COLUMBIA FALLS — Columbia Falls survived a thriller on Saturday, holding off Lewistown for a 23-22 victory in Class A quarterfinal football action at Satterthwaite Field.
The defending Class A champions dominated the first half, but failed to put many points on the board.
“We blew a lot of opportunities early,” Columbia Falls coach Jaxon Schweikert said.
“We had a lot of opportunities to kind of put the game out of reach.”
Fortunately for the Wildcats, they had Colten McPhee. The senior running back tore through Lewistown’s defense on a 44-yard drive in the first quarter, capped off with a highlight-reel 7-yard touchdown run. The Eagles defense had him stuffed at the line, but McPhee bounced to the left, broke through tackles and charged his way into the end zone.
McPhee rushed for 230 yards and broke the Columbia Falls’ single-season rushing record in the process. He now has 1,807 yards on the year.
Lewistown punted on the rest of its first-half possessions, while the Wildcats added a field-goal and a 10-yard, end-around touchdown run by Parker Greene to go into the half with a 16-0 lead.
The Eagles offense roared to life in the second half. They opened with a 10-play touchdown drive, which included a 50-yard run by quarterback Mitchell Norslien and a fourth-down conversion deep in Wildcats territory. A Norslien 1-yard touchdown run and two-point conversion pass to Logan McQuinn made it 16-8.
McPhee answered on the very next play, burning the Eagles defense for a 70-yard touchdown run to make it 23-8.
But that was all the scoring Columbia Falls could muster in the second half as it put the game in the hands of its defense.
“Our offense put our defense in a lot of tough positions today, over and over,” Schweikert said, “and they answered the bell over and over and over.”
The Wildcats defense forced an interception and punt on the next two Eagles drives. But on fourth down deep in its own territory, the snap sailed over the head of Wildcats quarterback and punter Drew Morgan. Morgan grabbed the ball in the end zone and made a desperation kick that went out-of-bounds at the Wildcats’ 10-yard line.
Three plays later, Norslien found Jacob Clinton on a fade route to the back-right corner of the end zone, and another two-point conversion closed the gap to 23-16 with 10:19 left in the game.
“We did some odd things that kind of kept them in the game, and they got rolling and it was tough, it was really tough,” Schweikert said.
“We’re just going, ‘Holy cow, is this gonna be our day?’”
On the next Eagles possession, the Wildcats sacked Norslien on fourth-and-5 from the Wildcats’ 40-yard line. But the Eagles got the ball right back when Morgan threw an ill-advised pass while being tackled for an easy Lewistown interception.
Moments later, Wesley Jameson broke through the line and carried the ball 46 yards for a touchdown with 4:06 remaining. Lewistown just needed a two-point conversion to take the lead.
But the Wildcats broke up the pass attempt in the back of the end zone to preserve their slim 23-22 advantage.
“We’re tough, we’re gritty, we’re mentally tough. They kind of got us on our heels,” Schweikert said. “It showed some real character for us to hang in there and fight ’til the end and be able to stop them. That was a good, hard-fought game.”
After a three-and-out, Columbia Falls gave the ball back to Lewistown (7-3). The Eagles marched into Wildcats territory and faced a fourth-and-6 at the 37-yard line with 1:03 left.
With the game on the line, Morgan — who had an off-day as quarterback — broke up the pass to seal the victory.
“We have a saying around here: We want to deserve victory. And we want to do all the little things. Deserving victory never guarantees anything, but we want to work for it and do all the little things to help us win,” Schweikert said.
Columbia Falls (8-1)will host Hamilton next week after the Broncs trounced Miles City 53-20, setting up a rematch of last year’s championship game and this year’s season opener. Hamilton (10-0) won that game 34-24 on Aug. 31.
Schweikert called that game “a tale of two halves.”
“We dominated the first half, we put up about 360 yards of offense,” he said, “but oh boy they took it to us, took us to the woodshed in the second half. We’re gonna have to play a complete, smart, crisp game.”
In other Class A quarterfinal action, Laurel (8-2) crushed Corvallis 49-6 and Billings Central (10-0) dumped Dillon 38-13.
Lewistown 0 0 8 14 – 22
Columbia Falls 16 7 7 0 – 23
CF – Colten McPhee 9 run (August Emond kick failed)
CF – Emond 25 FG
CF – Parker Greene 9 run (Emond kick)
L – Mitchell Norslien 1 run (PAT Norslien to Logan McQuinn)
CF – McPhee 70 run (Emond kick good)
L – Jacob Clinton 10 pass from Norslien (PAT Norslien to Clinton)
L – Wesley Jameson 46 run (PAT failed)