The Class AA football playoffs start Friday with all four first-round games kicking off at 7 p.m. Bozeman enters the postseason with a 10-0 record and the accompanying No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Hawks face Great Falls High, which is making its first playoff appearance since 2008, in the first round.
Below is a short overview of the Class AA playoffs, highlighting some of the players to watch and the MontanaSports.com favorite to win the state championship.
Great Falls High (5-5) at Bozeman (10-0), 7 p.m.
Billings Senior (6-4) at Kalispell Flathead (7-3), 7 p.m.
Kalispell Glacier (5-5) at Helena High (8-2), 7 p.m.
Butte (5-5) at Billings West (9-1), 7 p.m.
For updated scores and pairings throughout the playoffs, please click here.
Defending champion: Billings Senior
The Broncs, who finished as a runner-up to Bozeman in 2015, put together back-to-back 13-0 seasons to win the 2016 and 2017 Class AA state championships behind Gatorade players of the year Nate Dick and Gabe Sulser. This year’s Senior team started the year 1-0 to extend the win streak to 27 consecutive games, but it’s been mostly an up-and-down year for the 6-4 Broncs, who will now enter the playoffs as the No. 5 seed and travel to 7-3 Kalispell Flathead. They still have a solid roster with big-play capability, but the Broncs enter the playoffs as an underdog for the first time since 2014.
Best first-round game: Kalispell Glacier at Helena High
Three of Friday’s first-round games are rematches of regular-season matchups — Flathead and Senior is the lone exception — and all three of those games were lopsided wins. Billings West topped Butte 42-6 back in September, Bozeman doubled up Great Falls High 52-26 just a couple weeks ago, and Kalispell Glacier drilled Helena High 48-14 in September. Of the losing teams, only Helena High gets to host this time around, and the Bengals will certainly be motivated facing a Glacier team that ended the season with four consecutive wins to clinch the No. 6 seed.
MontanaSports.com favorite: Bozeman
Bozeman’s record alone makes it the favorite, but the Hawks are arguably the most talented team in Class AA. Coach Levi Wesche has plenty of Division I-caliber athletes at his disposal, including Kris Brown, Ryan Lonergan, Ryan Simpson and McCade O’Reilly. Brown has committed to play at Montana and Lonergan to Montana State. Simpson announced via Twitter that he’s received offers from both, as well, and O’Reilly, just a junior, is considered a big-time prospect at linebacker.
Names to know: Injuries have taken their toll on the Class AA landscape as guys like Bozeman’s Joe Olson, a Montana State commit, and Billings Senior’s Garrison Poetzl, a Montana commit, are out. But there are still plenty of standout athletes in the playoffs with Flathead running back Blake Counts, who recently broke Lex Hilliard’s single-season school rushing record, leading the way. Billings West is loaded with speed in Jesse Owens, Demarcus Carr and Trevin Gradney. Helena High might have the best defense in the Class AA playoffs, anchored by an impressive secondary with Hayden Ferguson and Alex Johnson.