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What I'll be watching: Looking toward the playoffs

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Posted at 4:48 PM, Sep 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-26 23:44:28-04

Week 5 of Montana’s high school football season brings the feel of postseason football to the air.

The Western AA has looked strong at the top to this point in the season. Two of those teams vying for the regular-season conference title will meet in Missoula on Thursday, while the other two meet in Helena on Friday night.

Hamilton is coming off its first loss of the season, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Broncs. Hamilton will welcome in Frenchtown, the No. 2-ranked Class A team in the MontanaSports.com power rankings.

Battles for conference supremacy rule the Class B, 8-Man and 6-Man fields this weekend. The Eastern B will have an early leader after Friday night’s game in Worden, while the 8-Man North will have just one unbeaten team remaining after Friday night. Richey-Lambert lost its first conference game of the year last weekend, and the Fusion will have their hands full again this weekend.

Class AA

  • Missoula Hellgate is off to a 3-0 start, but the Knights will have their toughest test of the season on Friday night in Helena against Helena High. Helena High claimed the No. 5 spot in the MontanaSports.com power rankings, while Missoula Hellgate received votes. Both teams have hopes of a Western AA regular-season title. Another conference loss for Helena would ding those hopes substantially.
  • No. 2 Butte travels to No. 3 Missoula Sentinel on Thursday night in a matchup of the two top-ranked teams in the Western AA. The conference looks like it's going to be a battle night in and night out, so each win will be crucial. Butte's offense has been among the best in Class AA, while Missoula Sentinel's defense has been elite. Both teams stand at 4-0, with Thursday's winner having an inside track to the No. 1 seed out of the Western AA.

Class A

  • Hamilton fell in the final minute at Dillon last weekend for its first loss of the season. The Broncs, who fell to No. 5 in the rankings, have another stiff test this weekend, as they host No. 2 Frenchtown. Frenchtown defeated Dillon in the season's opening week in double overtime. Hamilton has reigned supreme over the Western A in recent seasons, but Frenchtown could nearly guarantee a new conference champion with a victory.
  • Libby has rolled through the early portion of its schedule on its way to a 4-0 record. The Loggers will look to continue their ascent up the Western A with a win at Polson on Friday night. Polson is 3-1 this season, but the Pirates' only loss came to Whitefish, which Libby defeated handily. If things break right on Friday night, Libby could wake up on Saturday morning as the lone unbeaten team remaining in the Western A.

Class B

  • The top of the Eastern B is up for grabs in Worden on Friday night when Red Lodge takes on Huntley Project. Red Lodge has decimated its opponents so far, but for the Rams to take the next step as a program they'll need to take down the Red Devils. Friday night's winner will be in the driver's seat for the regular-season conference title and a home playoff game.
  • Manhattan has looked impressive early on, but there are two other Southern B teams without a conference loss. Those two will meet on Friday night, as Townsend visits Jefferson. Jefferson and Townsend have each suffered a loss at the hands of a Western B opponent. The Panthers and Bulldogs will likely compete with Manhattan for the conference crown and a home playoff game, so Friday night's game is loaded with postseason implications.

8-Man

  • Only two teams in the 8-Man North are still unbeaten, but that number will drop to one after this weekend. No. 5 Great Falls Central will visit No. 3 Fort Benton on Friday night. While Great Falls Central and Fort Benton are in separate sub-conferences of the North, they've handily defeated the contenders within their respective divisions. It's possible the two teams could meet again in the sub-conference playoffs, but this is an opportunity for both teams to make a statement on a big stage.
  • Alberton-Superior has the inside track to the 8-Man West regular-season title, but the battle for the conference's No. 2 seed is hotly contested. Four teams have just one loss in conference play to date, and two of those teams will do battle on Friday night as Drummond-Philipsburg visits Thompson Falls. Thompson Falls is in its first year of 8-Man football and is looking to prove it can contend with the state's best, while Drummond-Philipsburg can show it still belongs in the conversation with the state's elite teams.

6-Man

  • Richey-Lambert was blown out last weekend by defending champion and top-ranked Wibaux, and the schedule doesn't get any easier for the Fusion this week. Richey-Lambert will travel to Jordan Friday night to take on the No. 3 Mustangs, 2018's runner-up. Jordan still has aspirations of a regular-season conference title, so taking out the Fusion is a must. This game will likely play a role in the seeding for the East in the playoffs, meaning the loser could potentially travel in the opening round.
  • Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap suffered its first loss of the season last weekend to Jordan, but the Titans will have a shot at another 6-Man East team on Saturday: Westby-Grenora. The Thunder were a playoff team out of the East in 2018 and look primed for another playoff appearance in 2019. The Titans are in their first year of 6-Man after dropping down from 8-Man, and a win over a 2018 playoff team would show the Titans are a contender out of the North.