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Class A football playoffs preview: Billings Central, Hamilton lead championship contenders

Posted at 12:17 AM, Oct 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-26 02:17:02-04
Columbia Falls defeated Hamilton for the 2017 Class A state championship. (MTN Sports photo)

The Class A football playoffs get kicked off Friday night with two first-round games: Corvallis at Frenchtown and Whitefish at Dillon. Sidney faces Lewistown and Miles City travels to Belgrade in the other two first-round matchups on Saturday.

Below is a short overview of the Class A playoffs, highlighting some of the players to watch and the MontanaSports.com favorite to win the state championship.

First-round matchups

Sidney (4-5) at Lewistown (7-2), 1 p.m. Saturday
Miles City (6-3) at Belgrade (6-3), 1 p.m. Saturday
Corvallis (5-4) at Frenchtown (7-2), 7 p.m. Friday
Whitefish (5-4) at Dillon (6-2), 7 p.m. Friday

First-round byes: Columbia Falls (7-1), Hamilton (9-0), Laurel (7-2), Billings Central (9-0)

Defending champion: Columbia Falls

The Wildcats won the first Class A state football championship in program history last fall, defeating Hamilton 26-14 for the title. Columbia Falls has now played in back-to-back championship games — the Wildcats lost to Dillon 34-17 in the 2016 finale — and is in solid position to make another run at the title game. Columbia Falls won the Northwestern A conference championship and the league’s bye into the quarterfinals. Coach Jaxon Schweikert and the Wildcats will have home-field advantage for as long as they’re in the playoffs. Running back Colten McPhee led Class A in rushing this season with 1,577 yards and 26 touchdowns.

Best first-round game: Miles City at Belgrade

Belgrade won the teams’ meeting in September thanks in large part to the big-play ability of Easton Page, who had two touchdowns of 60-plus yards. That 27-21 win lifted the Panthers to a 3-0 start, but they lost three consecutive games in later September and into early October before ending the regular season with wins over Glendive and Hardin.

Miles City, meanwhile, finished the regular season winning its final five games and didn’t give up more than 14 points in a single game in that stretch. The Cowboys are just one of two teams to beat Laurel this season (undefeated Billings Central is the other) and they nearly toppled Lewistown, losing a hard-fought 8-0 game.

MontanaSports.com favorite: Billings Central

Billings Central, which lost a shootout to Hamilton in last year’s playoffs, has been nothing short of dominant this season. The Rams have only given up 14 points or more in two games this season, and they’ve shut out four opponents. Offensively, the Rams have one of the best lines and rushing attacks in the state. Three players — Joe Byorth, Jack Studer and Duncan Kraft — have double-digit rushing touchdowns this season for a team that’s scored 42 times on the ground and rushed for nearly 3,000 yards in nine games.

Names to know: In addition to the names listed above — McPhee, Page, Byorth, Studer and Kraft — Class A fans have grown familiar with some other big-time players.

Hamilton quarterback Carson Rostad is the classification’s top passer, and he leads one of the most prolific offenses in the state alongside teammate Camron Rothie, Class A’s top receiver. Gage Hull has also had a solid season for Laurel at quarterback, as have guys like Drew Morgan at Columbia Falls and Justus Peterson at Dillon. Corvallis’ Hunter Pinheiro joins McPhee as one of the top running backs in the class, and Frenchtown’s Jace Klucewich is one of Class A’s best all-around players.