Havre Daily News Sports
It's that time once again. Even though temperatures are still climbing well into the 80's, September is here and that means one thing - high school football is back.
This Saturday all across the Hi-Line and around North Central Montana teams will be opening their 2005 football season.
The race for the Northern C's North division title should be very interesting this season given all of the major changes across the region.
The most notable change is the fact that Chinook High School is the newest member of the league. After decades in Class B football and a year removed from not having a varsity football team, the Beeters are now a Class C school and are poised to take the Northern C eight-man league by storm.
"I think that Chinook is an instant contender in our league," said new Hays-Lodge Pole head coach Mike Blackwolf. "They are coming down from Class B and they have good numbers and good athletes. They will probably be one of the teams to beat this year."
Of course Chinook head coach Matt Molyneaux might see things a little differently than his coaching companions. Molyneaux said that his team is just happy to be playing football. While he his hoping for instant success in eight-man football, the process will be a lengthy one.
"The attitude of our kids has been great so far and our numbers are up this year as far as kids coming out for the team," he said. "The kids have really adjusted well to all of the changes that we have gone through. Everything so far has been very positive."
The Beeters should figure to at the very least be a tough game for everyone on their schedule this season. With nine returning seniors and a wealth of speed and talent, Chinook could find success right away. The Beeters are led by returning quarterback Adam Hayes. They also have a pair of outstanding running backs Casey Barber and Chad Beck.
"We're taking things one game at a time right now," Molyneaux said. "These kids are just really excited to be playing varsity football again.
"One thing is for sure," he added. "That first game is going to be very exciting and everybody here is really looking forward to it."
The Beeters open their inaugural eight-man season on Saturday night when they host Great Falls Central at 7:30 p.m. Other critical games for Chinook will come on Sept. 16 when they travel to Chester as well as an Oct. 7 home game with conference favorite Big Sandy.
Chinook wasn't the only school making a move. KG High School and Blue Sky High School have now combined to form North Star High School.
Although the two schools had previously been combining their football programs, it will be the first time that all of the athletes will be under one roof every day. The Knights will also make the jump back into eight-man football after a year in Montana's six-man league.
That move has veteran head coach Steve Simonson both excited but realistic at the same time.
"We have some good kids returning this season but we're moving back into a very good football conference," Simonson said. "I think that we will have some very challenging games this season, especially with Big Sandy looking so good and with the addition of Chinook.
"We have some good talent on this team and we should be a pretty quick team," he added. "One thing we have to avoid is injuries because even though our numbers are up we don't have a lot of experience and depth."
The Knight's should still be a formidable foe for all of their opponents this season with a solid running attack, as well as returning all-conference players Cody Donoven and Darius Wendland.
North Star High School opens it's season on Saturday when they host archrival Chester. The Knights also have a key road game on Sept. 24 when they travel to perennial Northern C powerhouse Belt.
Chester is another Hi-Line school where things have changed over the past year. Chester is now co-oping with J-I and even though the school will remain in Chester, the mascot is now the Hawks. The new-look Hawks will look to continue the run of Class C playoff appearances that Chester has the past decade.
The Hawks return several key players from last year's 5-3 team led by utility back Kevin May. May will take most of the snaps at quarterback for new Chester head coach Dennis Morris. But he will also see time at fullback and tailback in Chester's ground-oriented offensive attack. Starting running back Matt Wicks also returns to the Hawks lineup after missing most of last year with an injury.
"I still think Chester will be one of the team's to beat in our league," said Rocky Boy head coach Rick Sunchild. "They have great athletes and they are such a tough running team."
The Hawks open their 2005 campaign at North Star High School on Saturday afternoon. Chester hosts conference favorite Power-Dutton-Brady in its home opener next Friday
Things haven't changed much in Rocky Boy or Hays-Lodge Pole, except for what both Sunchild and Blackwolf call a change in attitude. Both schools have experienced several consecutivelosing seasons and neither team is predicted to make much noise in 2005.
Still, Blackwolf maintains that regardless of wins and losses, things will look much different for the 2005 Hays-Lodge Pole Thunderbirds.
"We have tried to instill a much more positive attitude in all of our players," Blackwolf said. "We are trying to get each player to step up and accept responsibility for what they do, regardless of if they are a senior or a freshman
"So far things have been really good around here," he added. "And we are building a good team chemistry."
The T-Birds also have some talent returning from last year's 2-7 team, led by senior tailback Cody McCabe and junior linebacker Lance Brockie. Hays-Lodge Pole should be a very good offensive team but Blackwolf said that defense will be an area in which his team needs to improve as the season progresses.
The Thunderbirds open their season at home against the Belt Huskies on Saturday.
Meanwhile, in Rocky Boy, Sunchild is returning another team full of underclassmen. Rocky Boy was one of the top offensive team s a year ago but couldn't stop anyone else from scoring. Sunchild is hoping that that trend doesn't stay the same this season.
"I think we will still be a pretty explosive offensive team," he said. "And we have some young kids on defense that are looking really good right now. One thing is for sure, this is a hard working group. They have really been focused on becoming a very good football team so far this season."
The Stars do have some experience at running back in senior Rob Sunchild as well as junior quarterback Cody Trottier. Rocky Boy will open its season on Saturday at archrival Heart Butte.
In Big Sandy, things have changed a lot in the two years since the Pioneers made their magical run all the way to the Class C state championship game.
Last year, Big Sandy endured a tough rebuilding year under first-year coach Larry Jappe. But things are changing again for Jappe as the Pioneers are a year older and once again they are expected to vie for the Northern C title.
"We were really young last year," Jappe said. "But we lost a couple of really close games and that gave these kids a lot of confidence and experience. This year we are a much more veteran team."
Not only is Big Sandy more experienced in 2005, but they are just as talented. Big Sandy returns six key starters from a year ago, led by senior quarterback Justin Willis.
Halfback Lawrence Jappe was an all-conference player a year ago and will be expected to be one of the top running backs in the league this season.
The Pioneers not only have speed, but size as well. Guards Nick Briese and Blaine Ophus will make a formidable and large tandem on both lines this season.
"I think we have the opportunity to have a very good season," Jappe said. "But we have to avoid injuries. We aren't a very deep season, so staying healthy will be a big key to our season.
The Pioneers open their season tonight when they host the Valier Panthers. The key to the Pioneers playoff hopes may come in October when they visit North Star High School, Chinook and Chester in consecutive weeks.