MISSOULA — Unfortunately for Missoula Hellgate, its city rival in purple and gold has even more motivation than a normal 7 p.m. Friday Class AA football game at Missoula County Stadium might bring.
For starters, it's crosstown — the last iteration of the intracity matchup this regular season — and Missoula Sentinel needs no reminder how its last all-Garden City game finished (a 44-40 last-second loss to Missoula Big Sky).
It's also homecoming for the Spartans, meaning a spirited student section should be clad in attire with added flair, emboldening the high schoolers to be even more raucous than usual.
Oh yeah, Sentinel is also coming off its worst loss of the season, a 48-23 defeat to formerly winless Kalispell Glacier (1-4).
If the Knights (0-6 overall) were hoping to catch the Spartans sleeping, they might have picked the wrong date.
"We have a little chip on our shoulder. I think kids were upset, and they've practiced well this week, and we're looking for improvement and taking that next step this week against Hellgate," Sentinel head coach Dane Oliver said. "... I think you're going to see an inspired group that's ready to put a good product on the field."
That's been the goal for the Knights, too, who continue to take strides in their comeback season after a forfeited 2016 varsity slate. Although Hellgate fell 27-7 last week against Billings Skyview, the team moved the ball. Sophomore quarterback Rollie Worster scored a touchdown for the Knights, and he adds a play-making element in the backfield that coach Oliver has his team keying on.
Now, Worster and his Hellgate squad just need to take advantage of their red zone opportunities.
"We did a great job between the 20s, but once we got into the red zone we struggled a bit," Hellgate head coach Mick Morris said of his team's performance last week at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. "... But we felt good about it (overall). We did a good job of taking care of the football, but when you get down there, you gotta get paid."
Especially against teams who can score. Sentinel (3-2 overall) has put up a combined 63 points in its two losses, and coach Morris went down the list of guys his Knights need to be looking out for, too.
"Obviously they have a lot of athletes, a lot of team speed. (Quarterback Rylan Ortt) does a good job in both phases... Obviously (Nick) Germer does a good job spreading the field and (running back) Elias DeWaters is as electric as it gets in the Class AA with the ball in his hands," Morris said.
Which adds to Sentinel's impending impetus come Friday night under the lights.
Loyola Sacred Heart's 51-28 loss to defending Class B state champion Eureka was closer than the final score indicates. The Lions lead was just three, 17-14, with 1:56 to play before halftime after Loyola running back Ryan Tirrell scored a touchdown.
Just 40 seconds later, Eureka's quarterback and University of Montana football recruit Garrett Graves rushed for 46 yards and a score to extend the Lions' lead 24-14 headed into the locker room.
Loyola answered with the first score in the second half, this time on a Cal Gibson rushing touchdown to pull within four, 24-20.
But Graves was there again with four straight passing touchdowns to pull away, 51-20. Scott Twite and David Koppang, another Griz recruit, scored late for Loyola, but the margin was too much to come back from.
Still, Loyola had better time of possession than Eureka (25:02 compared to 22:16) and threw for more yards (268-223).
So what's the takeaway after Loyola's loss to Class B's No. 1 team? It's that the Rams — even at 2-1 in conference and 3-3 overall — can play with the state's best.
That means trouble for Anaconda (2-4, 1-3), which is coming off a 40-28 loss to Florence last week, as the Copperheads try to nurse standout quarterback Braxton Hill back to health.
It'll be Saturday in the sun for Valley Christian, which continues conference play against 0-4 Lima at 1 p.m. Saturday.
But the Eagles certainly wont take the Bears lightly. Two weeks ago Missoula's 6-man football team played host to then-winless Noxon. The Red Devils traveled to the Eagles' home field in Alberton and put a 42-14 'L' on Valley Christian's ledger. Since then, Noxon has improved to 2-4 overall.
The Eagles (3-3, 3-1) still sit in third place in the conference, however, behind undefeated White Sulphur Springs and West Yellowstone (each 6-0, 4-0). Valley Christian closes out its final two weeks of the regular season against the two unbeaten schools.
Meaning Valley will want to take care of business against Lima this weekend.