COLUMBIA FALLS — The defending champions in Class A football are still alive, but just barely.
The Columbia Falls Wildcats built a 16-0 halftime lead but had to hold on for dear life to defeat Lewistown 23-22 and advance to the Class A semifinals.
“We’re tough, we’re gritty. We’re mentally tough. They kind of got us on our heels. We blew a lot of opportunities early,” Columbia Falls head coach Jaxon Schweikert said. “It showed some real character for us to fight until the end and be able to stop them.”
Colten McPhee, who broke the Wildcats’ single-season rushing record in the game, got Columbia Falls on the scoreboard just minutes into the game. McPhee broke multiple tackles and dragged another into the end zone with him. The lead grew to 16-0 when Parker Green took an end around 10 yards for a touchdown.
Lewistown, however, scored on its opening possession of the second half when Mitch Norslien plunged in on a quarterback keeper from 1 yard out. McPhee fumbled on the ensuing possession, but the Columbia Falls defense stood tall backed up deep in its own territory.
In the fourth quarter, disaster nearly struck again for Columbia Falls. Attempting to punt, the snap sailed over Drew Morgan’s head into the end zone. Morgan corralled the loose ball and got the punt away, but Lewistown took over at the Columbia Falls 10-yard line. Norslien found Jacob Clinton in the corner of the end zone, cutting the deficit to 23-16.
With just more than four minutes to play, Wes Jameson took a handoff 46 yards to pay dirt, cutting the Columbia Falls lead to 23-22. The two-point conversion was broken up by Lane Sapa to preserve the lead. Columbia Falls had a chance to ice the game, but Morgan was intercepted by Logan McQuinn in Wildcats territory.
Facing fourth down, Lewistown went to the air to convert. But Morgan made up for his earlier miscue, batting away the pass and sealing the win for Columbia Falls.
The Wildcats move on to the semifinals for the third consecutive season and will face Hamilton at home. In the meeting between the two earlier this season, Hamilton used a big second half to win 35-24.
“Our offense put our defense in a lot of tough positions (Saturday). They answered the bell over and over and over,” Schweikert said. “We just can’t put our defense in that type of situation again with short field, because you won’t survive Hamilton if that’s the deal.”
Class A football scores
(Click the links for video highlights)
Billings Central 38, Dillon 13
Columbia Falls 23, Lewistown 22
Hamilton 53, Miles City 20
Laurel 49, Corvallis 6