With the calendar flipping to October, the Montana high school football regular season is in its final month.
Week 6 will present several teams with a sense urgency. Playoff positioning and potential conference championships are on the line on a busy weekend.
Butte has looked like the class of the Western AA, but the Bulldogs will get yet another challenge on Friday night. Libby and Billings Central are looking to continue their unbeaten seasons but will likely face two of their toughest games to date.
Conference leaders Lincoln and Manhattan can solidify their leads in the Western B and Southern B, respectively. Battles between top teams in the 8-Man East, 8-Man South, 6-Man East and 6-Man West will provide clarity into those conference title races, as well. Here's what I'll have my eye on in another fantastic slate of high school football.
- No. 2 Butte will continue a tough stretch in its schedule with a home game against Helena Capital, which received votes in the latest MontanaSports.com power rankings. Butte is coming off a thrilling win over Missoula Sentinel on a last-second field goal. Capital fell to Sentinel earlier in the year, but the Bruins will have a chance to shake up the Western AA with a win over the Bulldogs on Friday night.
- Missoula Hellgate and Kalispell Glacier are two of the teams in the Western AA vying for a home game in the opening round of the playoffs. Both sit on the outside looking in for now, but that could change with a few wins. Hellgate suffered its first loss of the season last week, while Glacier has lost to both Butte and Helena Capital already. Glacier could leapfrog Hellgate in the Western AA standings with a victory at home on Friday.
- Top-ranked and defending state champion Billings Central will face its first true test of the season as the Rams host rival Laurel on Friday night. Billings Central has been absolutely dominant in its 4-0 start, outscoring opponents 119-7. The Rams are replacing nearly every starter on both sides of the ball, but it looks more like a reload than a rebuild. With a win, Billings Central can essentially lock up a top-two seed in the State A playoffs, while Laurel will still have work to do to earn a postseason berth.
- Libby is in control of its own destiny in the Western A. The Loggers are 5-0 and are the lone unbeaten remaining in the conference. They’ll host 2-3 Butte Central on Friday with a chance to get to 6-0. Libby’s toughest three opponents loom at the end of the schedule, but the Loggers could lock up a playoff berth with a win this weekend.
- There is still plenty to be decided in the Western B , but the current top two teams in the conference will meet on Friday night when No. 2 Eureka travels to Florence. Eureka is the only team in the Western B that is still unbeaten this season and hasn’t had a game decided by less than 35 points. The Lions can prove themselves as a team to beat in the conference with another dominant performance over Florence.
- No. 3 Manhattan has looked like the strongest team out of the Southern B to this point in the season, but the Tigers will have a test on Friday when they host Columbus. Columbus has a 2-2 record, but those two losses have come by a combined eight points. A win for Manhattan would allow the Tigers to clinch a playoff berth next weekend. Columbus is the No. 4 team in the conference and will be fighting for its playoff life down the stretch.
- The top two teams in the 8-Man East ‘B’ sub-conference will meet in Scobey on Saturday afternoon, as Ekalaka will travel north to face the Spartans. Both teams enter the game unbeaten in conference play, though both have suffered a loss. Scobey was whacked in its season opener by Fairview, while Ekalaka was blown out at Park City last weekend. A date with Fairview is likely the prize for the winner of this game, as well as a potential home game in the opening round of the playoffs.
- The No. 2 spot in the 8-Man South is on the line in Park City on Friday night when the Panthers host Twin Bridges. Twin Bridges is still unbeaten in conference play after a 32-28 win over Joliet. Park City’s only loss is to conference leader West Yellowstone. The winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat to host a playoff game in the opening round.
- Once again, the 6-Man East will have a marquee matchup. Westby-Grenora will visit Richey-Lambert on Friday night in a battle of 2018 playoff teams. Richey-Lambert is off to an 0-2 start in conference play with losses to Wibaux and Jordan. If the Fusion fall to the Thunder, they’ll be in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs. Westby-Grenora, however, can move within one win of locking up a playoff spot.
- No. 3 Hot Springs is the only team in the 6-Man West yet to lose this season, but the Savage Heat will face their toughest conference test of the season on Friday night when they host Noxon. Noxon is off to a 3-1 start with its only loss coming to No. 5 Power-Dutton-Brady. A win would put Hot Springs in prime position for the conference title, while Noxon is looking to get back to the playoffs after last year’s first round exit.
Updated standings can be found here.