GREAT FALLS — Great Falls Central’s run to the 8-Man state championship game is historic.
First, there’s the ancient history.
It’s the first title game appearance for the Mustangs in 53 years. Central won a Class A championship in 1962, and fell to Great Falls High in the 1965 Class AA championship.
That’s a date that has been drilled into the mind of this year’s team as they prepare to face Drummond-Philipsburg (12-0) for an 8-Man title on Saturday.
“Everyone is so supportive of us,” said senior receiver Ethan Vincent. “Being back to state for the first time since 1965 is crazy. All the teachers, all the kids, everyone is super supportive.”
But more important is the recent history. The Central football team has been trending upward since the school reopened in 1999 and have made the playoffs in four of the past five seasons. This year’s senior class have been playing together since grade school. And a trophy has always been on their minds.
“For me, this is the way I thought it was going to happen all along,’ said senior quarterback Noah Ambuehl. “Coach (Greg) Horton wanted this group of seniors to come up with a list of goals and the last one was to win a state championship. Now we have the opportunity, now we just have to take advantage of it.”
It’s a surreal feeling for Horton, in his second season as head coach of the Mustangs.
“It hasn’t set in yet,” he admitted. “I woke up Sunday morning and went back to business just like I had been all the way since the beginning of August. I think it will probably set in on Saturday after the game. I have been telling the players how special this actually is and they’re excited.”
Despite the novelty of the moment, the Mustangs (9-1) are ready. The 8-Man championship has moved to a neutral site this year and will be played on turf at Naranche Stadium in Butte. Central has had plenty of experience on an artificial surface this season, opening the season with a win over Twin Bridges at Montana Tech and claiming three straight playoff wins on the turf at Memorial Stadium in Great Falls.
They’ve brushed off injuries and weathered every set back and are now one win away from an 8-Man title.
“They are resilient, they’re driven more than anything else,” Horton said. “It was good for them to have that playoff win against Fairview on Saturday (in the semis) because that’s who knocked them out of the playoffs last year. We’ve had a few injuries here and there but we have the depth for kids to step up. And I think that’s what I’m most proud of is when we have injuries, or a guy down, we always have someone step up and take that position over.”
Standing in the Mustangs’ way are the defending champs from Drummond-Philipsburg. The Titans are undefeated, and likely the favorite on paper. But that’s not the way this Central team sees it.
“We have a lot of ways to kind of beat teams and we’ve shown that,” Ambuehl said. “Last week against Fairview, we fumbled the ball four times. But our defense keeps us in the game and won us that game. They carried our offense to a win last week. Just got so many ways we can hurt people.”
“Tis football in November, you want a challenge,” Horton said. “No one wants to see a blowout, everyone wants to see a well fought game and I think the boys are ready, I’m going to get them as ready as I possibly can and I know coach (Mike) Cutler and the kids down there are going to be roaring to go.”
Saturday’s 8-Man championship game is set for kickoff in Butte at 1 p.m.