After nine long months, Montana high school football returns this weekend.
Week 1 presents some intriguing matchups across all classifications. Belgrade makes its debut at the Class AA level, Bobcat Stadium hosts two of Class B’s strongest programs and 6-Man features a pair of showdowns between perennial contenders.
The opening weekend of the season will offer a glimpse into what players and teams to watch throughout the 2019 season.
· Belgrade made the jump to Class AA this fall and opens its season with a true test at Butte on Friday night. Butte returns several players from last year’s playoff team, including standout quarterback Tommy Mellott. The Bulldogs could give the Panthers a rude awakening to Class AA as they look to embark on a deep playoff run in 2019.
· Bozeman could be looking for a bit of revenge in Kalispell on Friday night, as the Hawks will face 2018 runner-up Kalispell Flathead. Flathead defeated Bozeman in the semifinals last season on the Hawks’ home field. Bozeman is again expected to be among the best in Class AA and can get its 2019 campaign off on the right foot with a win over Flathead.
· Frenchtown returns three first-team all-state players and is looking to make some noise in the Western A. The Broncs will get a stiff test in Week 1 when they visit perennial contender Dillon on Friday night. Conference games will be critical in the Western A this season. Both teams made appearances in the playoffs last season but are looking for deeper runs in 2019.
· 2018 runner-up Hamilton could be tabbed as the ‘favorite’ in the preseason, although Class A coaches are expecting a wide-open competition. The Broncs will begin their quest for a state title on Friday at Butte Central. The Broncs will likely feature one of the state’s most explosive offenses, but can the defense be just as dominant?
· Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman will host Missoula Loyola and Huntley Project on Friday night, as two of the strongest programs in Class B will once again meet halfway to battle. Missoula Loyola is coming off a runner-up finish in Class B after losing to Fairfield in the title game. Huntley Project was a victim of Loyola’s during the playoffs, as Loyola beat the Red Devils 56-12. Project will be looking for revenge under ‘new’ head coach Jay Santy.
· Townsend and Bigfork met in the regular season and the first round of the playoffs last year, with Bigfork winning both games. The two will meet again on Friday night in Bigfork, which is where the Bulldogs saw their season end in 2018. Both teams are replacing substantial parts, so this is an opportunity to see where they stand early in the season.
· Defending champion Drummond-Philipsburg is dealing with the loss of some substantial weapons on both sides of the ball, but the Titans should again be strong under head coach Mike Cutler. Week 1 offers a test to the Titans, though, as they will travel to face Alberton-Superior on Friday night. Alberton-Superior returns some key pieces from last year’s team that claimed third in the 8-Man West. The Mountain Cats can make a statement to the rest of 8-Man football with a win over the defending champions that they’ll be a force in 2019.
· Fairview returns essentially its entire roster from 2018 when the Warriors made a run to the semifinals of the 8-Man playoffs. Week 1 will be a test for Fairview, though, as it travels to Scobey on Friday night. Scobey, too, should contend in the 8-Man East and is coming off a quarterfinal appearance in last year’s playoffs. Whichever team wins will have an early advantage in the race for a conference title.
· Defending state champion Wibaux lost a few weapons off last year’s team, but the Longhorns return perhaps the most important one – quarterback Tel Lunde. Lunde will lead his team against 6-Man power Bridger on Saturday afternoon at home. Bridger has made two semifinal appearances and a championship game appearance over the past three years. Wibaux is again among the favorites in 6-Man, but both teams will use Saturday’s early season bout as a measuring stick.
· Jordan made a remarkable run to the 6-Man title game last season before ultimately losing to 6-Man East foe Wibaux. Jordan returns some key players this year and could not only challenge the Longhorns for the conference title, but for the state title, as well. However, Jordan starts that journey at Big Sandy on Saturday, and the Pioneers also have their eyes on a state title. Big Sandy returns its core from last year’s team that lost to Wibaux in the quarterfinals. Both Jordan and Big Sandy have aspirations of a deep playoff run, but only one will have the possibility of an undefeated season after Week 1.