MISSOULA — Ask any football coach: It's tough to beat a team twice.
Hamilton coach Bryce Carver most likely will be reminding his Broncs that before they travel to take on Columbia Falls in the Class A state title game at 1 p.m. Saturday.
After all, Carver had anticipated a playoff matchup against the Wildcats, who beat the Broncs 23-20 on Sept. 1. It just so happens that the rematch will be played for all the marbles.
"When we lost that game early in the year I told them, ‘Hey, we might get a chance to see that team again,' knowing how good they were," the first-year had coach said. "The kids have been motivated; we’ve been taking games week by week, but it’s a great chance for us to get another shot at them."
With Columbia Falls and Hamilton proving to be the de facto two best teams in Class A for 2017, the early game was relatively sloppy for each squad. The Wildcats threw three interceptions, but the Broncs turned it over three times as well.
It makes it tough to take much stock in the first appearance and has the teams focusing more on themselves than their opponent.
"We just gave up some big plays we could have prevented and made some not very good mistakes, so if we just focus on doing our jobs, that scoreboard will take care of itself," said Tyler Chouinard, Hamilton's senior wide receiver who leads the state in receiving yards.
As for the teams themselves, there's a reason why they've made it here. They're good.
Take Columbia Falls, which is responsible for Hamilton's only loss this season. The Wildcats shut out a Sidney team in the semifinals, winning 17-0 last week due in large part to their run-stopping defense.
Columbia Falls coach Jaxon Schweikert had pointed to his 240-pound defensive end Logan Kolodejchuk as being the key cog in stopping plays before they start. He has 73 total tackles and 7½ sacks, according to maxpreps.com. Those numbers do not include last week's win against the Eagles.
Kolodejchuk also averages over 7.5 yards per carry on offense, though he is carries the ball less than 10 times per game. It's a strategy Schweikert has employed with all of his backs, including Colten McPhee and dual-threat quarterback Austin Green. In the eight games leading up to the semifinals, McPhee had 83 carries and 792 yards, while Green has gone 80 times for 706 yards.
"What we’ve done through the year is really limit how many rushes they have a game and limit the hits they take," Schweikert said. "When we get to the playoffs, the semis, the numbers will keep going up until we get to the title game.
"Then there is no limit."
For Hamilton, the team's up-tempo offense has generated the state's best passer in terms of total yards and touchdowns, the state's No. 1 receiver and the state's No. 2 running back in yards on the ground.
Senior Bridger Bauder's numbers may be the most incredible, considering the running back was an all-state wide receiver in 2015 and 2016. He was an all-state tight end as a freshman in 2014.
This year, though, Bauder has 1,483 yards on the ground and 12 touchdowns, according to maxpreps.com. Coach Carver said they need to get their do-everything player going against a run-defense that is confident in itself.
"If we have to sit back and throw the ball 50 times on them, that’ll be tough for us," he said. "You gotta be able to match what they’re trying to do — it’s going to be a war on Saturday."
If Hamilton has to depend on its passing attack, though, they have a good one.
Sophomore quarterback Carson Rostad as thrown for 2,850 yards, 37 touchdowns against just six interceptions. Bauder has hauled in 30 of those completions for another 438 yards, while Camron Rothie has 38 catches for 581 yards.
Chouinard is Rostad's go-to connection at 72 receptions and 1,262 yards, according to maxpreps.com.
It all sets up for a high-powered Class A state championship game, which Columbia Falls — trying for the program's first title — is hosting for the second straight season. The Wildcats lost last year to Dillon in the season's crowning matchup.
Meaning Columbia Falls is looking for a bit of redemption itself.