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Northern C gets even bigger in 2018


August 14, 2018

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Spencer Richter, a quarteback from Chester-Joplin-Inverness takes a snap in a Northern C game against Belt last fall. CJI and Belt have both been part of the Northern C for years, but the league has expanded from eight teams a few years ago to 13 and welcomes in Shelby, the third team coming down from Class B in the last two seasons.

When it comes to Class C 8-Man football in Montana, there may be no division tougher than the Northern C. For years, it's been home to some gridiron powerhouses and with expansion in recent years, the league is only getting tougher.

A few years ago, the Northern C consisted of just eight teams. Now, it has ballooned to 13 thanks to another realignment, which has become a common thing in Montana High School football. Many teams have dropped from the ranks of Class B in recent years to play 8-Man football and that's something that has changed the outlook of the Northern C with the recent additions of Rocky Boy, Choteau and now Shelby, which will play in the Northern C this season after being the state runner-up in Class B 11-man football last season.

"The Northern C has always been really deep and competitive," Fort Benton head coach Jory Thompson said. "And getting some teams like Shelby and Choteau has only added to that.

Box Elder also moved up to 8-Man ranks after reaching the Six-Man title game in 2015. One season prior to that, Hays-Lodge Pole also moved back to the North after previously being part of the Eastern C. Those five schools, along with Belt, Chinook, Fort Benton, another former Class B drop down, Chester-Joplin-Inverness, Simms, Great Falls Central and Centerville give the Northern C a total of 13 teams.

That extra team will also mean an extra playoff spot. Four teams from the division made the 8-man playoffs in 2017 but this season it will be expanded to five. The Southern C, which has just eight teams will get only three berths this season. That's because the other three divisions all have at least 10 teams. The Eastern and Western divisions each have 10, which means the total number of teams in 8-Man football has now reached 40.

"Since we have 13 teams and the Southern C only has seven or eight, we are going to get another playoff berth," Thompson said. "It's going to be very competitive as always and adding Shelby is going to make it even more difficult. The goal for teams is going to be to try and make the playoffs without having to go through a play-in game."

Choteau made the playoffs in its first season of 8-Man football last year and the Coyotes, despite losing a ton of talent from their team in 2017, could have a chance at doing something similar. Due to the fact that it has 13 teams, the Northern C is split into two divisions, the Northern C "A" Division and the Northern C "B" Division. Shelby will play in sub-division B along with Fort Benton, Rocky Boy, Simms, Chinook, Centerville and Cascade. The A sub-division will feature Belt, who is the defending Northern C champion, along with CJI, Box Elder, Great Falls Central, Hays-Lodge Pole and Choteau.

While the league is going to be getting an extra playoff team, it will use a similar format as last year to determine its postseason participants. The top three teams from each sub-division will have a chance to play their way into the playoffs. The top seed from each division will meet in what is essentially the Northern C Championship game. The winner of that game will be the top seed and the conference champion. The loser will be the No. 2 seed. But both teams are guaranteed a playoff spot, so each division champion is guaranteed a berth despite what happens in the Northern C title game.

Then, just like last season, the second and third-seeded teams from each division will play a team from the opposite sub-division to determine the next two playoff berths. For instance, the second-place team from the A division will play the third-place team from the B division and vice versa. The winners of those two games will be the third and fourth-seeded teams in the state playoffs.

However, that leaves one vacant spot and this season it will mean one more play-in game for two teams. The two teams that lose the play-in games for third and fourth, will meet the following week to determine the fifth and final playoff spot from the Northern C. That means that any team that finishes second or third in its sub-division will have as many as two chances to play its way into the playoffs.

"The difference is that last year, after we lost that play-in game, we would have gotten another shot the next week," Thompson said. "That's going to be the week of teacher conferences, so everyone else will have a bye week anyways, so those two teams will play for that final spot."

Throughout the years, the Northern C has always been tough. But with five teams added in just the last few seasons and three of them coming from Class B, the division only seems to get tougher and that's something that probably won't change anytime soon.

"I thought the Northern C was very young last season," Thompson said. "I thought it was a bit of a down year and I think the conference is ready to bounce back. I think adding teams like Choteau and Shelby has only made it that much tougher and having a chance to win the Northern C is going to be very difficult. Just winning our own sub-division is going to be difficult. But that's the goal you have to start out with."

The season is just around the corner for the teams of the Northern C. The high school football season officially starts for all classes next Thursday, Aug. 23.


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