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What caught my eye: Contenders beginning to separate from pack

hellgate flathead football
Posted at 4:47 PM, Sep 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-24 19:02:37-04

We are at the midway point of the Montana high school football season, as four weeks are officially in the books.

Conference championship races are beginning to narrow and the playoff picture is beginning to develop. The Western AA looks like it's going to be a dog fight, as three teams remain unbeaten after Missoula Sentinel's big win.

2018 Class A runner-up Hamilton stumbled on the road in Western A conference play, further jumbling the conference title race. Libby, meanwhile, continues to truck its opponents out west, but just how good are the Loggers?

Manhattan, Centerville and Wibaux also picked up resume-building wins over the weekend that could catapult them into prime playoff seeding. That and more highlight what caught my eye over the weekend.

Class AA

  • Missoula Sentinel continues to pick up big wins. The Spartans went on the road and defeated previously unbeaten Helena Capital 28-14 last Friday. Capital had been one of the highest-scoring offenses in Class AA entering the weekend, but Sentinel's stout defense stood tall. The Spartans have allowed just 32 points in their first four games. Sentinel also vaulted to the No. 3 spot in the Treasure State Media Poll, which is conducted by Anthony Nachreiner out of Kalispell.
  • Missoula Hellgate joins Missoula Sentinel and Butte as unbeatens in the Western AA, as the Knights defeated Kalispell Flathead 29-18. With the win, Hellgate moved into a tie for fifth in the Treasure State Media Poll. While Hellgate's 3-0 start has caught my attention, the Knights' opponents have a combined record of 1-11 this season. We'll find out a lot about Hellgate in the coming weeks.

Class A

  • Dillon picked up a much-needed Western A victory over 2018 runner-up Hamilton on Friday night. The Beavers did so in dramatic fashion, scoring the game-winning touchdown with less than a minute to play. Dillon desperately needed to avoid losing a second game in conference play, and in doing so has thrust itself back into conference title contention.
  • Libby throttled Columbia Falls 54-14 to move to a perfect 4-0. All the talk about the Western A this season has been centered around Hamilton, Frenchtown and Dillon. Libby is making a strong case to be considered with the Western A's best. The Loggers have just one win this year over a team with a winning record, though, and will finish the season with Dillon, Hamilton and Frenchtown in consecutive weeks. That's when we'll know if Libby is a true contender.

Class B

  • Manhattan continues to add impressive wins to its resume. The Tigers already have a blowout victory over Florence, and they just picked up a 26-14 win over 2018 runner-up Missoula Loyola. Manhattan is looking to return to the top of the Southern B, and the early returns are encouraging. There may not be a team in Class B with two better wins than what the Tigers own.
  • Glasgow improved to 3-0 with a 46-0 shutout of Cut Bank over the weekend. The victory over the winless Wolves doesn't necessarily stand out, but the Scotties have allowed just 12 total points this season. Glasgow's opponents, though, have combined for a 2-9 record in the early portion of 2019. Glasgow was a playoff team in 2018, but can it challenge Fairfield and Malta for the top of the Northern B in 2019?

8-Man

  • There was plenty of preseason hype around Centerville, but the Miners hadn't quite lived up to those expectations early. Things look to be changing, as the Miners knocked off previously unbeaten Shelby on the road, 32-25. Centerville avoided a second conference loss, which would have made a route to the playoffs quite difficult.
  • West Yellowstone is in its first year of 8-Man football and suddenly finds itself atop the 8-Man South. The Wolverines held off Joliet in a rainy, muddy mess for a 16-12 win on the road, handing the J-Hawks their second loss of the season. West Yellowstone is now 4-0 and is the only remaining unbeaten team in the conference. The Wolverines were a mainstay in the 6-Man playoffs recently and are looking to do the same at the 8-Man level.
  • Two-time defending champion Drummond-Philipsburg's demise isn't quite upon us. The Titans throttled Seeley-Swan, 62-20, to move right back into contention in the 8-Man West. Although the Titans will lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with current conference leader Alberton-Superior, they're still on track to host in the first round of the playoffs. While the Titans don't have the firepower of years past, opponents likely want to avoid them in the postseason.

6-Man

  • On paper, Saturday's matchup between Wibaux and Richey-Lambert looked to be one of the best games of the week. Wibaux, though, continues to flex its muscles, as the Longhorns ran roughshod over the Fusion in a 45-0 win. The defending state champions have been dominant in the first three games of the season, but the 6-Man East will continue to test Wibaux.
  • Shields Valley picked up a huge 6-Man South win over Harlowton on Friday, 26-18. With the win, Shields Valley keeps pace with conference leader Roy-Winifred. The Rebels and Otulaws are set to square off in mid-October, likely with the 6-Man South regular-season conference title on the line. After a playoff appearance last season, Shields Valley is looking to get a playoff game at home in 2019.
  • Power-Dutton-Brady improved its record to 4-0 with a 46-36 win over Noxon, holding off the Red Devils in the second half. It was also Noxon's first loss of the season. The Titans could be a contender for the 6-Man North conference title, but that looks like it will go through Big Sandy this year. If Power-Dutton-Brady can win its final three regular-season games, it could get a shot at the Pioneers in a de facto conference title game.