State-winning football dynasties are hard to come by in Montana, especially compared to other sports.
In Class A Soccer, Whitefish has won five of the last six state titles. In Class AA cross country, Bozeman has earned 13 championship trophies since 2008. In the top classifications of football, however, repeat victories are few and far between. Only one school in Class A and AA has earned back-to-back football titles in the last decade, Billings Senior in 2016 and 2017.
The lack of a state-dominating powerhouse means that dozens of Montana teams enter each fall season filled with hope that they can pass, rush and tackle their way to a trophy.
This year, that hope lives on in two Flathead Valley teams as the Glacier Wolfpack and the Columbia Falls Wildcats prepare for quarterfinal matchups in the state tournament this weekend.
Columbia Falls won state in 2017, while the Wildcats and Wolfpack both made appearances in the state final in 2016. Since then, however, both teams have struggled to move through the playoffs, but coaches expressed optimism about their team’s chances this year.
Grady Bennett, Glacier’s head football coach since the school opened in 2007, is buoyed by the Wolfpack’s chances after they earned a bye through the first round last week.
“These guys have accomplished a lot of things this season, things that haven’t been done in the program before,” Bennett said. “We’ve never received the bye. We’ve been undefeated in first-round playoff games, but never had the week off, so it’s big for them.”
As the No. 1 seed out of the West, Glacier (8-1) enters state competition more rested than their opponent, Missoula Sentinel (6-4), who beat Great Falls 28-7 last Friday.
In another boon to the Wolfpack, the last game of the regular season was against the Spartans — a 27-17 victory that marked Glacier’s first time beating Sentinel in several years. Facing a back-to-back opponent is a first in Bennett’s coaching career, and he said it brings additional momentum to the Wolfpack.
“To beat them on senior night was really big,” Bennett said. “Those kids haven’t beaten that team since they were 7th-graders and that hopefully gives us a lot of confidence. We didn’t play the best that night — we had four turnovers — so that makes us think that if we take care of the ball and play like we know we can, it will be a good game.”
On the gridiron, the Wolfpack is led by sophomore quarterback Jackson Presley, who currently leads the state in passing yards. In his first year with the Wolfpack after transferring from California, Presley has averaged 252.3 yards per game and thrown 23 touchdowns.
“Jackson’s been just outstanding, he’s been everything we thought he would be,” Bennett said. “Along with all the weapons we have on our perimeter, and Jackson playing cool from the center, we can approach any game and just take what the defense gives us and not stress about it.”
The Wolfpack offense includes Kash Goicoechea and Kobe Dorcheus, who Bennett describes as a “thunder and lightning approach to running backs,” and a strong O-line.
Glacier will face off against Sentinel at Legends Stadium on Nov. 3 at 7 p.m.
In Class A, Columbia Falls dominated a first-round playoff game last week, blowing out cross-valley rival Whitefish 42-0. The shutout was the Wildcats’ fifth of the season, and a far cry from the 20-13 OT loss suffered at the hands of the Bulldogs back in September.
“We really had a stretch there early in the season where 80% of a game we were playing like the best team in the state, and 20% of the game we were playing like the worst team in the state,” Wildcats coach Jaxon Schweikert said. “It was all controllable stuff — bad snaps, silly penalties — but it cost us two games.”
Since that initial loss to Whitefish, the Wildcats have won five straight games for a 7-2 record and the top seed from the Northwest. They face an undefeated Billings Central Catholic team on Saturday.
Schweikert has been coaching for 27 years but feels an extra connection to the current roster of players. His son, Cody, is a senior at Columbia Falls and as the team’s starting quarterback and is leading a squad of young men that coach Schweikert has been around for a decade.
“I’ve been working with most of these kids since they were so little their feet couldn’t touch the floor when they sat on a basketball floor,” Schweikert said. “It’s definitely a little more emotional this year. These are all my kids, and I’ve watched them all grow up since the first time they learned the rules of a sport.”
Emotions aside, Schweikert also firmly believes the team could be the best iteration of Wildcats assembled on the gridiron, a notion supported by the entire coaching staff, due to a roster full of star athletes with strong synergy.
Cody Schweikert is a 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound dynamic signal caller. One glance at the stat sheet and it’s clear he’s the top all-around offensive player in the state – this season he’s passed for 2,114 yards including 20 touchdowns, rushed for an additional 16 scores, and has a completion rate of .793.
“He’s been learning this system since he was in third grade. He’s built for this. There’s not a single coach in this state who wouldn’t trade their quarterback for Cody,” Coach Schweikert said.
Helping Cody out is an “intelligent and very athletic” O-line that does a near-impeccable job opening enough room for Cody to work from. Add in three senior receivers in Jace Hill, Mark Robison and Lane Hoerner and running backs Alihn Anderson and Reggie Sapa and Columbia Falls is an offensive powerhouse end to end.
On and off the field, Schweikert characterizes the team as a “real brotherhood” that has one of the strongest cultures of any program he’s been part of it — a culture he says is reflected not just in the school’s other athletic teams, but throughout Columbia Falls.
“One thing about Columbia Falls kids is they always compete really hard and put their heart and soul into this stuff,” Schweikert said. “We plan to put our best foot forward. One thing we will promise is to compete hard and do our best. We feel that will be enough.”
Columbia Falls will face Billings Central Catholic on Nov. 4 at 1 p.m. in Billings.
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