ST. IGNATIUS — The St. Ignatius Bulldogs are heading to the 8-Man postseason for the second year in a row and look like a program that could make regular appearances moving forward.
In 2019, St. Ignatius, which officially goes by the Mission Bulldogs moniker, finished at 8-1 and snapped an 18-year postseason drought in head coach Tyler Murray's third season at the helm. The Bulldogs lost to Park City in the first round, but it was a cornerstone for the program.
Now, in Murray's fourth year, the Bulldogs are building a winning culture and making the playoffs a habit.
However, at the start of the 2020 season, that didn't look like it would be the case. The Bulldogs started 0-3 and looked like they would miss out on the playoffs.
"We lost 13 seniors off of last year’s team, which was a huge loss for us," said Murray. "We had a lot of leadership spots to fill, and I think that’s one of the reasons why we started somewhat slow, but there have been tons of kids that have stepped up."
While the Bulldogs' 0-3 start looked bad on paper, it really wasn't. Those three games were against the three other teams that ended up making the playoffs from the 8-Man West.
And the Bulldogs stepped up big time. After those three losses, they rattled off six straight wins to end their regular season and grasp the final postseason spot out of the West.
"We are all really hungry, we really wanted to win," said sophomore starting quarterback Kellen McClure. "Especially after coming off only losing one last year, we knew what it was like. We just wanted to get back into the groove."
Murray said not only have seniors stepped up but underclassmen like McClure and others. However, one senior captain, running back and linebacker Layne Spidel, has helped turned the team around as well.
While there are some obvious stars on the team, Spidel said it’s all eight guys on each side of the ball that make a leadership impact.
"In all reality, they are all leaders out there," said Spidel. "Everyone has this one little thing about them that makes the team great and they lead other people on. It’s everyone."
Last season the Bulldogs were happy to be in the playoffs and establish that culture of being there each year, but Murray said they're ready to take the next step.
"We want to be great, we want to make the playoffs, that’s the expectation. It’s not the, 'Holy cow, here we are in the playoffs after 18 years of not being in it.' That’s the expectation now, is that we make the playoffs every year," said Murray. "Now we can try to set the next one, let’s win a playoff game, move onto some bigger steps."
The Bulldogs (6-3) will travel east to take on the No.1 seed out of the 8-Man North in the Fort Benton Longhorns (6-0) on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.