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36 years of waiting: Missoula Sentinel crushes Billings Senior, heads to first state title game since '84

36 years of waiting: Missoula Sentinel crushes Billings Senior, heads to first state title game since '84

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MISSOULA — Missoula Sentinel defensive back Drew Klumph thought he might have a chance to make a game-changing play as he read the eyes of Billings Senior quarterback Junior Bergen as the senior rolled to his left in the first quarter of the Spartans' 42-7 win over Billings Senior Friday in the State AA semifinals.

With Sentinel leading 14-7, Klumph undercut the route, catching the first of his two interceptions and helping race Sentinel into history. Senior didn't score again after the interception, and the Spartans never looked back.

“I just followed him, I didn’t think he was going to throw it,” Klumph said of the play. “He just let it fly and threw kinda behind him and I just jumped in front of it.

“It was like, 'Oh my god, it’s coming my way.' It was pretty awesome.”

The Spartans are in the Class AA state championship game for the first time since 1984 and will have a chance to win their first title since 1972. They'll play at undefeated Billings West at 7 p.m. Friday for the Class AA state title.

Klumph’s first interception — he had just one all year coming into the game — was the first of four straight Senior turnovers that doomed the Broncs. Bergen had two interceptions in the eight games coming into the semifinal and had three in the first two quarters.

Sentinel and Senior traded scores on each team's first offensive possession, with Spartan quarterback Camden Sirmon toting the ball all six times on its first scoring drive.

Sirmon scored on a 52-yard rush, but the Broncs drove right down the field and Bergen found all-state wideout Jacksen Burckley on a corner route for a 12-yard score.

Sentinel, however, responded immediately with a 61-yard touchdown catch and run from running back Donovan South on a low ball that he held on to with the tips of his fingers. His stride never faltered and good downfield blocking helped give Sentinel a 14-7 lead.

South finished with seven carries for 49 yards and a pair of rushing scores as well as the receiving score. It was the first touchdown reception of his career.

“It was a heck of a catch and run,” Missoula Sentinel coach Dane Oliver said. “Donovan South is playing some great football right now with a lot of other kids. He just really jumped out and made a special play. That’s what you need to win.”

Moments later, Bergen threw his first interception of the day to Klumph, who caught it along the sideline. A short drive ended in a shovel pass from Sentinel quarterback Dayton Bay to senior Jace Klucewich for a 5-yard score.

Sentinel led 21-7 with 11:01 left in the second quarter, and it didn't get much better for the Broncs from there. Bergen tossed his second interception, and the Spartans wasted no time marching down the field again to make it 28-7 as South rumbled in from 5 yards out.

“I’m just thankful that I got to come out and play the best season we could with my friends,” Bergen said. “They outplayed us tonight.”

Bergen finished 15-of-27 passing for 104 yards and rushed 15 times for 37 yards. Sentinel was able to shut down the Broncs' offense for most of the evening following the first Senior drive.

Containing Bergen was perhaps the biggest emphasis for the Spartans this week, and they played the part masterfully. Sentinel had two sacks and seven tackles for loss.

“These kids have been on a mission since their freshman year,” Oliver said. “And, you know, I think just as an observer on the sideline, I know I'm involved with it, but it's just exciting to see kids pour their heart and soul into something and then be rewarded for it.”

It's the first time a Missoula Class AA school has been in the state championship since 1994, when Missoula Big Sky beat Missoula Hellgate for the state title.

The last time any Garden City team made the state title game was in 2018, when Missoula Loyola fell to Fairfield in the Class B championship game.

Sentinel made back-to-back state championships in 1972 and 1973. It beat Great Falls High 29-16 in the 1972 championship while falling to the Bison 37-0 in the title game a year later.

“I’m so excited,” Klumph said. “I think we’re gonna make some plays and hopefully come out with a championship.”

Jordan Hansen covers a bunch of stuff for the Missoulian and 406 Sports. Shout at him on Twitter @jordyhansen or shoot him an email at Jordan.Hansen@406mtsports.com

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