BILLINGS — Glacier kept pace early but couldn’t outlast top-seeded Billings Senior, falling 33-21 in the Class AA state football championship game on Friday night at Daylis Stadium.
Glacier seemed to be able to match the Broncs in the first quarter, answering a short Senior touchdown drive with a quick attack of its own. The Wolfpack drove 81 yards in six plays for a 7-6 lead, taking advantage of play action as the Broncs defense cheated up to stop the run.
Tadan Gilman found Scout Willcut behind the defense on a post route for a 43-yard gain after three straight runs to start the second Glacier drive. Two plays later, Gilman rolled out and caught the defensive backfield in a broken coverage again, finding Willcut wide open in the seam for a 24-yard touchdown.
“We really wanted to get their safeties running downhill, aggressively to our run,” Glacier head coach Grady Bennett said.
The defense was seeming to control what the Broncs could do offensively, as well, giving up yards but limiting the big plays, containing Senior to just one 29-yard pass while forcing a turnover on downs and a three-and-out in the first quarter.
Glacier led 7-6 after the opening frame.
But, on the first play of the second quarter with Glacier beginning to put pressure on the Broncs, Senior quarterback Nathan Dick was able to extend a play long enough to find top receiver Gabe Sulser in a hole in the defensive backfield for a 49-yard gain. One play later, Sulser ran in a touchdown to push the Broncs back out in front 12-7.
Glacier’s defense kept putting pressure on Dick, forcing a three-and-out on the next drive and picking up two sacks on the drive after that, forcing the third Senior punt of the half. However, with the Glacier offense struggling to gain yards, the Broncs were able to feather a pooch punt to the Wolfpack 2-yard line, sticking an already sputtering offense deep in its own end.
Glacier picked up some room on first down, but lost it all on second and after a timeout threw an interception to Senior linebacker Blake Allred, who walked in untouched for another Broncs touchdown before half, Senior finally forgoing its failed 2-point tries for a more conventional extra point and a 19-7 lead with a little more than a minute to play before halftime.
“(Senior) realized its front seven could handle us in the run and that hurt,” Bennett said.
“Then they could loosen up their safeties and play more coverage. If we would have been able to put them in that quandary of having to bring the safeties down to stop the run, it would’ve been a different game. But, they were able to really get after us up front then deepen their safeties up. It was the best of both worlds for them.”
Glacier threw another interception on its first possession of the second half, and while the Wolfpack defense was getting stops, Senior began to chunk up long drives that killed the clock.
Late in the third quarter, Senior took nearly three minutes off the clock on a 10-play, 78-yard drive that was spurred by a dazzling play by Dick, who escaped three different tackles in the backfield and reversed course for a looping 7-yard gain into Glacier territory. The Broncs capped the drive with a 4-yard run from Dick, who evaded the collapsing defense to find the far edge of the end zone.
Glacier scored early in the fourth, with Gilman hitting Ethan Larson and Patrick O’Connell on long passes to set up a 17-yard strike to Willcut for his second touchdown of the game, cutting the Senior lead to 26-14 with 10 minutes left on the clock.
Then the Broncs slowed it down, taking seven minutes off the clock on a 16-play, 70-yard drive that was capped by a 15-yard touchdown from Dick to Sulser in the back corner of the end zone, lofting the pass over a pair of Glacier defenders to take a 33-14 lead with just 3:00 to play.
Glacier scored a quick touchdown on its next possession, Gilman punching in a 4-yard score to cut the Senior lead to 33-21. But the ensuing onside kick attempt was covered by the Broncs and Senior kneeled out the final minute, the student section mobbing the field quickly after.
“They played their hearts out,” Gilman said of his team. “It’s not the outcome we wanted but up until that last whistle, they went all out. They played as hard as they could. Not just our seniors, our juniors, you could see the passion in their hearts, everyone on the team. I love the way we played today.”
Gilman finished 11 for 24 for 163 yards passing with 38 rushing yards. Turner had 61 rushing yards and Willcut had 84 yards receiving with a pair of touchdowns.
“I loved our gameplan, our execution and our physicality,” Bennett said. “Our defense did everything that we could.
“Where we fell short is offensively. We needed to stay with them blow for blow and we didn’t. We had too many three-and-outs, too many penalties. You can’t do that against a defense that’s that good.”
“The credit has to go to their defense,” Bennett added.
“They gave us fits. Their front seven was really good. We couldn’t establish the run at all and they got a lot of pressure.”
Dick had 123 rushing yards and was 13 for 21 for 168 yards passing. Nolan Askelson ran for 98 yards on the ground and Sulser had 74 receiving yards and 40 rushing yards.
“Nate Dick is an incredible player,” Bennett said.
“I thought our guys battle hard. Defensively, I was very happy. You look all year long at how much they gashed people. For the most part, we were able to contain him. But, he’s just special. He does things that a normal high school kid (can’t). You can’t prepare for it.”
The win gives Senior its first state championship since 1979.
“I’m really proud of the effort,” Bennett said.
“They battled all the way until the end. We went up against a very good football team. A team that’s better than us.
“I’m really happy for (Senior) coach (Chris) Murdock. I know what it’s like to get that first one. They’re a good team, had a great year.”
Glacier 7 0 0 14 - 21
Senior 6 13 7 7 - 33
S-Gabe Sulser 2 run (run failed), 5:55
G-Scout Willcut 24 pass from Tadan Gilman (Cameron Anderson kick), 4:13
S-Sulser 1 run (pass failed), 11:35
S-Blake Allred 4 interception return (Jason Miller kick), 1:17
S-Nathan Dick 4 run (Miller kick), 2:20
G-Willcut 17 pass from Gilman (Anderson kick), 10:06
S-Sulser 15 pass from Dick (Miller kick), 3:00
G-Gilman 4 run (Anderson kick), 1:06
RUSHING -- Glacier, Drew Turner 16-61, Tadan Gilman 15-38. Senior, Nathan Dick 24-123, Nolan Askelson 18-98, Gabe Sulser 11-40.
PASSING -- Glacier, Tadan Gilman 11-24-2-163. Senior, Dick 13-21-0-168.
RECEIVING -- Glacier, Scout Willcut 4-84, Patrick O’Connell 2-33, Drew Turner 1-3, Andrew Durado 1-2. Senior, Gabe Sulser 3-74, Keaton Anderson 2-32, Jake Orvis 2-22, Ben LaBeau 2-14.
Senior 601 total yards
Glacier 378 total yards