The Missoula Big Sky Eagles knew they would have to play nearly perfect to beat fourth-ranked Helena High on Friday night at Missoula County Stadium.
Big Sky turned the ball over twice, including an interception that Helena's Tyler Hance returned 69 yards for a touchdown.
And the Eagles still pulled off the Class AA football victory, knocking off the Bengals 24-17.
Turns out nearly perfect was just fine.
Big Sky quarterback Mike LaValley had a career night - despite the pick - completing 16 of 26 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns.
"I've got to give credit to my line," LaValley said. "I practiced all week on relaxing and setting my feet, but the line did a great job tonight."
The senior QB's favorite target was receiver Drew Owens, who grabbed 10 passes for 145 yards.
People are also reading…
Owens made several nice catches, but saved his best effort for the third quarter. With Big Sky trailing 14-10, the junior leapt over the top of Hance, tipped the ball to himself and somehow made the grab as he was falling to the grass to complete a 37-yard scoring strike.
"It was a little short and I knew I had to go up and get it somehow," Owens said. "I got a hand on it, and was able to come down with it."
Owens' acrobatics gave the Eagles a 17-14 lead with 5:10 left in the third quarter.
After forcing Helena to punt on its next possession, Big Sky marched 62 yards in 10 plays, capped by a beautiful 27-yard toss and catch between LaValley and senior wideout Brandt Montelius down the right sideline.
The touchdown gave the Eagles a 24-14 lead with 10:59 left in the fourth quarter.
The Bengals held the ball for almost six minutes on their next possession, but they had to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Chase Kloker to draw within 24-17 with 5:01 remaining.
Big Sky managed to take more than three minutes off the clock before punting to the Helena 10.
The Bengals took over with 1:37 left and managed a quick 15-yard gain. But the Eagles' defense forced three straight incompletions by Helena quarterback Matt Upham to take over on downs and secure the victory.
"This was a great, great win for these guys," Big Sky coach Gary Ekegren said. "I'm really happy for them tonight. It's been a rough year at times, but we stepped up our game. I mean, (Helena) is a very, very good football team."
Owens, who has increasingly become a weapon for the 5-4 Eagles, kicked a 33-yard field goal in the second quarter and was perfect on extra points.
Big Sky's defense held the Bengals and their massive offensive line, to 162 yards on the ground, 276 overall.
Big Sky hosts 2-7 Glacier next Friday in its final regular-season game. A win and the Eagles would be in good position to make the playoffs.
The Bengals, now 6-3, suffered their second straight loss.
Helena 7 7 0 3 - 17
Big Sky 7 3 7 7 - 24
H - Tyler Ishak 14 run (Chase Kloker kick), 5:51
BS - Glen Maricelli 1run (Drew Owens kick), :25
BS - FG Owens 33, 4:25
H -Tyler Hance 69 interception return (Kloker kick), 1:14
BS - Owens 37 pass from Mike LaValley (Owens kick), 5:10
BS -Brandt Montelius 27 pass from LaValley (Owens kick), 10:59
H - FG Kloker 26, 5:01
Rushing - Helena (37-162): Matt Upham 9-66, Tyler Ishak 12-45, Nick Trapp 15-42, Sean Donahue 1-9. Big Sky (38-112): Edward Apostol 15-62, Trevor Kamura 10-44, Jordan Tripp 7-16, Keenan Moreau 1-2, Glen Maricelli 1-1, Mike LaValley 1-minus-13.
Passing - Helena: Matt Upham 8-19-0-114. Big Sky: LaValley 16-26-1-229.
Receiving - Helena: Trapp 3-38, Donahue 2-33, Adam Johnson 2-25, Ishak 1-18. Big Sky: Owens 10-145, Montelius 1-27, Tripp 2-25, Kevin McHugh 1-16, Apostol 1-12, Jordan Schafer 1-4.