Again, it comes down to Butte Central and Dillon to decide a championship.
The two common big-game opponents and neighborhood rivals will tangle on Friday at 7 p.m. on Vigilante Field in Dillon to decide the regular-season title for Southwestern A Conference high school football.
With the crown comes a first-round bye in the state Class A playoffs, which begin next weekend. The loser of Friday’s game will be home in the first round against probably Polson. Friday’s winner will be home for the playoffs all the way through the bracket as long it keeps winning.
Dillon, the two-time defending state Class A champion, enters the regular-season finale with a 7-0 record, 3-0 in conference play. The Beavers’ last football loss was in 2014, to Butte Central by a 31-29 score at Montana Tech. A few weeks later, Dillon avenged the defeat a 29-28 win over the Maroons in the state championship game played on the same field. Butte Central is the defending Southwestern A champion and carries records this year of 6-2 overall, 3-0 in league play.
“The last two years, we’ve had some great games,” Don Peoples Jr., head coach of the Maroons, said about playing the Beavers. “During the 1990s and since we came back to the Southwestern A in 2011, it’s come down to these two teams several times. It’s two rivals playing against each other.
“It always draws a good crowd and there’s a lot of excitement.”
Dillon has adjusted its attack some this year to make better use of this year’s cache of weapons. Both quarterbacks are speed-and-throw juniors with good passing abilities and sprinter’s speed. The two first-year starters sit one-two in the league passer rankings with Tanner Kump of Butte Central at No. 1 and Troy Andersen of Dillon second.
Peoples acknowledged some differences exist in this year’s Dillon squad compared to last year, but quickly added, “There are a lot of similarities.”
“They have a lot of personnel,” he said, “but they’re still the same outstanding old Dillon Beavers — winning mentality and execute to play winning football.”
“Their offense has a lot of opportunities to score,” Peoples continued. “Andersen can run and pass, (R.J.) Fitzgerald is a real powerful, bulldozer type of runner and they have a lot of good receivers.”
Andersen also has good size at the QB position at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds. Fitzgerald is a 5-10, 205-pounder and the receiving corps includes 5-11, 145-pound senior Nate Simkins, who played a key role in the Beavers’ state championship game win last year against Butte Central. Six of the top 10 receivers in Southwestern A will be in the game with three on each team — Simkins, Payton LaFrentz and Kohltin Starkel for Dillon, and Cole Harper, Cal Hollow and Nate McGree for the Maroons.
Simkins is the leading punt returner in the conference, and Hollow is the top kickoff returner.
The big man on the Dillon line is 6-4, 305-pound senior Brenan Hammer and other returnees to the trenches include 6-3, 250-pound senior Derek McCullough, 6-4 210-pound senior Kyle Finch, 6-2, 220-pound Miles Korpi, 6-0, 180-pound Nick Huber and 5-10, 205-pound Todd Nordahl.
Fitzgerald averages more than seven yards a carry, LaFrentz is 2 for 2 kicking field goals, Gabe Hupp is another receiver and the team’s punter and Simkins has 37 catches for 593 yards.
“We’ll have to move the ball ourselves,” Peoples said, adding that the Maroons played their best game of the year last week in a key 42-19 victory over Hamilton that clinched a playoff spot. “We’ve been trying to build confidence through the year. We finally came close to putting togther a full game. The kids played hard and with a lot of confidence. Hopefully, we can carry that into this week’s game.
“Offensively, we spread the ball around well against Hamilton, so that was good. We had balance with run and pass, so that was good. We’ve been starting to execute better. Hopefully, that’s the way we play the rest of the season.”
Peoples noted that the Maroons have been in a gel process through the season due to starting three sophomores and several juniors who were not starters a year ago.
Junior Blake Burton leads Butte Central is rushing with an average of almost 5 ½ yards a game. Sophomore fullback Ryan Moodry ran for three touchdowns against Hamilton.
Kump has passed for 13 touchdowns, second only to Andersen’s 20 TD throws in the conference. Kump leads the league in passing yardage by more than 200 yards.
Harper has the most receptions in Southwestern A with 44 while Hollow has 29 and McGree 19. McGree leads the conference in interceptions with 14, and Ryan Ashby and Moodry have two apiece.
Defensive end Colin McArthur recorded two sacks and another tackle for loss against Hamilton, Kyle Schulte and Dylan Shea combined on another sack, and McGree and Sam Johnston also notched tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Hollow picked off a pass. Schulte batted down two passes.
The Maroons can be expected to use a lot of players and combinations on position rotations through the game.
Schulte (6-2, 205, senior), McArthur (6-0, 190, senior) and Ethan St. John (6-3, 265, senior) see time on defense at ends, St. John, Jake Michelotti (6-0, 240, senior) and Ryan Richards (5-11, 285, junior) at tackles, Shea (5-9, 175, sophomore), Hunter Hartwick (6-10, 170, sophomore), Moodry (5-10, 185, sophomore), Burton (5-10, 170, junior), Hollow (5-9, 175, senior) and Johnston (5-10, 165, junior) share various linebacker roles, Ashby 5-9, 150, junior), Harper (6-1, 170 senior) and Kump 6-0, 180, junior see time at cornerback, and McGree (6-3, 200, senior) plays strong safety.
On offense, Archie Petritz (6-0, 195, junior) is a quick-change artist on the sideline, depending on whether he is subbing in at tight end or on the offensive line, McArthur starts at tight end. Others seeing duty up front are Schulte, St. John, Michelotti, Richards, Shea and Liam Devine (5-10, 200, senior). Harper, Hollow, McGree, Johnston, Jared Schneider (5-9, 150, junior) and Chay Bouchee (5-11, 165, junior) all played at receiver last week. Moodry is the fullback in the power game, McGree spells Burton at running back and Kump is the quarterback.
Schulte is the punter, Tyler Kump (6-1, 180, senior) is the kicker, and Hollow, Burton and Harper all have been good on returns.