Columbia Falls is ready for a challenge.
The Wildcats (6-1) will host Miles City today at 1 p.m. at Satterthwaite Field in the second round of the Class A football playoffs, a team about as challenging as any in the state.
The Cowboys (8-2) carry the state’s longest winning streak into the game, having won their last eight games, including handing top-seeded Sidney its only loss this season. Miles City beat Lewistown 42-26 in the first round to earn the opportunity for a 600-plus mile drive from the other side of the state.
Columbia Falls earned a bye in the first week of the playoffs after claiming the top seed from the Northwestern A conference. The Wildcats have won their last six games, and with the Cowboys are one of four teams in Class A that haven’t lost since the second week of the regular season.
“We’re really happy with how our kids are playing right now,” Wildcats coach Jackson Schweikert said.
Columbia Falls has had an efficient run to the playoffs, winning its five conference games by an average of 45.6 points to close the season, but was also impressive against top competition early in the year. The Wildcats beat top-seeded Hamilton 23-20 and lost to defending champions Dillon 16-14 in nonconference.
Schweikert attributes that to the power run game, something the Wildcats knew they needed to bolster after the last playoff game they played. Columbia Falls rolled into the state title game last season, but was overrun in a muddy, sleet-soaked game at Satterthwaite Field.
“We’re built differently than we were last year,” Schweikert said. “We put a lot more emphasis on the run game. We’re ready to play in the snow and mud.
“We came out of last year’s championship loss and said that’s not going to happen again. We didn’t have our power run game where we needed it to be for that type of conditions.”
The Wildcats have thrived on the run, avoiding the pass game for most of the season in order to not run up the score in blowouts. Carries have been split between junior Colton McPhee and senior Logan Kolodejchuk with quarterback Austin Green also picking up 78 yards a game himself. All are averaging at least 7 yards per carry, with McPhee averaging more than 10 yards a run, carrying for a team-high 683 yards this season.
Green has been great in the pass game this season, leading all quarterbacks in Class A by completing more than 64 percent of his passes. He’s thrown for 1,013 yards this season and is fourth in the state in yards per completion, throwing the ball at least 70 fewer times than the others at the top of the list.
“In our system, a lot of years we sling it. We like to throw the ball,” Schweikert said.
“But in our system, we feel like we can really emphasize what our kids do best. This year we have a lot of good running backs and felt we can take more advantage of that.”
While the Wildcats offense has been typically explosive, defense is what has set Columbia Falls apart this season. The Wildcats have given up only 61 points, 35 fewer than the next best defense, and haven’t given up more than 7 points in a game since early September.
Miles City has been no slouch on defense either, allowing only nine points per game in its current win streak, with teams averaging less than a touchdown in the final seven games of the regular season.
“We feel like we have the best defense in the state,” Schweikert said.
“We are lights out.”
The last time the two teams played was in the playoffs in 2010, when Miles City topped Columbia Falls 34-13 at Satterthwaite Field in the last state title season for the Cowboys.