Typically, the game of Six-Man football is always high scoring. But the Hot Springs Savage-Heat almost make scoring points look easy.
Second-ranked Hot Springs is
the Big Sandy Pioneers’ opponent in Saturday’s Class C Six-Man state championship game, and one thing the Heat can do is score points. It’s not the only thing Hot Springs does well, but it’s certainly at the top of the list.
Hot Springs comes into Saturday’s title game averaging an astonishing 69 points per game. During the Savage-Heat’s 11-0 run to the state title game, they’ve scored 760 points and have topped 80 four times, including their quarterfinal win over Tri-Cities in the playoffs, where they won 80-12. In fact, Hot Springs has been such an offensive juggernaut this season, the Heat haven’t scored under 50 points since their season-opening win over Geraldine-Highwood back in August. The Heat beat the Rivals again last Saturday, 53-12 to advance to the state championship game.
"The big things is, we have played really good defense this season," Hot Springs head coach Jim Lawson said. "And that has really set up our offense. Getting the ball back to our offense so often has really been big for us this year.
"We also have a lot of players who are fast, and having so many weapons helps," he added. "Having more than one or two guys to key on makes up pretty hard to stop."
And Hot Springs gets in the endzone in a variety of different ways. The Heat boast a balanced attack, led by senior running backs Mike Gray (5-9, 165) and Wyatt Nagy (5-11, 165), who have both rushed for over 1,000 yards this season. Hot Springs can also get the job done through the air with sophomore quarterback Tanner Hoff (6-1, 185). He’s thrown for over 2,000 yards this season, and has a whopping 31 TD’s. Hoff has strong targets to throw to, including Dave Cross, who caught three scores in last week’s win over Geraldine-Highwood. Cross is a huge target playing tight end. He stands 6-3 and goes 210, and is as good a tight end as there is in Six-Man football. Fellow tight end Lane Foster (5-11, 200) and wide receiver Nate Gray are more weapons in the passing game.
Hot Springs also has a big line, as well as depth, two more things that certainly stand out in Six-man football. The Heat start 6-3 center Shane Hoff , who weighs 223 pounds, while junior guard Michael Locker is already a college prospect on the line. Locker stands 6-3 and already weighs 285 pounds.
But the Savage-Heat aren't one-sided football team. It’s not like they win their games in high-scoring shoot-outs. Instead, Hot Springs’ roster of two-way stars can dominate on defense too.
In a talented Western Division, Hot Springs won all its games this year by an average margin of 60 points. The Hot Springs’ defense allowed teams an average of a scant nine points per contest and gave up just 99 points all season long. Hot Springs pitched three shutouts this year, including back-to-back blankings of defending Western Division champ Alberton (51-0) and West Yellowstone (89-0). The Hot Springs’ defense allowed only four teams to score more than nine points this season, and only Rimrock Christian scored over 20. The Heat beat Rimrock Christian 74-28 back in September.
Tanner Hoff, Nagy and Mike Gray star at linebacker for the Heat, while Shane Hoff, Locker and Cross anchor the defensive line.
So judging by their performance in the regular season, and three dominating playoff wins over Augusta, Tri-City and Geraldine-Highwood, it looks as though the Savage-Heat are well on their way to their first state championship in school history. But these Hot Springs’ players won’t hang their hat on what they’ve done up till now. They know Big Sandy brings a fierce and physical defense to town Saturday, and they know the Pioneers can score too. So it’s one game for all the marbles, and Hot Springs won’t be taking anything for granted.
Hot Springs has also been building towards this magical season, after reaching the quarterfinals a year ago.
"We knew we had a chance to be pretty good this season," Lawson said. "When you get to the quarterfinals and return every player from that team, you know you have a chance the next year.
"But we also came into the season knowing teams like Big Sandy and Geraldine-Highwood were the team's to beat. So we had to go out and really find out how we matched up, and when we won, at Highwood to open the season, I think that showed the kids what we were capable of accomplishing this season."
And Hot Springs has accomplished a lot in just three short months. The Heat are hosting their first state title game and the excitement in the tiny western Montana town couldn't be higher.
"The community is really excited," Lawson said. "It's felt like Homecoming week times three this week. This is a big event for not only our players, but our school and our community and everybody is really excited."
Saturday’s Six-Man state championship game between Big Sandy and Hot Springs will kick off at 1 p.m. in Hot Springs.