The 8-Man football playoffs get under way Saturday afternoon with a full slate of eight first-round games – Scobey at Joliet, Alberton-Superior at Great Falls Central, Chinook at Fairview, Centerville at Arlee, Darby at Shelby, Circle at Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap, Choteau at Drummond-Philipsburg and Ennis at Culbertson.
Below is a short overview of the 8-Man playoffs, highlighting some of the players to watch and the MontanaSports.com favorite to win the state championship
Scobey (6-3) at Joliet (8-0), 1 p.m. Saturday
Alberton-Superior (6-3) at Great Falls Central (7-1), 1 p.m. Saturday
Chinook (5-4) at Fairview (9-0), 1 p.m. Saturday
Centerville (7-1) at Arlee (7-2), 1 p.m. Saturday
Darby (5-4) at Shelby (7-0), 1 p.m. Saturday
Circle (7-2) at Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap (7-1), 1 p.m. Saturday
Choteau (6-2) at Drummond-Philipsburg (9-0), 1 p.m. Saturday
Ennis (5-3) at Culbertson (8-1), 1 p.m. Saturday
Defending champion: Drummond-Philipsburg
The Titans are absolutely loaded. Coming off an undefeated state championship in 2017, Drummond-Philipsburg is looking to make back-to-back appearances in the title game for the first time since the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Last year was the first state championship of the co-op, but Drummond claimed 8-Man state titles in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009. The Titans have been on cruise control this season and have yet to have a game decided by single digits. Drummond-Philipsburg is averaging just less than 57 points per game and has allowed a total of only 68 points this season, shutting out four different opponents. Drummond-Philipsburg has won 21 consecutive games and has not lost since a 10-point defeat at Cascade in the first round of the 2016 playoffs.
Best first-round game: Circle at Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap
This is a rematch of a quarterfinal game from last season, which Circle won at Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap. Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap comes in off back-to-back wins following its only loss of the season, a 12-point defeat at Joliet. The Titans’ offense is averaging more than 51 points per game and have not been held below 40 points in any game this year.
Circle is in familiar territory as a No. 3 seed on the road. En route to reaching the semifinals last year, Circle won on the road at Centerville and at Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap. Circle’s two losses this season have come to Fairview and Culbertson, each by just two scores. Circle’s defense is allowing just less than 20 points per game this season.
MontanaSports.com favorite: Drummond-Philipsburg
Following last season’s state title, the Titans lost three seniors, including Colton Grange, who is playing at Montana Tech. Taking Grange’s spot at quarterback is sophomore Kade Cutler, who has made tremendous strides throughout the season. A big component of Drummond-Philipsburg’s passing game is Jaxon Lee, an electrifying runner in the open field who has the ability to score at any time. Drummond-Philipsburg has been dominant on the ground this season, too, on the back of Colby Manley. Manley’s combination of size and speed, mixed with the Titans’ physical offensive line, have given defenses trouble throughout the past two seasons. Manley’s ability on the ground leaves Lee with one-on-one opportunities on the outside.
Names to know: Numerous Drummond-Philipsburg players have already been mentioned – Lee, Manley and Cutler – but over the course of this year and seasons past, a few others have made their names familiar to Montana football fans.
Great Falls Central quarterback and future Montana Grizzly Noah Ambuehl has been a nightmare for defenses. His blend of size and speed has decimated opponents, both through the air with weapons such as Ethan Vincent and Riley Dickinson, and on the ground. Shelby’s Wyatt Brusven has dazzled fans with his open-field abilities in the Coyotes’ first year of 8-Man football, and Joliet’s Ry Olson has been spectacular in leading Joliet to an unbeaten record.