I hope that high school football fans on the Hi-Line know how lucky they all are. No, check that, how lucky we all are, because I’m a fan too.
On Saturday afternoon, in what will surely a frigid and cold town of Big Sandy, fans will get to watch the Class C Six-Man Pioneers try to reach the state championship game. It’s an exciting time for the Pioneers, the Big Sandy student-body and the entire town and win or lose Saturday against Valier, it’s history in the making.
But Saturday’s game in Big Sandy is just another in a long line of great and historical football stories on the Hi-Line, as our area continues to churn out great high school football.
For me, it all began in 2002 when Havre High unexpectedly reached and hosted the Class A state championship game. The Ponies lost a close battle with Laurel that day, but just two years later, they got their coveted state championship when they bested Billings Central in the 2004 title game.
For me, and for fans, that could have been the pinnacle of football success on the Hi-Line. But really, it was just the beginning.
Havre has continued to make the playoffs on a regular basis, while Chinook and Big Sandy have been more than dominant in their respective classes over that same time frame. Add in multiple playoff appearances by North Star and Chester/J-I and it’s tough to argue against the Hi-Line being one of the high school football hotbeds in the Treasure State.
Chinook’s recent run includes four straight trips to the Class C playoffs, two semifinal berths and a Class C state championship in 2010. Again, that frigid November day when the Sugarbeeters blasted Wibaux for the school’s first football state title could have been the mountain top for area, but Big Sandy may have other ideas this season.
And for longevity sake, Chinook and Havre have been great for a long time now, but consistency has been the trademark of Big Sandy football.
The Pioneers are making their third straight trip to the Six-Man semifinals, and Saturday’s game against Valier may be the Pioneers’ best chance to get into the championship game.
However, Big Sandy hasn’t just been a Six-Man power the last 10 years, the Pioneers also made plenty of noise as a Northern C 8-man power not so long ago. In 2003, the Pioneers made it all the way to the Class C championship game before falling to the Drummond Trojan dynasty. And Big Sandy kept up its great play, through its remaining years in 8-man football and now in the Six-Man ranks.
And now, ironically, in a season in which the Pioneers are the subject of a football documentary on Six-Man football in Montana, they are on the verge of a historic season.
But on the Hi-Line, historic football seasons are nothing new. You can go back to some great Havre High teams of the past, teams from Chester and Blue Sky/KG, which won state titles on the same day in 1998, while Blue Sky/KG repeated in Six-Man the next year. You can look at Chinook’s runs recently and even Havre’s jaunt to the Class A state semifinals just a year ago.
And the list goes on and on. That list simply suggests that high school football on the Hi-Line is always in the mix when it comes to playoff and state championship success. Whether it’s Class or Six-Man, just in my time at the Havre Daily News, which is going on 11 years now, I’ve always been busy this time of year.
And thanks to the Pioneers, myself and my staff are going to be very busy and very cold on Saturday. But that’s OK with us. Bring on the snow and the wind and the wind chills. Because if I’m standing out in that kind of weather on a Saturday in mid-November it means a local football team is on the verge of more history.
And with how often teams like the Pioneers, Ponies and Beeters get there, it really doesn’t matter how bad the weather gets Saturday. With so much football success on the Hi-Line, I’m used to it by now, and I know that this year’s great run by Big Sandy won’t be the last great run by a team in our area.