A Guide to the Class AA Football Semifinals

Two teams from the west and two from the east will battle it out Friday night for a state championship game berth

By Chris Peterson for 406mtsports.com
Wolfpack players take the field before the crosstown game at Legends Stadium. Beacon file photo

And then there were four.

After 11 weeks of the Class AA football season, we are down to four teams — two from the Western AA and two from the Eastern AA — which will battle it out on Friday night for a berth in the state championship game.

One matchup, will be a rematch of the 2022 state championship game as the defending champs, Helena Capital, will travel to Bozeman to take on the Hawks, the state runner-up and top-ranked team all season long in the 406mtsports.com poll.

The Hawks are 10-0. Gallatin and Glacier are 9-1, while the Bruins are 7-3. All four teams took advantage of the first round-bye and won last week by an average of 28 points. Capital’s 22-point win over Billings West was the closest game. 

Three of the four teams are making return trips to the semifinals. Glacier is the only newcomer to Class AA football’s final four and here’s a look ahead to each game on Friday night.

A Glacier Wolfpack football helmet. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Gallatin (9-1) at Glacier (9-1) Friday, 7 p.m.

In terms of state championship droughts, Glacier can reach its first Class AA state championship game since 2016. Two wins would give the Wolfpack their first state title since 2014.

As far as Gallatin is concerned, the Raptors are back in the semis for the second straight season but are still seeking their first ever trip to the state championship game.

Last season, Bozeman knocked out the Raptors and the 21-17 loss to the Hawks remains their only defeat this season. Head coach Hunter Chandler has used a two-QB system similar to Capital’s in 2022 and it’s worked like a charm with Grant Vigen and Reese Dahlke. Dahlke is the better runner and ranks ninth in Class AA in rushing yards (593). He also has nine touchdown runs. Vigen has 19 touchdown passes and four interceptions. He also has one of the best wideouts in the state in Quinn Clark, a Nebraska football commit. Carter Dahlke has also been effective as a receiver for the Raptors who have averaged 38.8 points per game while allowing just 9.7.

Gallatin’s defense will be challenged in a big way though. The Wolfpack have the top scoring offense in Class AA led by sophomore quarterback Jackson Presley who has 2,271 yards, 23 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. Kobe Dorcheus has rushed for 865 yards (3rd in Class AA) and also leads all Class AA backs with 12 touchdowns.

The Wolfpack also have the top pass-catcher in the Class AA in Cohen Kastelitz who leads the class in receiving yards with 1,015 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also averages 21 yards per reception. Kash Goicoechea is another player to watch on both sides of the ball. He has three interceptions for the Wolfpack on defense. 

Glacier has allowed one more point this season than Gallatin with 98 compared to 97 allowed for the Raptors. Glacier has also allowed just eight points per game at home this season. 

Bozeman High’s Rocky Lencioni (9) celebrates a touchdown with the Hawks during the Class AA quarterfinal football playoff game between Butte High and Bozeman High on Friday, Nov. 3, 2023 at Bozeman High School. Joseph Scheller, The Montana Standard/406mtsports.com

Capital (7-3) at Bozeman (10-0) Friday, 7 p.m.

The Bruins beat Bozeman twice last season, but the Hawks and Bruins haven’t met this season and they are also totally different teams.

Bozeman has more players on the roster back from last season but both teams have different starting quarterbacks and graduated lots of talent from last year’s teams. 

Kellen Harrison is the signal-caller for the Hawks and he’s been spectacular this season. He’s got two of the most productive wideouts in the the state in Rocky Lencioni (721 receiving yards) and Cordell Holzer (719 receiving yards). That’s helped Harrison throw for over 2,100 yards and 19 touchdowns. Brady Casagranda also provides balance in the running game.

While the Hawks have one of the top passing attacks in Class AA, Capital has the best running game with over 240 yards per game. Tuff Adams and Merek Mihelish both rank among the top 10 Class AA in rushing yards and last week, Mihelish, the Bruins junior starting quarterback, ran for 145 yards. He also threw two touchdown passes.

Capital also has some talented pass catchers in its own right in Daniel Larson and Dylan Almquist. Cole Graham has also been a force at outside linebacker — leading the Bruins in sacks — as well as being an effective runner too. He’s got eight rushing touchdowns including a 55-yarder last week against West.

Helena Capital’s Merek Mihelish looks for a gap in the Billings West defense on a quarterback keeper during Friday nights playoff game at Vigilante Stadium. Gary Marshall/406mtsports.com

Both teams are stellar on offense. Yet, defense might be the biggest reason why each is still playing. Bozeman hasn’t allowed a team to score 20 points yet this season and just four of 10 opponents have scored more than one touchdown.

For the season, the Hawks are allowing just 9.7 points per game. Capital has been pretty stout too, allowing just 15 points per game this season. Both teams also average more than two sacks per game. 

However, in games against Gallatin and Glacier — the other semifinalists — the Bruins have allowed an average of 42 points per game. They were outscored a total of 84-14 which is a worrisome data point heading into Friday night.

At the same time, the Bruins have won four in a row. Bozeman hasn’t lost since last year’s state championship game. The Hawks are seeking their first title since 2019, as well as their third trip to the title game in the past five seasons. 

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