Garrett Graves

Eureka quarterback/safety Garrett Graves, a Montana Griz recruit, will lead his team into the State B championship Saturday in Eureka. The Lions beat Loyola Sacred Heart for the title last November.

Courtesy of Garrett Graves

Stopping the Eureka offense has been the toughest conundrum in Montana Class B football for close to two seasons.

The Lions have won 18 games in a row dating back to the middle of September in 2016. They have averaged 45 points per game.

Shelby will try to put an end to their heyday when it battles Eureka (10-0) on its home field for the state championship at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Coyotes (8-3) have the horses up front to challenge the hosts, but will it be enough?

"It all starts and stops with Garrett Graves," said Shelby coach Mike White, referring to the senior quarterback that led Eureka to its first state football title last November and will play for the Montana Grizzlies next year.

"He's able to do a lot of things from there and improvise, which is always tough to cover from a base defense. But we've been playing pretty solid defense throughout the playoffs and you have to play the game, so we're going to go up there and give it shot."

Eureka coach Trevor Utter will tell you it's not just Graves that makes things tough on opposing defenses. It's the Lions' balance.

"Our sophomore running back, Chet McCully, is approaching 1,000 yards," Utter noted. "And we have five receivers that Garrett (Graves) targets and he targets them about evenly. I think the most someone has is 22 catches and the least is 15.

"You have five guys that have 15-plus catches. That doesn't seem like a huge number but I would challenge you to find a team anywhere that has five guys that get the ball an equal amount of time in the receiving yards. Then Garrett is an 800-yard rusher and (Jake) Kindal is a 400-yard rusher. You take away one, well we have the other."

Graves and Shelby senior quarterback Aaron White are both good at spreading the ball evenly among a large group of receivers. White, the son of Shelby's head coach and brother of former Rocky Mountain College QB Chase White, will continue his football career on the college level next season, perhaps in the Frontier Conference.

"(Shelby) is extremely talented," Utter said. "Their offensive and defensive lines are primarily the same kids both sides but they are huge. They're the basketball player types where they're 6-foot-4, 6-5, you know 200-plus pounds. Just real athletic, lanky kids.

"They pose some challenges. Then White is a four-year starter and he's good. And Zach Torgerson, their running back, is a three-year starter."

The Coyotes have one intangible edge over the Lions: They have a good amount of experience fighting from behind in the playoffs. They've done it three times on their way to the title tilt, including last week when they rallied past 2016 state finalist Loyola Sacred Heart.

"They play their hearts out and don't give up and it's just one of those things that comes along every once in a while with a group of kids," coach White said. "They're going to play until the last whistle and that's all you can ask as a coach."

The Lions' state championship experience may come in handy — seven members of the team played extensively in last year's title tilt in Missoula. But regardless of the outcome, you better believe the town of Eureka is savoring its special football weekend.

"Our town is buzzing," Utter said. "There's so much excitement, so many coming home from wherever they're at to see this game.

"We're expecting an incredibly huge crowd. We're expecting a buzz starting Saturday morning until the game and beyond. There's going to be tailgate parties and an incredible atmosphere."

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