If Thursday night’s game between Billings Senior and Butte is even the slightest indication of what’s to come in Montana’s 2021 high school football season, we’re in for a treat.
There are some tremendous non-conference matchups across the state in Week 1 that will pit playoff teams against each other, including a certain championship game rematch that’s one of the most highly anticipated season openers in recent memory.
Games are just hours away as we look towards some of the top battles of the week.
- No. 1 vs. No. 2. What more needs to be said? Billings West fell to Missoula Sentinel in last year’s State AA title game, 24-15. West is absolutely loaded headed into the 2021 season, but they get a litmus test right off the bat as they travel to Missoula to take on Sentinel at Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Friday night to face the defending champs. Will Sentinel once again be the favorite in Class AA, or does West have the horses to dethrone the Spartans? Win or lose, we’ll likely be hearing plenty from these two teams throughout the year.
- Helena High finished second in the Western AA last season but fell to Bozeman in the quarterfinals, ending their season a bit prematurely. Helena should once again have a contender out West, but they’ve got a stiff Week 1 test in Great Falls High. The Bison also bowed out in last year’s quarterfinals after finishing fourth in the Eastern AA. Keep an eye on Reed Harris for Great Falls. The kid is absolutely electric and can take over a game at any given moment. Both teams should be in contention for regular-season conference titles down the stretch.
- What exactly will the Dillon Beavers look like in 2021? Gone to play at Montana State is Jace Fitzgerald, who served as a jack of all trades for Dillon throughout his career. We’ll get our first glimpse of the Beavers on Friday night as they host Whitefish on Friday night. Whitefish missed out on the playoffs last season by just a game and are looking to make noise in the Western A this fall. Getting off on the right foot in Week 1 is critical for both teams as they try to find their footing early on.
- Polson, too, narrowly missed the playoffs last fall, but the Pirates have one of the most high-powered offenses in Class A returning. Junior quarterback Jarrett Wilson looked like one of the top signal callers in the state last fall and has likely taken another leap in his progression. It will certainly help that he’s got his top target Colton Graham back, as well. Polson returns multiple all-conference picks outside Wilson and Graham, too. The Pirates host Butte Central on Friday night, as Polson aims to get off to a quick start.
- It’s a light slate across Class B in Week 1, but one of the traditional powers is getting its season started against an out-of-state team. Eureka, who finished second in the Western B last season before bowing out in the opening round of the playoffs, will face Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho at home on Friday night. Eureka will need to find a way to fill the hole left by all-state running back Gunnar Smith but returning all-state selection Johnny Fehr along the offensive line will certainly help. The Lions should be strong up front, as reigning all-conference selection Gavin Pilkington also returns along the offensive line. Look for senior Danny Dunn to take a leap for Eureka this year. Eureka defeated Bonner’s Ferry 14-0 to open the 2020 season.
- You can’t ask for a much better Week 1 matchup. No. 2 Joliet will visit No. 1 Shelby on Friday night. The two sides played to open the 2020 season with Joliet winning at home 46-26. Joliet lost some pieces up front, but they return all-state running back and linebacker Rye Brastrup, who will likely be one of the top players in the classification this season. Both teams have dreams of deep postseason runs, but this meeting is a litmus test of sorts for the Coyotes and J-Hawks. Is Shelby deserving of the No. 1 spot in the MontanaSports.com polls, or can Joliet knock the Coyotes off on opening weekend and make it back to back years with a victory over one of the top teams in the North?
- The 8-Man East has proven to be one of the more competitive conferences in the classification over the past few years. Well, there’s no cupcakes on the schedule in Week 1 for Ekalaka and Westby-Grenora, as the two 2020 playoff teams will do battle in a huge early-season test. A conference championship is likely goal No. 1 for each side, but a loss in the opening week would be awful tough to overcome with the gauntlet ahead. Keep an eye on this game. Who knows, it could decide a playoff spot down the line.
- White Sulphur Springs lost to Froid-Medicine Lake in last year’s 6-Man state title game, but the Hornets bring back three all-state selections in Shaw Davis, Sam Davis and Alex Novark. White Sulphur doesn’t get a cakewalk in Week 1, though, as they’ll host Big Sandy, who lost to Froid-Medicine Lake in last year’s semifinals. The Pioneers, though, will look a bit different than last season, as junior Kody Strutz is the only remaining all-conference selection. Is Big Sandy still an upper echelon team, or have they fallen pack to the pack slightly? If White Sulphur has championship aspirations in 2021, they should take care of business at home on Saturday.
- An interesting non-conference game will take place in Wibaux on Saturday when Broadview-Lavina comes to town for Jeff Bertelsen’s 6-Man debut. Broadview-Lavina has a pair of all-conference players returning from last year’s team that bowed out in the opening round of the playoffs, while Wibaux has just one returning all-conference selection. I believe Broadview-Lavina could be a dangerous team this season, as those youngsters they’ve had the past couple years are maturing into upperclassmen. We’ll find out quickly how competitive Wibaux will be this season under Bertelsen.