CORVALLIS — Stubborn defense catapulted Columbia Falls to the brink of a State A football championship Saturday.
The Wildcats set the tone at Corvallis with two stops deep in their own territory in the first 20 minutes, then rode the momentum to a 19-7 win in front of a huge crowd in the Bitterroot Valley.
It marked the end of the Blue Devils’ best season in 47 years at 8-2. The Wildcats (9-2) will appear in the finals for the first time since 2017, playing on the road for the third straight week against Dillon next Saturday.
Montana football commit Cody Schweikert was a catalyst for Columbia Falls at quarterback and inside linebacker. He scored the first two touchdowns and helped direct a defense that held Corvallis to its lowest point total in two months.
“We feel like all year that we’ve actually had the best defense in the state,” said Jaxon Schweikert, the Wildcats’ veteran coach and Cody’s father. “We’re fast and great on the back end. We feel like we have the best noseguard in the state, our D-ends are very active and get after it and our two inside backers are strong.”
Columbia Falls’ defense has allowed less than a touchdown a game on average over the past four games. On Saturday the Wildcats contained Corvallis’ dangerous passing game, holding Blue Devils quarterback Aydan Mayn to 12 completions on 26 attempts with two interceptions.
“We know Wildcat football is all about defense,” Cody Schweikert said. “We get on defense in practice and there’s none of that soft, you run this. It’s smashmouth, it’s getting after it, talking a little trash, physical.
“They’re coming to battle and we’re going to war. You get your blood pumping and you feel like you’ve got no pain.”
Corvallis took the opening kickoff and drove all the way to the Columbia Falls 22-yard line before stalling. The Wildcats then put together a scoring drive that included a conversion on 4th-and-1 at the Blue Devils’ 21. Schweikert capped the drive with a one-yard TD dive.
“They got a fourth-down stop and a fourth-down conversion that were big momentum swings, and like I’ve said in the past, those big moments can be just enough to get you through,” Corvallis coach JP McCrossin said. “Our defense gave our offense some opportunities but we couldn’t quite punch it in enough.”
The Wildcats stretched their lead to 13-0 with a 41-yard march capped by Schweikert on a 1-yard TD burst at 9:16 in the second period. Corvallis made a bid to answer but stalled on 4th-and-3 from the Columbia Falls 14.
The Blue Devils had yet another golden opportunity late in the first half with possession inside the Columbia Falls 35. But Mark Robison ended that threat when he intercepted a pass deflected by a teammate.
The Wildcats stretched their lead to 19-0 just before halftime on a trick play. Freshman Banyan Johnston took a handoff and threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to senior Jace Hill.
Corvallis scored its only touchdown on a 4-yard run by Logan Avery midway through the third period. The Blue Devils never entered the red zone again, struggling to find consistency running and passing the football.
Despite the outcome, Saturday’s atmosphere is something McCrossin and his players will probably never forget.
“It’s super special, super emotional,” McCrossin said. “It’s been an honor to work with all these great kids and coaches and administrators this season.”
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Schweikert was a one-man wrecking crew on offense. He completed 13 of 16 passes for 130 yards and ran the football 35 times for 64 yards.
Next weekend’s championship will be a rematch of the 2016 chipper when Dillon topped injury-riddled Columbia Falls, 34-17.
“If you’re healthy you have a chance and if you’re not it’s an uphill fight,” said coach Schweikert, whose team is riding a seven-game win streak. “Our kids know what we want to do. They’re very intelligent and they put their heart and souls into it.”
Dillon won at Columbia Falls on Sept. 8, 22-19.
“It was a very close game the first time,” coach Schweikert said. “We had a lead all the way to the end and snapped it over our punter’s head and they were able to punch it in. Then we went down and didn’t get our field goal.
“We like playing Dillon. They’re very good and you know what they’re going to do and they know what we’re going to do. It’s always a good matchup.”
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