There were two upsets in the first round of the 8-Man football playoffs, both pulled by teams from the East. Fourth-seeded Scobey knocked off previously unbeaten Joliet and third-seeded Circle ended Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap’s season for the second consecutive year.
Coupled with Fairview’s 70-6 win over Chinook and Culbertson’s 32-14 win over Ennis, the 8-Man East went a perfect 4-0 in the first round. After battling through a tough conference, coaches weren’t surprised at the result.
“With Scobey being able to put up points almost at will, it was kind of fun to see,” Culbertson head coach DJay Haug said. “Did I expect it? I guess not. Was I surprised by it? No. They’ve got some really good athletes in certain positions that are really tough to match up with, without a doubt.”
“(Circle) is a tough team. They don’t really do anything too fancy, they’re just pretty tough,” Fairview head coach Levi Seitz said. “We knew they were going to be tough.”
For Circle, this marks three consecutive seasons picking up road wins in the playoffs. In 2016, the Wildcats won at Denton-Geyser-Stanford before losing by five points in the quarterfinals to Belt. Last season, Circle won at Centerville and at Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap before falling on the road to eventual state champion Drummond-Philipsburg.
In the past three seasons, the East has gone 10-2 in first-round playoffs games.
“We love football out in eastern Montana. This is our type of weather. We pride ourselves on toughness,” Circle head coach Taw Eissinger said. “It’s kind of old-school football out here. We’re agricultural, farmers and ranchers, so our m.o. is to ground and pound, control the ball.”
Circle next takes on unbeaten Shelby in the quarterfinals. The Coyotes aren’t as familiar to 8-Man teams around the state, but head coach Mike White coached Froid-Medicine Lake for four years and Plentywood for one in the late 1990s.
“He definitely knows the 8-Man game. They get the ball into playmakers’ hands and they do it in a lot of creative ways,” Eissinger said.
Scobey and Culbertson, too, will hit the road for the quarterfinals. Scobey has North No. 2-seed Great Falls Central, which has just one loss, to Shelby, this season. The Mustangs’ offense, led by future Montana Grizzly Noah Ambuehl, has been devastating to defenses all season.
“It’s not just one guy, they’ve got a couple of guys that you’ve got to be worried about,” Scobey head coach Brock Berryhill said. “So it’s a challenge. Every time you have a mobile quarterback, you always have to account for him in the run game, which is a great equalizer. We’ve got to make sure we lock (Ambuehl) down, but at the same time we can’t put our guys out on islands because they’ve got some wideouts, too, that can really create space and separation and catch the football.”
Culbertson, though, might have the toughest draw in the quarterfinals, as the Cowboys travel to Philipsburg to face the defending champion Titans. Drummond-Philipsburg has allowed just 82 points in its 10 games this season.
“They’re very athletic, very quick, very strong,” Haug said. “They do the little things very well that helps them get by and win games — and not just get by, but win games by a lot. They’re another team that can put up points at will.”
Top-seeded Fairview is the only team from the 8-Man East hosting a playoff game this weekend, as it welcomes Arlee into town. However, if all four teams can once again find a way to win, it would be an all-East semifinal round.
“When you compete against (8-Man East rivals), you’re hoping for a bad night. When you’re not, you’re hoping they do well,” Haug said.