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What I’ll be watching: Conference title races heating up in Week 5

Posted at 7:11 PM, Sep 20, 2018
Bozeman’s Hudson Willett (#12) celebrates after his interception against Missoula Hellgate. (Nick Petraccione/MTN Sports)

Week 5 of the high school football season brings us to the midway point of the season in Class AA. There’s only one remaining unbeaten team, but it hits the road for a test Thursday night.

In all other classifications, Week 5 represents the start of the home stretch of the season. Conference title races are heating up as teams jostle for playoff positioning.

Class AA

  • Bozeman took the top spot in the MontanaSports.com polls earlier this week. The No. 1 Hawks hit the road to take on No. 5 Billings Senior Thursday night at Daylis Stadium in Billings. Bozeman is the lone undefeated team remaining in Class AA, while Billings Senior has suffered just one loss. If Billings Senior is to knock off the Hawks, it will have to slow down Bozeman running back Joe Olson, who has his sights set on the Class AA single-season rushing record.
  • Helena High took its first loss of the season last weekend to Kalispell Glacier in blowout fashion but will look to rebound Friday night when the Bengals host crosstown rival Helena Capital. Capital sits at 2-2 and in a tie for seventh in Class AA. The Bruins’ playoff hopes don’t rest solely on this game, but a loss would decrease their chances at a spot dramatically.
  • Kalispell Glacier picked up its first win of the season last weekend by knocking off previously unbeaten Helena High. The Wolfpack have another stiff test ahead Friday night when they take on crosstown rival Kalispell Flathead. Glacier has played three of Class AA’s toughest teams, so its 1-3 record is not indicative of how talented this team is. Glacier can throw its name back in the ring of playoff contenders with a victory at the Braves.

Class A

  • Belgrade and Laurel have been two of the Eastern A’s most impressive teams to this point. Belgrade is 4-0 and Laurel’s one-point loss to Miles City is all that separates the Locomotives from being undefeated. While the Eastern A brings six teams to the Class A playoffs, the top two seeds will receive a bye. The winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat for a home playoff game and first-round bye.
  • Both Dillon and Butte Central could be battling for their playoff lives, even in Week 5. This marks the conference opener for both 2-1 teams. The Southwestern A currently has two undefeated teams, Frenchtown and Hamilton, leaving little room for error for the remainder of the conference to find a playoff spot.

Class B

  • Eureka’s 23-game win streak was snapped when the Lions lost at home to Bigfork last Friday. Eureka gets a chance to prove it is still among the top teams in Class B when the Lions take on Missoula Loyola Friday night in Missoula. Loyola’s only loss of the season was to No. 2 Fairfield. As the Nos. 2 and 3 teams in the Western B behind Bigfork, this game is potentially the difference between playing at home and hitting the road the first weekend of the Class B playoffs.
  • Huntley Project has long been a power in Class B. This season, the Eastern B looks to have as much top-end talent as ever, boasting Roundup and Colstrip, too. Huntley Project plays host to Colstrip Friday night. The Colts are looking to avoid starting conference play 0-2, while Project has a conference championship on its minds. A loss for Colstrip would all but eliminate it from conference-title contention.
  • Big Timber is the lone unbeaten team remaining in the Southern B after Townsend fell last week to Manhattan. Big Timber, No. 5 in the MontanaSports.com polls, must take down Townsend on the road Friday night to keep that status. With five competitive teams fighting for four playoff spots in the conference, every game is crucial. Townsend is tying to avoid back-to-back losses that could potentially force it on the road in the playoffs, while Big Timber is looking for its first conference title under head coach JV Moody.

8-Man

  • The 8-Man South has three undefeated teams currently, but two of those meet up Friday night as Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap travels to Park City to take on the Panthers. This is a critical meeting for both teams looking for a conference title and home playoff game. Park City’s defense has been dominant this year, pitching two shutouts and giving up only 22 points so far. Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap’s potent offense will need to carry the Titans against a ferocious defense.
  • The third undefeated team in the 8-Man South is Joliet. The J-Hawks have been thoroughly dominant in their first four games of the season, outscoring opponents 218-42. Joliet’s four opponents are a combined 3-13, so Joliet’s dominance is hard to judge. Friday night Joliet hosts Ennis, which is 2-1 in conference play to date. Ennis brings in a tough, physical, well-coached football team with playoff experience that will give Joliet its first real test of the season.
  • Fairview is off to an undefeated start at 4-0 and No. 2 in the MontanaSports.com polls. On Friday night the Warriors will host conference rival Scobey. Scobey was the No. 4 seed out of the 8-Man East last season and is looking like a strong bet to find itself in the playoffs again. The Spartans can take a big step toward that goal with a road victory at Fairview, but the Warriors have their sights set on not only a conference title, but an 8-Man state title, too.

6-Man

  • No. 3 Richey-Lambert put the rest of 6-Man on notice last weekend when it upended defending state champion Westby-Grenora on the road. The Fusion’s high-powered offense has yet another test this weekend when they hit the road to take on No. 2 Geraldine-Highwood Saturday afternoon. While this game doesn’t affect playoff positioning, it’s a rare non-conference matchup between two of the state’s best teams midway through the season. This could also be a preview of a playoff game later this year.
  • White Sulphur Springs is off to another great start. The Hornets are 4-0 and on top of the 6-Man West, one of the most competitive conferences in the state. West Yellowstone has been tough the past couple of seasons in the conference and will look to knock the Hornets off their unbeaten pedestal. While the conference-title race is still wide open, White Sulphur Springs can put its destiny in its own hands with a victory Saturday afternoon.
  • Grass Range-Winnett sits atop the 6-Man South at 5-0. The Rangers also hold a victory over Bridger, which has won the past two conference titles and was the 6-Man runner-up last season. Saturday, Grass Range-Winnett hosts Shields Valley. The Rebels made the playoffs last year as the No. 3 seed and look to have another strong team led by junior Sage McMinn. The Rangers can take another step toward a conference title with a win. For Shields Valley, this is an opportunity to assert itself as a force in the 6-Man South.