Several teams locked up playoff berths in Week 8 of the Montana high school football season.
While it was the final week of the regular season for 6-Man teams, the remaining classifications saw multiple playoff berths clinched across the penultimate weekend.
Missoula Sentinel laid waste to the rest of the Western AA this season and that continued in Week 8. The Spartans have just one more game to check off before they can claim an unbeaten regular season. While the Bison of Great Falls High didn’t clinch a playoff berth, they certainly took a step in the right direction with a victory at home.
The Eastern A crowned a champion this past weekend. While the result may not have been a shocker, the point differential certainly was. Frenchtown looks to have completed an uphill climb to lock up a playoff spot by winning a pivotal game on the road in Week 8, but the final week of the season could still throw things into a whirl.
You just can’t predict the Northern B. Fairfield is again in the hunt for a conference title after knocking off an unbeaten in Week 8. Faces have changed around the Eagles’ program, but winning remains the same. Manhattan had its closest game in nearly two months, but the Tigers will enter the playoffs with a conference title under their belt.
The 8-Man North began its sub-division playoffs in Week 8. A pair of teams locked up playoff berths in different ways, while the fifth and final spot is yet to be determined. There’s also been word out of the 8-Man West on a game canceled earlier in the year that will play a hand in determining the conference champion.
It was an extremely light 6-Man slate highlighted by Harlowton-Ryegate winning a conference title and Bridger securing itself another long road trip in the opening round of the playoffs.
That and more highlight what caught my eye during a busy Week 8 between the lines.
- The Western AA crown belongs to Missoula Sentinel. The Spartans posted an authoritative win over Helena High in Week 8, 48-0, once again flashing their explosive offense and suffocating defense. Sentinel has been atop the Treasure State Media Poll, which is conducted by Anthony Nachreiner out of Kalispell, for almost the entirety of the season. Sentinel can polish off its unbeaten regular season in Week 9, playing at Kalispell Glacier, as the Spartans will head into the Class AA playoffs with home-field advantage through at least the semifinal round.
- Great Falls High came through when it needed to. The Bison beat Billings Skyview to take control of the fourth playoff spot out of the Eastern AA, though the Bison will need to defeat their crosstown rival, Great Falls CMR, in Week 9 to lock up the spot. Despite a slow start to 2020, Great Falls has to like its chances of playing on Halloween weekend.
- Billlings Central came to play in Week 8. The Rams were completely dominant on both sides of the ball in their 42-0 win over defending Class A state champion Miles City, avenging a blowout loss to the Cowboys in 2019. With the win, the Rams locked up the Eastern A title and home-field advantage through at least the semifinal round. Central's defense was perhaps the most impressive during the win, as Miles City's offense had been one of the best in the state over the past two seasons, but had no answers for what the Rams tossed its way. There's a ton of different weapons on the Central offense as the Rams look poised for another deep playoff run after last season's premature exit.
- Frenchtown kind of dug itself a hole early in the year with a season-opening loss to Dillon, as the Broncs immediately fell one game behind the pace in the Western A. The Broncs have rallied, though, and, despite a 15-point loss to Hamilton at the end of September, are on the edge of clinching a playoff berth. While a meeting with Libby in the final week of the season could juggle the standings, Frenchtown knows it's simple -- win and the Broncs are in as the conference's No. 3 seed.
- No Les Meyer, no problem in Fairfield? OK, not necessarily, but the Eagles are still in the championship hunt in the Northern B in their first season under Greg Misner following a 14-6 win over Malta. The Mustangs entered Week 8 unbeaten and in the driver's seat of the conference but stumbled against the Eagles, who were coming off their first loss of the year. Now it's Fairfield that's in control of its own destiny in the conference, but the Eagles will have another stiff test (Glasgow) in the regular-season finale.
- Manhattan's 29-14 win over Townsend in Week 8 was the Tigers' closest game since its 35-29 overtime win over Florence back on Sept. 4, but it was still good enough to clinch the Southern B title for the second consecutive year. Last year ended with a runner-up finish. What will 2020 have in store for the top-ranked Class B team in the state? With its playoff seeding secured, Manhattan will turn its attention to the postseason where it will face the winner of Friday's Baker/Colstrip game in the opening round.
- Some playoff football has already happened around the state, as Belt and Simms locked up playoff spots out of the 8-Man North with wins in the sub-division playoffs in Week 8. Belt skirted by Chinook, 30-28, to lock up one playoff spot, while Simms shut out Cascade, 36-0, to lock up another. Fort Benton and Shelby are the conference's top two teams and have yet to decide the conference champion, but 80 percent of the conference's playoff berths are spoken for with the fifth and final spot to be determined.
- There's some news out of the 8-Man West regarding the cancellation of the Drummond-Philipsburg/Plains game from Aug. 28. The Titans were credited with a win using a new conference policy to determine a winner of the game that originally went down as a 'no contest' after it was canceled to a positive COVID-19 case at Drummond-Philipsburg. The policy used points versus the highest common opponent. That means that if the Titans win against Victor in Week 9, they are the 8-Man West champions. The big factor between Drummond-Philipsburg and fellow unbeaten Thompson Falls now comes down to common opponents, and Drummond-Philipsburg beat St. Ignatius 58-8 while Thompson Falls defeated the Bulldogs 38-32.
- Harlowton-Ryegate locked up the 6-Man Central title with a 54-14 win over Geraldine-Highwood early in Week 8. That gives the Engineers home-field advantage for the opening round of the playoffs, which will be played Friday night against Noxon. Harlowton-Ryegate hasn't had a playoff victory since 2003, despite several postseason berths. Could this be the year the Engineers break through?
- Bridger has made some long postseason trips over the past couple years. In 2019, Bridger opened up with a win at home before having to travel to Jordan, where the Scouts fell to the eventual champions. In 2018, Bridger made the trek east to face Richey-Lambert, where the Fusion advanced. Another long trip awaits after Bridger's 56-0 win over Custer-Hysham locked up the 6-Man South's No. 2 seed, but this time the Scouts head west to face Hot Springs. Not many teams in the state are as well-traveled in recent years as Bridger.