Week 4 of the Montana high school football season gets under way early with a pair of games on Thursday night. That's just a primer of what's to come this weekend.
Teams ranked in the initial MontanaSports.com power rankings will face stiff competition this week, as there are a trio of games pitting top-five teams against each other and several high-profile meetings across the state.
The Western AA will lose a top-five unbeaten team on Friday night, while the recent king of the Western A will try to keep its spot atop the conference. Two of MontanaSports.com's top four teams in Class B will meet in Missoula on Friday night for a non-conference bout.
On the 8-Man fields, playoff pictures are already beginning to take shape. Can two-time defending state champion Drummond-Philipsburg avoid a second loss that would put the Titans' playoff hopes in serious jeopardy?
The game of the week, though, may be on the 6-Man fields, where defending champion Wibaux will have its hands full with a 2018 semifinalist that has lit up the scoreboard early in 2019. That and more highlight what I'll be watching over the weekend.
- Helena Capital and Missoula Sentinel have each gotten off to 3-0 starts in 2019. The Bruins have done it with an explosive offense that is averaging 38 points per game. The Spartans have started fast with suffocating defense. Sentinel has given up just 18 points over its first three games. Something will have to give between what looks to be two of the Western AA's top teams in an important conference game.
- Missoula Hellgate has been a revelation over the past year. It's been nearly 365 days since the Knights ended their 57-game losing streak, and the program appears to have turned a corner. Hellgate is 2-0 this season and looks to be a real contender in the Western AA. The Knights will look to start the season 3-0 on Friday at home against Kalispell Flathead, which has started 0-3 after 2018's runner-up finish.
- Hamilton was just one vote from being the unanimous No. 1 in Class A, but the Broncs could change that with a win in Dillon on Friday night. Dillon's only loss was a double-overtime thriller to Frenchtown in Week 1. Frenchtown and Dillon should be two of the strongest challengers to Hamilton's recent supremacy over the Western A, so this game should give good indication where those two teams are relative to Hamilton in 2019.
- Neither Sidney nor Lewistown is ranked in the top five, but Friday night's game in Lewistown between the two will likely be critical for playoff positioning down the road. After conference leaders Billings Central and Miles City, there's a group of teams fighting for the third and fourth spots, which would lead to home games in the first round of the playoffs. Friday night's winner will be one step closer to a home playoff game in November.
- Missoula will be the sight of a heavyweight bout between No. 3 Missoula Loyola and visiting No. 4 Manhattan on Friday. Missoula Loyola's only loss was at defending champion Fairfield in a rematch of the 2018 State B title game. Manhattan has been dominant in its two games this season, outscoring opponents 101-14. The Tigers are coming off a quarterfinal appearance in 2018 and should contend for the Southern B title this year. They can put themselves onto the list of state title contenders with a win over the Rams.
- The Western B looks to have good depth this season. Two of those teams -- Bigfork and Florence -- will meet in Florence on Friday night. This game will likely be important late in the season as teams jockey for playoff seeding. It will be interesting to see how the Bigfork offense looks. The Vikings lost tons of production from last year's team and have managed just 25 points in their first two games.
- The 8-Man South is well into conference play as Week 4 is set to begin. West Yellowstone and Joliet have both begun conference play 2-0. The Wolverines will travel to Joliet on Friday night to fight for 8-Man South supremacy. West Yellowstone is in its first season of 8-Man football and is coming off four consecutive 6-Man playoff appearances. A win Friday night would signify a new team to contend with out of the South.
- Drummond-Philipsburg saw its 26-game winning streak snapped earlier this year, and the two-time defending 8-Man state champion is in a tough spot early in the season. The Titans are hosting 3-0 Seeley-Swan, which appears to be a real contender for the 8-Man West conference crown. Another loss in conference play for Drummond-Philipsburg would put the Titans in jeopardy of not only having to travel in the first round of the playoffs, but they could miss the playoffs altogether.
- The 8-Man North 'A' sub-conference only has two teams still unbeaten in conference play. Those two teams are Choteau and Great Falls Central, and they'll meet in Great Falls on Friday night. Great Falls Central came in at No. 5 in the initial MontanaSports.com power rankings after a win at Belt vaulted the Mustangs to 3-0. There's plenty of season left, but Friday night's winner will have the inside track to the 'A' sub-conference's top spot.
- The game of the week may be out in Wibaux on Saturday afternoon. Top-ranked, defending champion Wibaux is hosting conference foe Richey-Lambert, which came in tied for third in the initial rankings. Richey-Lambert lost in last year's semifinal and likely still has a sour taste from last year's 56-16 loss to Wibaux. If the Fusion are going to contend for the 6-Man East conference title and a state title, they'll need to beat the Longhorns, who look just as good early in 2019.
- Another force out East, Jordan, will hit the road to face Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap on Saturday night. The Titans are in their first season of 6-Man football and were a playoff team in 8-Man in 2018. Saturday night will be a good measuring stick for where Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap stands in its first year, as Jordan is among the state's best. The Mustangs can add a nice win to their non-conference resume.
- Shields Valley and Harlowton should be among the teams contending for the 6-Man South conference title this season, and the two teams meet up in Shields Valley on Friday night. The Rebels suffered their first loss last weekend in a low-scoring affair at Hot Springs. Harlowton has two losses -- Hot Springs and Roy-Winifred -- but is outscoring opponents this season. This game will likely prove to be crucial in playoff positioning late in the season.