Montana's high school football regular season is coming to a close. Week 9 represents the final week of the regular season, as playoff football gets kicked off next weekend.
There are heavyweight battles lining the Week 9 schedule. The Eastern AA has two teams unbeaten in conference play, but Friday night will determine the conference's No. 1 seed. A crosstown battle in Helena could decide which of the two teams will host in the opening round of the playoffs.
Libby's difficult stretch comes to a close this weekend at home, as the Loggers are looking to avoid entering the playoffs with three consecutive losses. Fairfield and Manhattan have been two of the best teams in Class B this season and will put their unbeaten records on the line in search of conference titles.
West Yellowstone has been a mainstay at the 6-Man level in recent years, but the Wolverines will have a shot at the 8-Man South title on Friday night. The 6-Man East, which has been one of the most competitive and talented conferences in the state, will also put its conference crown on the line, as will the 6-Man South.
It's the final weekend of the regular season, and here's what I'll have my eye on as the season comes to a close.
- The Eastern AA regular-season title will be on the line in Bozeman Friday night when the fourth-ranked Hawks host top-ranked defending champion Billings West. Both teams are unbeaten in conference play and have just one loss combined this season. Friday night's winner gets the top seed out of the East entering the playoffs, and matchups in the postseason are of even greater importance. Both teams have plenty to play for.
- Helena High and Helena Capital meet in a crosstown rivalry on Friday night. Both teams are in the top four of the Western AA currently, but that could change. Helena Capital will lock up a home game in the first round with a win, while Helena High needs to win to ensure itself of a top-four seed. If the Bengals lose, they could be passed in the standings by Kalispell Glacier, although Glacier is visiting No. 3 Missoula Sentinel this weekend.
- Libby was the final unbeaten team in the Western A just a few weeks ago, but after back-to-back losses at Dillon and Hamilton the Loggers find themselves fourth in the conference standings. Friday night's battle at home against Frenchtown is the the third consecutive game against the conference's toughest teams, setting the Loggers up well heading into the postseason. If Libby manages to knock off the Broncs, whose only loss is to No. 1 Hamilton, the Loggers will be a team to keep an eye on throughout the playoffs. Libby will play on the opening weekend of the playoffs, but the Loggers hvae the potential to be playing in late November, too.
- Butte Central and Polson are fighting for the Western A's sixth and final playoff spot. The two are deadlocked in the standings at 4-4 in conference play, but Butte Central beat Polson head-to-head last Friday. The Maroons can clinch a playoff berth with a win at Columbia Falls or a Polson loss to top-ranked Hamilton.
- Top-ranked defending champion Fairfield can push its winning streak to 20 games with a victory Friday night, but Glasgow may have other plans. The Scotties have a shot at the Northern B title but will need to beat Fairfield by at least 11 points in order to clinch. The Eagles haven't really been tested this season, so it will be interesting to see if Glasgow can push Fairfield to the brink.
- Manhattan will put its perfect record on the line Friday night at Jefferson, as the Tigers are searching for their first conference title since 2016. Manhattan has blown out nearly ever opponent it has played, except for a 12-point victory over Missoula Loyola back in September. Manhattan can lock up home-field advantage for the first two rounds with a win, but Jefferson can disassemble the conference's playoff picture with an upset victory at home.
- West Yellowstone spent several years in the 6-Man West, where the Wolverines made the playoffs four consecutive years before moving up to the 8-Man South this fall. Not much has changed, as West Yellowstone will be in the 8-Man playoffs next weekend. The Wolverines can clinch the 8-Man South regular-season title on Friday night at Lone Peak and finish the regular season undefeated. West Yellowstone isn't a team to be overlooked in the playoffs.
- The 8-Man West has determined its regular-season conference champion, as unbeaten Alberton-Superior has romped through that portion of its schedule. The No. 2 seed, though, is still to be determined. Thompson Falls and St. Ignatius each have just one loss this season, but the two don't meet in the regular season. Thompson Falls will host Seeley-Swan Friday night, while St. Ignatius will travel to Darby. Should both teams win, a tiebreaker will ultimately decide which team will host in the first round and which will hit the road.
- No. 4 Westby-Grenora's win over Wibaux last weekend set the Thunder up for a shot at the 6-Man East regular-season title and home-field advantage throughout the entirety of the playoffs. Westby-Grenora will have to defeat No. 2 Jordan at home on Friday night in order to do so. Jordan has been among the hottest teams in the state. The Mustangs haven't lost since a season-opening defeat to top-ranked Big Sandy. Jordan is looking to improve upon last year's runner-up finish, and a conference championship is the first step towards that goal. Westby-Grenora can remind the rest of 6-Man football that it's a powerhouse, too.
- Bridger will be the sight of the 6-Man South regular-season title game, as the Scouts host Shields Valley on Saturday night. Shields Valley was impressive in running through the conference schedule without a loss, and the only loss the Rebels suffered all season was a 12-point defeat at No. 3 Hot Springs. Bridger has been the class of the conference in recent years, but this could represent the changing of the guard. Both teams are young, so having home-field advantage throughout the first two rounds becomes increasingly important.