Valier has quickly grown into one of the top Class C 6-man football programs in the state. The Panthers have been knocking on the door of the state championship for the last three seasons, and are now the deepest into the 6-Man playoffs they have been in school history.
But the road to 6-man supremacy has been a unique one.
You have to dust off the record books and dive in pretty deep, but Valier used to play Class B 11-Man football. They played in the Class B ranks through the 1960’s and 1970’s before dropping to Class C 8-Man, and now Class C 6-Man, their football home for about the last decade or so. According to the Montana High School Association record books, the Panthers finished second in the Class C state championship in 1949 with a 44-13 loss to Belgrade.
The Panthers have even produced NFL caliber talent over the years. Scott Curry was a former offensive tackle for Valier and eventually played for the University of Montana. Curry was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the sixth round of the 1999 draft, but spent just a handful of seasons in the NFL.
But now in the 6-Man playoffs for the third straight year, the Panthers are looking to continue writing the record books.
Last season the Panthers entered the playoffs as a No. 4 seed and lost in the first round. And two seasons ago, they entered as a No. 2 seed and made it to the quarterfinals before losing out to Hysham and finishing the season with a 9-1 record, easily their best season in recent history.
This season the Panthers are well on their way to another impressive finish to their season.
Under the guidance of first-year head coach Tim Hawke, Valier has already recorded a 9-1 record. They earned a No. 3 seed out of the North, and find themselves up against a tough Pioneers' team on Saturday in Big Sandy in semifinal action. Valier’s one loss came Geraldine-Highwood, losing 64-40. But as many fans already know, Geraldine-Highwood is no slouch, as they earned the No. 1 seed out of the North, and are playing in the other semifinal game against Hot Springs. The nine wins recorded this season by the Panthers were over Bridger, Heart Butte, Augusta, Stanford-Geyser, Big Sandy, Box Elder, North Star, and Alberton and Bridger in the playoffs.
The Panthers are the only team to defeat the Pioneers this season, making this weekend’s matchup much more intriguing as they set out to prove the 46-44 win was not a fluke.
But beating Big Sandy has not been easy for any team in recent years. And beating them at home is even tougher, while beating them at home twice in one season is as close to impossible as a football team can get. This is also Big Sandy’s third straight season playing in the state semifinals, but with athletes like Cody Berg, it's hard to believe that the Panthers don’t really like their chances come Saturday.
Berg is as tough as any running back the Pioneers have faced, and has been a key component to Valier’s success this season. Quarterback Clint Christaens has also helped carry the load, while Cooper Hawke and Justin Sullivan have also proved to be big time assets.
The list of current Valier stars could go on and on, but to make it simple, the Panthers are extremely talented. And evenly matched with the Pioneers, this could be the most competitive playoff game this season at any prep level. There are always a handful of blowouts during the post season, but after the two-point margin the first time around, there hasn’t been any changes to lead fans to believe it would be any different the second time around.
If there were ever a time for the Valier Panthers to take their program to the next level with a state title, the stage is set for this season. They have already matched their best 6-Man win mark, but are now the furthest into the post season they have ever been at the 6-Man level. The only thing standing in their way, a Big Sandy team looking to avenge their only loss of the season, as well as trying to get into the state championship.
at Big Sandy
Valier Quick Facts: Panthers are making their first trip to the Six-Man semifinals. The Panthers are 9-1 in 2012, and are the only team to beat Big Sandy this season. The Panthers' lone loss came against Geraldine-Highwood. Despite losing just once, Valier finished third in the Northern C. Panthers beat Alberton 64-21 in the first round and Bridgers 64-24 in the quarterfinals. Both playoff wins came on the road.