HAMILTON — For the first time since the turn of the century, the Hamilton Broncs are in the Class A football semifinals.
Sure, that's just 17 years, but for most of the boys on the Bitterroot team, it's been the wait of a lifetime. With the Broncs leading big early in the eventual 47-0 win against Glendive, they were able to savor the victory that brought Hamilton back to territory last charted in 2000.
"We've always talked about it since I was in seventh grade (and) coach was talking about us (maybe) making a state championship. Now it's coming to life and that's just really special," Hamilton running back Bridger Bauder said.
Bauder was pretty special himself, as the senior ran for 166 yards on just 21 carries. He got into the end zone once on a 53-yard touchdown run that started with a truck stick at the line of scrimmage. The bulldozer broke another tackle then busted loose for 50 more yards, giving the Broncs their final score of the game.
"The coaches told me it was our last play in and I hadn't scored yet, so I just knew I had to get one on the board," said Bauder, who fumbled on the Glendive 1-yard line during Hamilton's first drive of the game. The Broncs still scored then, though, as Mark Joyner hopped on the free ball in the end zone.
"I went through the line and I hit that first kid and everyone just kind of stopped. I just bounced off of him and said, 'I gotta get in.'"
Hamilton didn't have much of a problem finding pay dirt for most of the game. The No. 1 team from the Southwest A scored on its first four possessions of the game and had 509 total yards of offense.
No. 6 Glendive mustered 211 total yards one week after upsetting No. 3 Laurel in first-round Class A playoff action. It was the Red Devils' first playoff win since 1995.
"Last week was huge for us moving forward. Today was kind of a setback. We hoped to play a little bit better," Glendive coach Ryan Buckley said. "We're excited about our program and hopefully we can use that to move forward."
It was the Broncs that charged Saturday, though. Senior wide receiver Tyler Chouinard had a 10-minute stretch in the first half that demonstrated Hamilton's class as a team. It started with a trick play that let Chouinard throw off of a reverse. The wide out found fellow receiver Tyler Barnes, who came down with the catch and scored after running 63 yards, and the Broncs led 13-0 with 2:08 still remaining in the first quarter.
On Hamilton's next possession, Chouinard showed off his hands. He caught a back-shoulder pass from sophomore quarterback Carson Rostad, as Chouinard twisted and fell to the ground but hung on with both hands at the 4-yard line.
After Rostad finished the drive off with a touchdown, Chouinard intercepted a Glendive pass on the next possession. He needed only one hand to complete the catch this time.
"He's just one of those special type of athletes for us," Hamilton head coach Bryce Carver said of Chouinard, who added a de-cleating block two plays after his pick. "We put him out here to block for guys and he'll do it, we'll throw him the ball and he'll catch it. ... Now he can pass, too."
Overall, Chouinard's performance personified the complete game Hamilton played as a team. Now the Broncs are just one win away from putting it all together for a state-title chance.
Standing in Hamilton's way is the East's No. 2 seed, Billings Central (9-1 overall), which beat Frenchtown on Friday.
Hamilton's last Class A crown came in 1998 in the midst of a four-year stretch of championship-game appearances. The Broncs' (9-1) last time making it into the final game was the same year they last made it to the semis.
"I don't know if it's a good thing we're starting off this well my first year," the Broncs' coach and former University of Montana wide receiver said, laughing. "... Obviously we have an extremely good team coming here next week, well coached, so we're just looking at getting by next week first."
NOTES: Defending Class A state champion Dillon fell to Sidney on Saturday, 38-22. Columbia Falls, last year's state runner-up, topped Miles City 48-8 and meets Sidney in the other Class A semifinal. Both semifinal times are to be determined.