MISSOULA — On Friday night, the undefeated Missoula Sentinel Spartans dealt with something they hadn't seen all year: a deficit.
The Spartans went down 7-0 in their game against Great Falls High in the quarterfinal round of the Class AA state football playoffs after allowing wide receiver Levi Torgerson to bust free for a 75-yard touchdown run.
However, after that, the Spartan defense did what it has all year and shut the Bison down the rest of the way.
While the Spartans have seemingly cruised to an 8-0 season thus far, they've prepared to see adversity all season.
"I’ve been saying, 'Hey, this is going to happen', and it hasn’t happened all year," said Sentinel head coach Dane Oliver. "It happened (Friday) in this quarterfinal round and so we got a chance to work on the things we’ve been talking about for eight weeks. That’s the game of football, those ups and downs."
After the big play from Great Falls, the Sentinel defense settled in to limit the Bison to just 215 total yards of offense and 14 total points.
In 2020, it's nothing new for the Spartans. The defense has allowed 5.8 points per game and ended its regular season with three straight shutouts.
"I think it’s just a testament to the way we play football," said Oliver. "They run to the ball, they do a ton of film study."
It took a few drives for the Sentinel offense to get going against the Bison, but the defense is what allows the Spartans to settle in and take their time making the right adjustments.
"We can take chances on fourth down, we can run a fake punt here and there, we know our defense," said wide receiver and safety Jace Klucewich. "We are confident anywhere, we’ve had probably more on the 2-yard line stops than anybody else in the state, I would bet money on that."
While the Spartans are a quick, athletic defense, that doesn't mean they can't hit, and that's something they pride themselves on.
"Every single person wants to go out there and be as physical as they can. There's no one that's soft on this defense," said Klucewich. "That's honestly the best part and I think what makes us the defense that we are."
Sentinel was tested on Friday night, but the Spartans say it's something they've been waiting for. With an offense that is considered one of the best in the state, the Spartans get a good test each day in practice.
"When you go against Dylan Rollins every play it gets you ready for something like this," said linebacker Geno Leonard. "We haven’t quite had it yet in a game so it’s awesome to have that opportunity, and we’re just going to keep making strides from here on out."
With the win on Friday night, the Spartans reserved their spot in their third semifinal game in the past four seasons. They fell short of a state championship appearance in their previous two attempts. This coming Friday, the Spartans will take on Billings Senior at MCPS Stadium, a team that beat Sentinel in the 2017 semifinal game.
"My freshman year I made the bus trip over to Billings Senior and it left a sour taste in our mouths, watching our boys get smacked around a little bit," said Leonard. "Last year falling short, it’s tough. You grind in the weight room, you think about that, you look back on it. So, we’re just ready to bring home the championship."