Twelve minutes from achieving a childhood dream — a long-sought prize that’s eluded generations of players, family members and a passionate community — destiny began to blow away with the wind.
In the fourth quarter of last weekend’s Class A state championship football game, Hamilton quarterback Carson Rostad hit Bridger Bauder for a wide-open five-yard touchdown, cutting Columbia Falls’ lead to 19-14. The TD strike elicited heated excitement among Broncs players and fans as their improbable comeback gained steam.
Along the Wildcats’ sideline, and throughout the jam-packed grandstand of blue-clad fans, the sudden score landed like a bucket of ice water on a November day. The emotions grew more desperate four plays later, when Hamilton’s offense triumphantly returned to the field with the chance to take its first lead of the game and capture the title.
“In every big game, it always comes down to four or five plays,” Columbia Falls head coach Jaxon Schweikert said. “And you never know when those plays will come.”
At 2:53 p.m., Nov. 18, with their title hopes slipping and the Broncs charging, the true version of the Wildcats emerged. Brute strength and grittiness — two qualities that have most defined past C-Town teams but especially this year’s — collided with Hamilton’s one-yard push.
“They took what was theirs. They earned it,” longtime Columbia Falls assistant coach Kelly Houle said. “They played hard. They played physical because that’s our brand of football.”
The fateful defensive stand put the ball back in the hands of skilled senior quarterback Austin Green with 6:41 remaining, the game teetering in both directions.
Green’s grandfather, Terry, has lived in Columbia Falls all 63 years of his life and has watched countless players, including Austin’s father, Chad, chase championship glory on that worn-out field of dreams. What he saw on Saturday, he will remember forever, as will most Columbia Falls fans.
The 5-foot-11 quarterback scrambled back on the next play and heaved a gutsy pass into the air. Senior receiver Ben Windauer hauled it in and streaked down the field as the hometown sideline erupted. Forty-two yards later, at long last, the Wildcats were on their way to hoisting an elusive trophy.
“We’ve been so close before. It’s been a long time coming,” Terry Green said afterward.
Columbia Falls defeated Hamilton 26-14 in the final game of the high school football season. Fans flooded the field as the game ended, embracing the first group of battered players to win a championship.
“This means everything to Columbia Falls, and this means everything to the kids,” Houle said.
The team sang its victory song, surrounded by family and classmates, but ended with a new verse: “We’re No. 1.”
“We’ve all worked together throughout the years. We’ve dreamed about it ever since we were little,” Colten McPhee, a junior running back and linebacker, said.
McPhee finished with 182 yards rushing and 22 yards receiving. Green completed 12 of 20 passes for 153 yards and rushed for 157 yards. Logan Kolodejchuk, the team’s bruising senior running back and defensive end, had 30 yards rushing.
“Everyone who doubted us, I want to thank them. We’re No. 1,” Kolodejchuk said.
Especially pivotal for the Wildcats’ win, Auguste Emond, a junior, kicked four field goals for Columbia Falls after Hamilton’s stingy red-zone defense held strong in six drives that resulted in kicking attempts.
“My coaches really prepared me for this, so it was no surprise. I was ready for whatever happened,” said Emond, who traded time between the football and soccer teams this fall.
“It’s crazy. I’ve never felt this feeling before.”
A year after falling short to Dillon in the state title game at home, Columbia Falls finally could celebrate.
“All these coaches just worked so hard for it. And it’s pretty amazing to see what them and the kids have accomplished,” Schweikert said.
As soon as the game ended, before rushing onto the field to celebrate with family, friends and players, Schweikert ran to the sideline and dumped out the last remaining jug of ice water. As head coach, he knew what fate awaited him on this frigid day in Northwest Montana.
“It’s cold out here. I’m no spring chicken anymore,” he said. “I’m in trouble if they start dumping water on me. They’ll be celebrating and I’ll be out here in cardiac arrest.”
Class A State Championship
Hamilton 0 7 0 7 — 14
Columbia Falls 10 6 3 7 — 26
CF — Auguste Emond 22 field goal, 7:59
CF — Ben Windauer 3 pass from Austin Green (Emond kick), 2:51
CF — Emond 29 field goal, 4:31
H — Tyler Chouinard 5 pass from Carson Rostad (Bridger Bauder kick), 2:14
CF — Emond 32 field goal, 0:29
CF — Emond 26 field goal, 2:11
H — Bauder 5 pass from Rostad (Bauder kick), 11:55
CF — Windauer 42 pass from Green (Emond kick), 6:41
Hamilton Columbia Falls
First Downs 14 23
Total Yards 269 522
Rushes-Yards 25-37 61-369
Passing Yards 232 153
Comp-Att-Int 22-34-1 12-20-0
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 4-30 5-33
RUSHING — Hamilton, Bridger Bauder 14-36, Declan O’Brien 1-2, Carson Rostad 10-(-1). Columbia Falls, Colton McPhee 28-182, Austin Green 27-157, Logan Kolodejchuk 6-30.
PASSING — Hamilton, Carson Rostad 22-34-1-232. Columbia Falls, Austin Green 12-20-0-153.
RECEIVING — Hamilton, Camron Rothie 8-103, Tyler Chouinard 7-71, Tucker Jones 2-26, Tyler Barnes 2-16, Bridger Bauder 2-9, Mark Joyner 1-7. Columbia Falls, Ben Windauer 5-86, Logan Kolodejchuk 3-18, Colton McPhee 1-22, Logan Bechtel 1-12, Drew Morgan 1-8, Parker Greene 1-7.