For three very talented Hi-Line football teams, the season continues at least one more weekend. The majority of games will be played on Saturday, but tonight kicks off the state playoffs all across the state, including right here on the Hi-Line area.
In Class C 8-Man ranks, both the No. 2 Chester/J-I Hawks and No. 5 Chinook Sugarbeeters will host first-round playoff games this weekend. And in 6-Man action, the No. 5 Big Sandy Pioneers are also home for a first round matchup. The H
awks will host Drummond, No. 4 out of the West at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Chester. Also on Saturday, the Beeters will host Victor, the No. 3 team out of the West at 1 p.m. in Chinook. The Pioneers will play tonight, welcoming in Lone Peak, the No. 3 team out of the West at 7 in Big Sandy.
And the Pioneers (7-1) are looking for a statement win tonight hopefully setting the tone on a road to the state title.
Last season the Pioneers advanced all the way to the semifinals before losing to Savage. But before they can go on another solid run, the Pioneers must first take care of the Bighorns, a team that is very well balanced with the run and passing game, and very successful at it. During the regular season, the Big Horns used spread and tight formations to up numbers like a 49-0 win over St. Regis, as well as a 94-0 win over Two Eagle River. They also put up solid numbers in losses to teams like Augusta, Albertson, and Rimrock Christian, so the Pioneers will have to limit production.
“We want to limit both the running and passing game,” Big Sandy head coach Greg King said. “But when we see which one is weaker, we will try to and get them to run that instead.
“I like our chances of playing again after this week,” King added. “As long as we play well and not make the little mistakes. We need to keep the turnovers down, keep the defensive pressure up, and once we get some momentum rolling offense, just keep that going.”
Offensive momentum will most likely come from the athleticism of quarterback Trevor Lackner, as well as Lane Martin, Zac Leader and Jesse Bailey. The Pioneers also showed they can put up big numbers on offense, but if the defense doesn’t step up, they could get caught in another four overtime shootout like the one they escaped last weekend.
And moving to the Class 8-Man schedule, the Beeters (8-1) also know they have to have a big defensive day.
“Defensively, our pass defense needs to do good job,” Chinook head coach Matt Molyneaux said. “We have to create turnovers. We need a good pass rush because they do pass the ball a lot. Victor often times might even throw the ball all three downs, so this will be a little different for us, and it will be a challenge. It is two very different offensive styles coming together this weekend.”
Two years ago the Beeters were crowned state champs, but last season they were dropped in the semifinals by Fairview. And hoping to get back into the title game, the solid play has to continue on Saturday afternoon. That starts with the Chinook defense putting a stop to the Pirates’ quarterback Matt Kittel and targets Kyle Ball, Corey Deering and Nate Bishop.
The Pirates (7-2) have rolled through most of their competition this season, and lost just two games. The two losses came to Charlo, the No. 2 seed out of the West, and to Superior, the No. 1 team out of the West.
Zach Molyneaux normally leads the offense, but his defense will also be key. So will the defense from Robby Klingaman, a defensive force for the Beeters. Defensive back Geoff Qualls will also have his hands full as he will see a lot of balls thrown his way on Saturday.
On offense, Molyneaux has come into his own as a talented pass thrower, but he as also been getting the job done on the ground with his legs. Klingaman is also in the backfield mix, while there are a handful of receivers that will have to take full advantage of the targets, if and when they get them.
“We want to establish the ground game,” Coach Molyneaux said. “And sometimes the best defense is to have a good offense, and control the clock and time of possession. And it is supposed to be cold again, so I think that lends a hand more to running the ball rather than putting it up in the air. I wouldn’t mind a nice frosty game.”
The weather in Chinook is supposed to have a high of 40 degrees on Saturday.
Chester/J-I (9-0) is also looking forward to a very tough first-round game, but getting a chance to host all the way through the championship game, the Hawks know what it means to have home field advantage.
“It's a huge advantage,” C/J-I head coach Jim Vinson said. “And we have to take advantage of getting to be at home. Unless teams are playing in their conference, playoff games mean long road trips, but it is nice for the kids to be home the night before, and to be able to get a good nights rest. It is a big advantage to be here (Chester).”
And facing a talented team like Drummond (7-2), teams should cling to as much help as they can get. The Trojans dropped their final game of the regular season, leading to a No. 4 seeding. If they had won, they would be a No. 1, showing just how tough the competitive the Western divisions is this season. But when they are good, they are really good, suffering just two losses, one to No. 3 Victor, and another to No. 2 Charlo. The offense is led by Mac Bignell, a running back that can put up staggering numbers, like the 285 yards he posted against Arlee. The Trojan offense has also only scored less than 36 points twice this season, and has scored over 40 points six different times.
The Hawks have also put up great numbers this season, and should be led by the veteran leaders in Erik Kelly, Jordan Oraw and Mike Henke.
“We need to control the football,” Vinson said. “We would like to keep our defense off of the field, and offensively we need to take care of the football and just put points on the board. And as far kids like Erik Kelly, Mike Henke, and Jordan Oraw, these guys are seniors and have been at the other end of the spectrum. They are hardworking kids and they are looking to continue their final season week by week.”
All three area teams have a tough outing in round one of the state playoffs. Tonight, Big Sandy will host Lone Peak at 7 p.m., while on Saturday at 1 p.m., Chinook will host Victor, and Chester/J-I will host Drummond.
Home for the playoffs
Big Sandy vs Lone Peak in a 6-Man first-round playoff game tonight at 7 p.m. in Big Sandy. The Pioneers are the No. 2 seed from the Northern Divison. The Bighorns are the No. 3 seed from the South. Follow live with the Havre Daily News.
Chinook vs Victor in a Class C first-round playoff game Saturday at 1 p.m. in Chinook. The Beeters are the No. 2 seed from the Northern C. The Pirates are the No. 3 seed from the Western C Follow live with the Havre Daily News.
Chester/J-I vs Drummond in a Class C first-round playoff game Saturday at 1 p.m. in Chester. The Hawks are the No. 1 seed from the Northern C. The Trojans are the No. 3 seed from the Western C Follow live with the Havre Daily News.