Once again, Eureka begins the season with a target on its back.
In 2016, Eureka needed a Hail Mary as time expired to win the Class B state championship. Last year, the Lions dominated Shelby, 47-7, to claim their second consecutive state title.
Familiar faces from those teams are gone, most notably University of Montana freshman Garrett Graves, but head coach Trevor Utter is counting on a strong junior class to keep Eureka atop Class B.
After an all-state season as a wide receiver and defensive back, Hank Dunn will transition to quarterback to replace Graves. His two junior classmates will help shoulder the load offensively.
“We’re pretty excited because our two all-state running backs were sophomores last year. Chet McCully was an all-state runner and Jake Kindel was an all-state fullback/linebacker,” Utter said.
Eureka has an opportunity for its third consecutive state title, but Utter makes sure to keep his players grounded.
“I think they’re motivated and they’re still hungry,” Utter said. “We talk a lot about the fact that, we did it last year, too. That state championship from last year, that belongs to last year’s team. You guys haven’t accomplished anything.”
“In their mind, they expect to go out and win a third championship in a row,” continued Utter. “You see Billings Senior, Fairfield — programs that are winning programs. I hope we’re establishing that in Eureka. Hopefully we can live up to that expectation. There’s a lot of work to do to get there.”
If Eureka is to cement its legacy with a third consecutive state championship, they’ll have to navigate through teams like Fairfield and Bigfork.
Fairfield features one of the state’s premier dual-threat quarterbacks in Ryder Meyer. Meyer has already committed to play football for the University of Montana. Fairfield also returns all-state wide receiver and defensive back Dawson Allen.
“Make Ryder Meyer throw the ball, don’t let him get running like he can because he’s a fantastic runner,” Utter said of Meyer’s impact. “Sometimes you can’t take those super athletes away, you just have to take one aspect of their game away that you can with your strengths.”
Bigfork lost to eventual runner-up, Shelby, in the first round of the playoffs last year. The Vikings return most of their roster and are already on the minds of Utter and Meyer.
“Bigfork is going to be tough,” Utter said. “They had a good team last year and they didn’t lose much. They were very talented and will be very talented again.”
“I think the team that is going to be a bugger for anybody to deal with is Bigfork,” Fairfield head coach Les Meyer said. “They always have size. They’re a state championship basketball team, so they have some athletes. … Their sheer size up front and they have skill guys. I would say they’re going to be a tiger.”
Manhattan, which lost to Eureka in the quarterfinals last year, is also expected to have a strong season. Bigfork and Manhattan will open the season with a showcase at Washington Grizzly Stadium on Aug. 24. Eureka begins its quest for a third consecutive state title in Cut Bank on the same night.