Senior's Ben LaBeau

Billings Senior's Ben LaBeau celebrates with his teammates after a touchdown scored during the Class AA football semifinals at Wendy's Field at Daylis Stadium on Friday.

BRONTE WITTPENN, Gazette staff

BILLINGS — Cade Torgerson took the snap on 4th and 6 and threw a screen to his right. 

There he found sophomore Oran Nash, who broke a couple of tackles, ran back across the middle of the field and scored from 30 yards out. Nash gave the ball to the ref, pumped his fist and celebrated with teammates before being lifting up by assistant coach Brandon Quesenberry.

With only a couple of minutes left in the football game, the party was on for Billings Senior.

Nash's touchdown put the nail in the coffin as the Broncs went on to defeat Missoula Sentinel 49-7 in the semifinals on Friday at Wendy's Field at Daylis Stadium to return to the Class AA state championship football game for the third straight year. 

Senior (12-0) will host Helena (9-2) next week in the state championship. The Bengals defeated crosstown rival Helena Capital 30-7 Friday night.

The win marked the 25th straight for the defending champion Broncs, as Nolan Askelson passed for 257 yards and four touchdowns. Ben LaBeau finished with 10 catches for 146 yards and three touchdowns, while Carter Garsjo also caught a score for the Broncs. 

"I'm just really excited to get another opportunity to win state," LaBeau said. "We just came together as a team today because Gabe (Sulser) was out and we all knew we had to step up and take advantage of every opportunity. A lot of guys stepped up today."

The Broncs were without Sulser for the majority of the game, due to a groin injury he suffered in practice earlier in the week. Sulser played the first offensive series, and threw a 53-yard pass to Connor Denham on that drive, before exiting for the rest of the contest.

LaBeau and Garsjo were getting it done on the defensive side as well, both coming away with picks as did safety Micah Ans. LaBeau had an impressive four-play sequence where he grabbed his interception before catching three straight passes, capping it with a 16-yard touchdown. 

After a scoreless first, Garsjo's touchdown opened the floodgates for Senior. LaBeau caught his first score of the game two minutes later and Askelson's touchdown run made it 21-0 at half. 

"Right now I'm just loving life," Askelson said. "I'm so proud of the guys. Proud of Ben stepping up. What a stud. Line was playing great all game. Carter Garsjo, Colton Eliason, all of those guys stepped up and I'm just loving it. I think if we prepare right, we have a chance to go win this sucker. It's just a lot of fun."

Then in the third, Blake Allred found paydirt two minutes into the half, followed by LaBeau's next two scores. Sentinel's lone touchdown came on a 53-yard connection between Rylan Ortt to Griz commit Nick Germer. Senior's defense stifled Sentinel, forcing four turnovers and holding the Spartans to only 166 yards on offense. Noah Christopherson, Garrison Poetzl and Askelson combined for four sacks.

"I'm just thinking that I'm glad to be back here," Allred said. "We've been here three years in a row, and we've got guys right now that are playing their tails off to get back to this point. So we're just ready for the next challenge in the next game. It feels good to contribute on offense too. You see Nolan and Gabe playing both ways and competing for our team so why not get out there and help them keep on winning."

Sentinel ends its season at 6-5.

"The message is always whatever you're a part of in your life you want to leave it better than when you showed up," Sentinel coach Dane Oliver said. "That's what this senior class did. The program is better with them being involved in it. They're good kids and they really bought into the team concept and the recipe for playing together. 

As for Senior, they hope this train just keeps on rolling. 

"Our theme at the beginning of the season was 'Don't blink,' and there was multiple meanings to that," Senior coach Chris Murdock said. "Our kids saw that Gabe wasn't going to be able to play and they didn't blink. They went out there and did their job and executed and had fun. Just couldn't be more proud of our entire team."

Email Kyle Hansen at kyle.hansen@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsHansen

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