FOOTBALL: Wildcats look to ground Sidney

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Columbia Falls’ Colton McPhee sprints through a hole against Whitefish earlier this season in Columbia Falls. (Chris Peterson photo)

COLUMBIA FALLS — This Columbia Falls football team is different.

Under coach Jackson Schweikert the last five seasons, the Wildcats have been a potent offensive team, led by a dominant, quick-strike passing game. Last year, led by record-setting quarterback Dakota Bridwell, the Wildcats stormed into the state finals, hosting the championship game for the first time since 1970.

This team is still potent, and would host the state title game again with a win today at Sidney, but prefers to play a more bruising style of football.

Columbia Falls’ starting backs ran for 300 yards in last week’s quarterfinal home win against Miles City, physically dominating the Cowboys at the line of scrimmage.

“Our kids enjoy it,” Schweikert said.

“This group of kids are really built that way. They really like the smashmouth physicality of (the game). They enjoy that. It goes all the way through. Our receivers are some of the best pass blocking receivers I’ve ever had. Our quarterback likes to get in there and lead block. That might be a bit too much, but they enjoy it. It’s a really selfless team that really wants to lay it out there for their teammates. Whatever it takes to win.”

The tough run game has changed how the Wildcats are able to attack teams. While still able to rear up the offense for a quick drive, Columbia Falls is able to bleed clock this season and suffocate teams in the second half. The Wildcats held Miles City to just three possessions after halftime last week, putting the game away and preventing any thought of a comeback.

That ability to dominate the game clock has helped out the Columbia Falls defense, too. The Wildcats have been smothering all season, holding teams to a state-low 8.6 points per game. They held Miles City to 31 yards in the final three quarters and have the players to defend any type of team.

“Coming into the season, we thought we had a chance to be really special,” Schweikert said.

“We thought we had a chance to be the best defense since I’ve been in Columbia Falls ... We don’t have to blitz much because those defensive ends rush the passer so well. They get up the field so well and redirect really good, play with their hands really good. They put a lot of pressure on people so we can play our zone coverages. Because our safeties are three-year starters and our corners are so long and fast, we can zero (coverage) out and bring blitzes when we want ... It’s pretty impressive to watch on the sidelines.”

Against Sidney, Columbia Falls will be playing the best team in the East all season. The Eagles mirror a lot of the things Columbia Falls is able to do, with a pair of powerful backs and a strong run defense leading them to a 9-1 record.

Senior quarterback Alec Lovegren and senior tailback Sawyor Thogersen have combined for more than 2,000 yards and their defense was the fourth-best in the regular season.

“They’re obviously good,” Schweikert said. “They run the ball really good and they defend the run really good.”

The normally daunting task of traveling 544 miles to the game is lessened by the fact the Wildcats made the same trip last season, prevailing at Sidney in the quarterfinals. The usual eastern Montana bluster should be gone with the forecast calling for warmer weather and calm winds.

“Year to year, every team is different,” Schweikert said.

“Coming over here last year on the trip, we’ve done this before. The kids know what to expect, the coaches know what to expect. We had a good travel plan last year and we were able to take it and refine it more. Having been there and done that helps a little bit.”

The game is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. with the winner to host next week’s state championship.

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