Beavers roll to title game

DILLON — The Dillon Beavers will make a third straight trip to the Class A State Championship after defeating the Belgrade Panthers 48-14 Friday night.

The major story of the night was Dillon connecting on big plays and limiting those of the Panthers.  The Beavers got big plays from all three phases, offense, defense and special teams, which helped propel them to a perfect record at home this season.

The Beavers had three scoring plays of at least 59 yards in the first half. The first was a kick return of 97 yards by senior receiver Mick Paffhausen. Junior QB JD Ferris hit Paffhausen in stride for 73 yards with under a minute in the first quarter to make it 21-7. Senior slot back Troy Scott capped the big play spree by hauling in a 59 yard pass from Ferris on a perfectly executed play action fake putting Dillon up 27-7 midway through the second.

Belgrade had early opportunities which were set up by the excellent kick returns by Tristan Walker and Koby Ruff, but couldn’t cash in often enough to stick with the high powered Dillon offense.

The first return set Belgrade up at its own 45. Junior quarterback Brayden Konkol accounted for the majority of the 55 yard scoring drive that was capped off by Garrett Fowler’s 4 yard plunge. That tied things up at 7 early in the first.

After Paffhausen’s electric return down the sideline put Dillon back on top Belgrade almost answered with one of their own. Ruff made it all the way to the Beaver 33 before being tripped up on a touchdown saving tackle.

Scott and Ferris teamed up to stop that drive as Scott got a first down sack and forced a second down incompletion by flushing Konkol from the pocket. On third down Ferris drilled a Belgrade receiver on what would have been a first down catch and then batted away the 4th down pass near the goal line.

After Scott’s long score it seemed Dillon was well on their way to running away with the game before the break. Belgrade attempted to save their season with an inspired scoring drive just before the half. In the final minute the Panthers somehow overcame 3rd and 21 after 2 sacks and an illegal formation penalty. Senior quarterback Trevor Mahn connected with Grady Blewett with just 3 seconds left to send Belgrade to the locker room with hope, down just 27-14.

With the momentum seemingly on their side and about to receive the 2nd half kickoff Belgrade looked poised to challenge the top ranked Beavers.  That lasted all of one play.  Dillon’s Jason Ferris kicked a line drive that bounced right in front of Ruff and took a crazy hop over his head and seemed destined to carry into the end zone for a touchback.  The ball instead died around the two and as Ruff grabbed it he was swarmed by the Beaver kickoff team.  The ball came loose and sophomore Kyle Finch emerged with it in the endzone.  Ferris ran in the conversion and made it 35-14.

Belgrade overcame another mishandle on the ensuing kickoff which started them at its 7 and drove all the way to the Dillon 20 where they faced a fourth and 2.  A dive up the middle was stuffed by a host of Dillon linemen and gave the ball back to the Dillon offense for the first time in the second half.  A 25 yard catch and run by Paffhausen set up a second Ferris to Scott score, this time from 22 yards out on 3rd and 7 to give the Beavers a commanding 42-14 lead late in the third.

Belgrade again put together a decent string of plays but found themselves stymied as they moved into Dillon territory.  Mahn was tackled on a run up the middle and coughed up the ball.  As he seemed to be throughout the game, Scott was in the right place and came out of the scrum with the ball.  Dillon methodically worked the ball down the field, overcoming two fourth downs on the way to Jason Ferris scoring from three yards out to put the final points on the board.

Colton Riebe ran the ball hard for Dillon, gaining the majority of his yards inside the tackles and consistently setting the Beavers up with favorable down and distance situations.  Carson King was in on several tackles, including a handful for loss in the Panther backfield and got support from defensive end Ethan Tatarka, who helped bottle up the strong running of Konkol.

The Panthers, champions of the Central A conference, ended the season at 8-3.  All night they seemed to be a play or two away from making a game of it but just couldn’t seem to get the types of game changing moments the Beavers program has made their trademark in recent years.

The Beavers will travel to the winner of Columbia Falls at Billings Central, which will be played Saturday afternoon at Daylis Stadium in Billings.  A Rams win would result in the rubber match of the past two state championships, as Dillon won 44-10 in 2011 and last year Central triumphed 37-7.

Friday’s game was the last at home for 15 Dillon seniors.  Joining Scott, Riebe, King, Tatarka and Paffhausen in making the senior walk were Chance Kluesner, Gabe Chilson, MJ Simkims, Ben Walde, John Luke Koslosky, Donovan Hucke, Michael Thompson, Christian Coiner, Curen Feliciani and Connor Cox.

— By Derek Hendrickson

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