It doesn't sound possible, but some Montana high school football teams are already reaching the midpoints of their seasons. We're already into Week 5 for many Class A, Class B, 8-Man and 6-Man teams.
Alec Bofinger, who typically writes weekly columns recapping and previewing Montana's best high school football games, is on the links with the Eastern A golfers, so I'm pinch hitting for this week's edition of "What I'll be watching." It certainly won't have the depth or knowledge of Alec's work, but there are a handful of games this weekend that will have obvious impacts on the conference standings (Click here for updated high school football standings).
The Class AA contenders seem to already be separating in both conferences, but where do Bozeman High and Great Falls High stand in the Eastern AA?
There's a great rivalry game in the Eastern A this weekend, while the Western A will again seek further clarity at the top of its standings. Hamilton is undefeated at 4-0, but five teams -- Columbia Falls, Dillon, Frenchtown, Libby and Polson -- are all 3-1. Only four teams from each conference make the Class A state playoffs this year, too, after the classification trimmed its bracket from 12 teams to eight.
Cancellations, postponements and reschedules continue to wreak havoc on the Class B slate, but there are a couple decent games still on the schedule that should go help clear up the postseason seeding picture.
And there are some heavyweight bouts on the 8- and 6-Man fields. Is Drummond-Philipsburg back to contending for the 8-Man West title? Or is Charlo the real deal this year? Is Richey-Lambert ready to assume the throne in the 6-Man East? Or will it be Froid-Medicine Lake?
Those teams and more are what we'll be watching in Week 5.
- The Class AA hierarchy seems to be quickly settling into place, especially in the Eastern AA where Billings Senior and Billings West have already separated into the top tier. But who are the other contenders in the conference? Bozeman High and Great Falls High have both lost to Senior but rolled in their other games. The Hawks and Bison, both 1-1, meet Friday in Great Falls in a game that could help provide a little more clarity in the Eastern AA standings.
- Missoula Sentinel has looked every bit a state championship contender in the Western AA through two games, cruising to a 59-19 win over Kalispell Flathead and a 35-0 win over Helena Capital. The Spartans, led by a wealth of NCAA Division I talent, make the trip to historic Naranche Stadium to face Butte on Friday. The 0-2 Bulldogs will be the third consecutive winless team Sentinel faces, but they likely also represent Sentinel's toughest challenge to date.
- Yellowstone County's oldest rivalry returns for another edition Friday when Laurel hosts Billings Central. Annually one of the best games on the Eastern A schedule, Laurel broke through for a 33-0 win last year to win their first game in the series since 2002. The Locomotives powered all the way to a runner-up finish in the State A championship game and look like a strong contender again this year after lopsided wins over Havre and Sidney. Billings Central is 2-0, too, earning wins over Sidney and Hardin to start the season. Friday's matchup gives Laurel another chance to further separate itself as championship contender, while Central is looking to climb back up the conference racks after last year's third-place finish.
- Hamilton has seemingly established itself as the Western A favorite after last week's win over Dillon. The Broncs get another test this week when they travel to Frenchtown, one of five 3-1 teams in the conference. Two more of those teams -- Polson and Libby -- are also set to meet this Friday. It's going to be a gauntlet the rest of the season in the Western A, as only four teams will qualify for the Class A state playoffs, giving each game added importance this season.
- While Manhattan is one of the perceived favorites in Class B, the Tigers face plenty of competition in their own conference, the Southern B. Townsend is currently 2-0 in league play going into a big showdown with rival Jefferson. The Panthers (1-1) have played two close games this season, edging Columbus 20-18 on Sept. 11 and losing to Big Timber 16-15 last weekend, and they need a win Friday to contend for a home game in the first round of the Class B playoffs. Townsend, meanwhile, can't afford to slip up this week if it aims to challenge Manhattan for the conference crown.
- Red Lodge has bounced back from its 62-40 loss to Columbus to win its first two games of Eastern B play. The Rams, who made the state semifinals last year, figure to be the conference favorite, but there's still a lot of season left. They face Huntley Project this week. The Red Devils are 1-1 after the cancellation of their non-conference schedule forced a late start to the season. Project lost to Shepherd on Sept. 11 but got in the win column with a 48-22 victory over Colstrip last week.
- One of the games of the week, regardless of classification, is in the 8-Man West, where Drummond-Philipsburg will meet Charlo. These two have developed a respectful rivalry over the years, and both bring unblemished records into this year's meeting. Charlo is 4-0 and hasn't allowed more than 12 points in any of its games this season, shutting out Plains and Troy the past two weeks. Drummond-Philipsburg has a similar resume: 3-0 with their wins coming by 50, 74 and 52 points.
- After steamrolling their way to the state championship last year, this year's Fairview squad is off to another 3-0 start. The Warriors graduated a ton of talent off last year's team, but they have enough skill that they're still one of the top contenders in the 8-Man East. They'll face another playoff challenger on Friday when they host Scobey. The Spartans lost a hard-fought game to Westby-Grenora in Week 1 but have since won three straight.
- There are four 6-Man games this weekend pitting undefeated opponents against each other, but the big one is the 6-Man East, which is undergoing a changing of the guard. Jordan (0-3), last year's state champion, and Wibaux (1-2), the 2018 state champion, look like they're going through rebuilding years, and Westby-Grenora, the 2017 state champion, is now playing 8-Man football. Richey-Lambert and Froid-Medicine Lake are the new top dogs in the league, and they'll put their 3-0 conference records on the line on Friday. Both teams have been impressive to start 2020, racking up lopsided wins, but Friday's result will go the furthest in determining the conference champion.
- The other undefeated matchups this weekend are Broadview-Lavina at Shields Valley in the South, Sunburst at Power-Dutton-Brady in the North and White Sulphur Springs at Noxon in the West. Only one of those -- Broadview-Lavina and Shields Valley -- right now will definitely play a role in determining the conference champion. Broadview-Lavina has outscored opponents 218-0 through three games, but the Pirates have yet to play a team of Shields Valley's caliber. The Rebels have had to grind out a couple wins this year, but they're still 4-0 and the reigning conference champions.