WIBAUX — There are only two unbeaten teams and conference champions remaining in 6-Man football, and they meet on Saturday in the semifinals.
Wibaux (10-0) hits the road to face Grass Range-Winnett (12-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday. Wibaux has been among the better teams all season, if not the best. The Longhorns have six wins this season against teams that made the 6-Man playoffs, including a perfect 2-0 against teams still remaining. Outside its 40-38 win over Geraldine-Highwood in the season opener, Wibaux has had only one game decided by less than 30 points – a 41-24 win over defending champion Westby-Grenora.
Wibaux’s dominance comes from possessing a plethora of weapons on the offensive side. Running backs Cade Dschaak and Chance Larson give Wibaux the physical identity that made it tough at the 8-Man level, while quarterback Tel Lunde’s ability to run and pass fits the spread style of 6-Man perfectly.
“Those teams that have a scrambling quarterback that can throw, those are tough to prepare for,” Wibaux second-year head coach Craig Lunde said. “You can’t just concentrate on the quarterback, you’ve got kids that can run and catch, too. You’ve got to be on your toes on defense. I think that’s our biggest success, is we have a few weapons that can be pretty explosive.
“We’ve got some great blocking up front. They’ve got a little size, they’re not necessarily little guys. That’s unique, too, when you’ve got skill kids and a few big kids that can get the job done in the trenches.”
“We can’t make any mistakes, can’t turn the ball over, have to keep the penalties down,” Grass Range-Winnett head coach TJ Smith said of Saturday’s matchup with the Longhorns. “The team that makes the least amount of mistakes is usually the team that comes out on top.”
It’s been a banner year for Grass Range-Winnett. The Rangers won their first conference championship and have reached the first semifinal in program history. At last weekend’s game against West Yellowstone, Smith estimated more than 400 fans showed up to support his team.
“The whole town, the whole community of Grass Range and Winnett, they’re just going crazy over this. Very proud of the community, they’re very proud of the boys,” Smith said. “In fact, (Tuesday) before practice, a guy pulled up … and approached me and was just saying that this team has made (the community) so proud, we’ve never had this before. … He had tears in his eyes. That’s how important it is and how much it means.”
“(It) looks like the town is really giving them a lot of support, too,” Lunde said. “(Smith) has got a good thing going right now, they’re on a roll. It’s going to be a tough one this weekend.”
Coach Lunde knows all about having a supportive community. Although only in his second season as head coach, Lunde spent several years under Jeff Bertelsen on the Wibaux staff during an unprecedented run of success.
Over the past two decades, Wibaux has cemented itself as a powerhouse in Montana high school football. While playing at the 8-Man level, Wibaux won six state championships and reached 13 title games. Since 2000, the Longhorns have three state titles and have won at least one playoff game in every season except 2011 when they lost in the first round.
This year’s senior class has seen Wibaux football at its best over the years.
“The kids just eat it up and have been for decades. They work hard so that they can put themselves in good positions,” Lunde said. “That culture, it just breeds from one class to the next. Past coaches have kind of set the groundwork here.”
Wibaux’s success has carried over to the 6-Man level. Last season, Wibaux made its debut in 6-Man in grand fashion, making a run to the quarterfinals before losing by three points to White Sulphur Springs. This season, the Longhorns ran the table during the regular season, winning an extremely competitive East division.
Wibaux’s closest game of the season was the opener against Geraldine-Highwood, which the Longhorns also beat in the first round of the playoffs in 2017. Wibaux rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit to knock off the Rivals 40-38 back on Aug. 25.
“It wasn’t necessarily the ideal game to open up with,” joked Lunde. “We started preparing for that game on the first day of practice this year. It was good we did that, too. We had to come from behind to win that one. It really gave the kids a lot of belief in themselves that we could be one of the better teams this year.”
Defensively, Wibaux has put the clamps down on nearly every opponent. The 38 points given up to Geraldine-Highwood was by far a season high, as the Longhorns gave up more than 20 just once more. Wibaux held high-flying Richey-Lambert, which scored 103 points against Jordan, to just 16 points.
“You’ve got to be ready for the spread, it’s not easy. You’ve got to put some pressure on the quarterback. Your philosophy on defense is to keep everyone in front of you,” coach Lunde said about game-planning defensively. “Probably our biggest asset, is we’ve got three, four kids that have great instincts. We’re not the fastest team, but we’ve got good quickness and instincts. We watch a ton of film and have good practices, and it’s paid off and made us a really good, tight defensive team. We pride ourselves on trying to keep low-scoring games on the defensive side, if we can.”
Wibaux will need to bring its defense on the road this Saturday when the Longhorns face Grass Range-Winnett, which on five occasions has put up more than 50 points. Wibaux has set the standard for success on football fields in small-town Montana, something programs such as the Rangers look to emulate.
“Wibaux has been a tough community when it comes to football over the years. Those boys know how to play,” Smith said. “The community that produces good football teams year in and year out, they’ve obviously got something going for them over there in terms of mentality and toughness.”