Over the course of the last calendar year, it would be hard to argue that the Hi-Line is producing some high school football power.
Less than one year ago, the Hi-Line saw the Chinook Sugarbeeters win a Class C state championship, Big Sandy reach the Class C Six-Man semifinals, and three more teams, Havre High, Chester/J-I and North Star all make playoff appearances.
Last fall could be categorized as one of the most successful football seasons the Hi-Line has had in a long time.
Fast forward one year however, and things are looking even better.
The 2001 high school football season has produced four more playoff teams, while North Star missed the Six-Man playoffs by one win. But this season, it isn’t just making the playoffs that has made this area so successful.
Every team from the area which made the playoffs at least picked up one victory and three area teams are in the semifinals, all with a chance at a state championship.
Of the four teams to begin the playoffs last month, only Chester/J-I is done for the season. But the Hawks had a remarkable year. C/J-I gave Chinook it’s best game during the Beeters’ 19-game winning streak, lost just once in the regular season and won a first-round playoff game on its home field – a shutout win over traditional 8-man power Scobey.
And while C/J-I’s great season drew to a close this past weekend in Twin Bridges, Havre, Big Sandy and Chinook are all very much alive.
The Blue Ponies made a huge leap this season – from just being a playoff team a year ago, to winning the Central A title, defeating Hamilton 30-14 in the Class A quarterfinals last weekend and riding a six-game winning streak into this Saturday’s semifinal showdown in Dillon. Havre got a big monkey off its back with its victory over Hamilton – the first HHS playoff win in seven years. And now, no matter what happens this weekend in Dillon, the 2011 Blue Pony team has already etched its name in the annals of Havre playoff football. This team is the first Class semifinalist since the 2004 squad that won it all.
Then there’s the Beeters and Pioneers. Both squads have been to the playoffs three straight times now, and both are exactly where they were this time last November – in the semifinals with a state championship so close, they can almost reach out and touch it.
Chinook’s run, which now includes a 19-game winning streak dating back to last year is remarkable. The Beeters lost several key pieces of last year’s state championship team, including all-state running back Tyler Molyneaux and quarterback Lane Schmidt. Josh Jones, who was a Shrine Game nominee and an all-state player, as well Chris Haider, another all-state selection also graduated, yet the Beeters had barely been tested before Saturday’s thrilling win over Drummond. Despite all of the losses from graduation a year ago, the Beeters are averaging almost 56 points per game, have two great rushers in Ben Stroh and Zach Molyneaux, they have great physical offensive and defensive lines and a hard-hitting defense.
And all of that adds up to Chinook being two wins a way from something even more exciting than last year’s title – a repeat.
Big Sandy is also back in the semifinals, though the Pioneers lost some very good players from last year’s team including the leading rusher in Six-Man football. Like Chinook however, it’s seemed to matter none.
Big Sandy has steam rolled opponents all year long behind a physical and talented group which includes Justin Stevens, Jessey Bailey, Trevor Lackner and Kaden Beck to name a few. And just like last year, the Pioneers are oh so close to getting what they covet most – a shot at a state championship. One year to the day, Big Sandy will be playing Savage for the chance to go to the state championship game, only this time, the Pioneers are hoping the outcome is different.
It’s hard to believe a year has already passed since I thought I’d seen one of the best years of football on the Hi-Line in the last decade. But here we are, one year later, and three teams separated by no more than 50 miles from the other are playing in the biggest games of their lives, the state semifinals.
What a run it’s been on the Hi-Line. And something tells me it’s not over yet.