12 record to date.

Class B

  • Red Lodge has a firm grasp on the Eastern B after its 35-0 win at Huntley Project on Friday night. The Rams have had just one close game this season, and that came out of conference at Columbus. Red Lodge has just two conference games remaining -- hosting Roundup and at Shepherd -- and could have the conference title wrapped up before the final week of the regular season.
  • Townsend remained unbeaten in Southern B conference play with a 22-19 win over Jefferson on Friday night. The Bulldogs lost some key pieces from last year's team but seem to have reloaded well. The win puts Townsend in position for a home game in the opening round of the playoffs should it keep winning and sets up a likely de facto conference title game with Manhattan on Oct. 18.

8-Man

  • Perhaps the most surprising result I saw throughout the weekend was Thompson Falls' beatdown of two-time defending champion Drummond-Philipsburg. The Bluehawks routed the Titans 64-24. Thompson Falls is now in the top three of the 8-Man West, along with unbeaten Alberton-Superior and one-loss St. Ignatius, which beat Seeley-Swan over the weekend. Thompson Falls is nearly a lock for a playoff appearance in its first season of 8-Man football.
  • Centerville improved to 4-1 with a thrilling come-from=behind victory over Belt on Saturday afternoon. The Miners trailed Belt by 16 with under five minutes to play and were able to pull of the miracle comeback. With the 8-Man North sub-conference playoffs looming, Belt and Centerville could meet up again.
  • Fort Benton remained unbeaten with a win over Great Falls Central on Friday, 46-35. The Longhorns are the only remaining unbeaten in the 8-Man North, but the sub-conference playoffs could pit them against Great Falls Central again in a few weeks.

6-Man

  • 2018 runner-up Jordan rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat Richey-Lambert, 45-42, on Friday night. Both teams were 2018 semifinalists and were expected to be contenders for the state title this year. Richey-Lambert, though, has a ton of work to do to even make the playoffs after starting conference play 0-2. The Fusion are in fifth in the conference and may need to win out to secure a playoff berth. Jordan likely has its sights set on its showdown with Wibaux, which throttled the Mustangs in last year's title game.
  • Westby-Grenora added another impressive win for the 6-Man East with a 59-10 blowout of Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap on Saturday. Westby-Grenora's only loss this season came to unbeaten Big Sandy, which handily beat the Thunder. The Thunder are in the top three in the 6-Man East and can essentially lock up a playoff berth with a win at Richey-Lambert this weekend.
  • Top-ranked Wibaux cruised to a 56-0 win over Froid-Medicine Lake and No. 2 Big Sandy topped Valier, 57-0. The Longhorns and Pioneers have been northing short of dominant to this point in the season. Wibaux has allowed just six points all season, and that came on the opening drive the Longhorns defense faced on the season. Big Sandy has wins over three 2018 playoff teams, including Westby-Grenora and Jordan. These are the top two teams in 6-Man football, and I believe the gap between Wibaux and Big Sandy and the third-best team in the classification is substantial.

To view high school football standings for all classifications click here.