Kings of the Jungle

The Eureka Lions football team silenced any doubters after a perfect regular season and is roaring into the Class B playoffs seeking to defend its state title

By Dillon Tabish
Eureka senior quarterback Garrett Graves, pictured on Oct. 18, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

EUREKA — How do you follow up the best high school football season in the town’s history?

Try to do it all over again.

With dominating style and efficiency, the Eureka Lions are undefeated and roaring into the Class B playoffs, which start this weekend.

The Lions (7-0 overall, 5-0 in Western B) host Cut Bank (4-5) at 1 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 28 in the first round. Click here to view the bracket.

The pride of Eureka has shined all fall, on and off the field, and is carving out its own unique legacy a season after the Lions won their first state title in storybook fashion. Last year, the Lions were trailing 28-25 with eight seconds remaining in the Class B state championship when quarterback Garrett Graves threw a 38-yard Hail Mary that ended up in the arms of teammate Austyn Sherwood, who scored the game-winning touchdown over Missoula Loyola.

It secured the team its first ever state title with a 10-1 record.

Entering a new fall campaign, head coach Trevor Utter and his assistants placed a hefty task in front of the new squad: develop your own unique identity and chase your own legacy.

“These kids, they see it as their opportunity,” Utter said. “We had a lot of kids that were juniors last year and were sitting on the bench even though they would’ve probably started for most Class B teams. We just had 12 seniors that were darn good ahead of them. Now this is their opportunity.”

Among them is Graves, who has only grown after last year’s stellar junior year and is one of the top quarterbacks in Montana. The University of Montana recruit has completed 54 percent of his passes for 1,060 yards and 15 touchdowns to only five interceptions. He’s also rushed for 448 yards and 11 TDs.

“We’re definitely the hardest-working team in the state,” Graves said. “These guys are putting in the effort and we’re getting better every day. That will help us huge because we have talent, and when hard work meets talent, that’s hard to stop.”

Eureka can rely on a large group of players to rise to the occasion. It’s also one of the fastest teams in Montana. Chet McCully has 672 yards rushing and eight TDs, while Jake Kindel has 196 yards and five TDs. Brenton Pluid has 164 yards rushing and four TDs along with 243 yards receiving and another five TDs. Hank Dunn has 195 yards receiving and two TDs.

“A lot of people said we weren’t going to be good this year,” Pluid said. “That was extra motivation.”

Eureka football is a community event, and a good portion of the town turns out to support the Lions every Saturday, a tradition that dates back years.

“Our community support is huge,” Utter said. “People get very excited when there’s a football game here.”

This season the team stepped up for its community and paid back the support. The high school sports teams raised $44,000 for local families who lost their homes to wildfires this summer.

“It felt good to give back to people who needed it,” Pluid said.

Entering the playoffs, Eureka has the confidence to make a run like last year. In a rematch against Loyola during the regular season, the Lions left nothing to doubt, winning 51-28. With the opportunity to potentially host every game of the playoffs, including the state championship, motivation is blazing hot in Lincoln County.

“We’ve got the mindset that we’re the underdogs every game,” Graves said.

Chet McCully runs through a hole during practice on Oct. 18, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

High School Football Roundup

Flathead 56, Missoula Hellgate 15

Flathead quarterback Taylor Morton threw for five touchdowns, including a pair of scores by Anthony Jones, and the Braves locked up a trip to the Class AA state football playoffs.

The Braves improved to 5-3 overall and guaranteed themselves a top-eight playoff berth. Flathead wraps up the regular season at Helena (7-1) on Friday night. Flathead will clinch the No. 4 seed with a win and losses by both Helena Capital and Billings West, and the No. 5 seed with a win and a Helena Capital loss or a Billings West loss.

Click here to view the playoff bracket.

Against Hellgate, Flathead pilled up 475 yards of offense and held the Knights to 229 yards. Morton completed 15 of 24 passes for 240 yards. He connected with Anthony Jones on three TDs and found John Hinchey for another score. Jon Baker rushed for a 20-yard score, Blake Counts had a 39-yard TD catch and Cooper Smith found Jestin Bulick for a 20-yard TD on the Braves’ final score.

Counts finished with nine carries for 100 yards and two catches for 46 yards. Baker had 48 yards on six carries. Jones finished with six catches for 116 yards, and Hinchey had four catches for 50 yards.

Missoula Big Sky 43, Glacier 41

The Eagles edged the Wolfpack in a close Class AA showdown in Missoula.

Glacier (3-5) is clinging to playoff hopes and must win its final regular season game and hope that Bozeman (4-5) or Missoula Sentinel (4-4) loses. Glacier hosts Missoula Hellgate (0-9) at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 27. Bozeman hosts Billings Skyview (3-6) and Sentinel hosts Helena Capital (6-3).

Against Big Sky, Glacier senior Drew Turner rushed 28 times for 267 yards and five touchdowns. Drew Deck had three catches for 70 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Evan Todd completed six of 16 passes for 97 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Columbia Falls 50, Polson 6

Colten McPhee scored three touchdowns as the Wildcats overwhelmed the Pirates in the regular-season finale.

Columbia Falls piled up 402 yards of offense and limited Polson to 123 en rout to the Northwestern A crown and a first-round bye in the Class A playoffs, which begin this week.

Polson’s season ended at 2-6 overall, 2-3 in conference. Columbia Falls (6-1, 5-0) and Browning (5-4, 4-1) advanced to the postseason. Click here to view a bracket.

Browning hosts Frenchtown (7-2) at 6 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 28 in the first round. The winner plays at Billings Central (8-1) the following week.

Columbia Falls hosts the winner of Miles City (7-2) and Lewistown (5-4).

In other playoff action, Dillon (7-1) hosts Butte Central (5-3), and the winner plays at Sidney (8-1). Laurel (7-2) hosts Glendive (4-5) and the winner plays at Hamilton (8-1).

Libby 18, Whitefish 0

The Loggers finished the season with a Northwestern A victory over the Bulldogs.

Chandler Bower, Laine Young and Brian Peck each scored for Libby, which finished the season 2-7 overall, 1-4 in conference. Whitefish ended the season 1-7, 1-4. Both teams missed out on the playoffs.

Bigfork 41, Deer Lodge 0

Randy Stultz scored five touchdowns as the Vikings wrapped up the regular season with a dominating win.

Bigfork (6-1 overall, 4-1 in Western B) landed the No. 3 seed from the West in the Class B state playoffs. The Vikes travel to Shelby (5-3) on Saturday, Oct. 28 for a first-round showdown.

In other Class B playoff action, Eureka (7-0) hosts Cut Bank (4-5) at 1 p.m., Oct. 28; Manhattan (6-2) hosts Roundup (5-4); Fairfield (8-0) hosts Florence (4-4); Huntley Project (7-2) hosts Big Timber (6-3); Whitehall (9-0) hosts Shepherd (4-4); Colstrip (8-1) hosts Townsend (6-3); and Missoula Loyola (5-3) hosts Malta (6-2).

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