MISSOULA — It took Billings West all of 56 seconds to remind everyone the Golden Bears are coming off of a Class AA state football championship.
On the third play from scrimmage, quarterback Josh Erbacher hit receiver Connor Ryan for a 59-yard touchdown which opened the scoring for what was ultimately a 41-6 victory for the Golden Bears over the Missoula Big Sky Eagles at Missoula County Stadium.
Erbacher finished the game 19 for 26 for 383 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for a 3-yard score.
Ryan, a Montana State football commit, was a handful all evening long for the Eagles. He finished with three catches for 173 yards and two touchdowns on the night. As a team, West racked up 470 total yards on offense compared to Big Sky’s 162.
“We looked sharp at times and we looked like a real young football team at times,” West coach Rob Stanton said. “We have some really good football players and a lot of young football players, so those are going to be some of the growing pains we’re going to have. Fortunately we have a pretty good quarterback who played well tonight.”
West committed 13 penalties for 121 yards in the game compared to Big Sky’s four for 30 yards. Stanton said he wants to see that cleaned up in the future because some of those penalties wiped out big plays for the Bears.
After Ryan’s opening touchdown, Big Sky looked good on its first offensive drive of the game. The Eagles used up 5:33 of the clock as they marched down the field but a missed field goal prevented them from scoring.
“I give our offensive line credit because I think overall they did a pretty solid job of moving the pile,” Big Sky coach Matt Johnson said about the opening drive. “We have to be able to finish and do those little things in the end.”
From there, their youth showed up with some mistakes. In the second quarter, West’s Zack Tallman took an interception back 34 yards to make it 14-0. Erbacher quickly followed with his rushing touchdown to make it 21-0 at the half.
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Big Sky got on the board with a 2-yard touchdown carry by quarterback Draven Lincoln to make it 21-6 after the point after was blocked.
But from there, the second half, and the game, belonged to the Golden Bears.
With 2:33 to play, Ryan caught a screen pass at West’s 20-yard line and cut all the way across the field as he sprinted past Big Sky defenders for an 80-yard score, his second of the game, to make it 28-6. Then in the fourth quarter, Erbacher found Tallman across the middle who turned it into another 80-yard touchdown for West.
Running back Michael DeLeon added the insurance with a 1-yard score with 5:13 to go to start the running clock.
Tallman finished with a pair of interceptions in the game. With Erbacher, Tallman and Ryan making big plays, West was able to overcome the penalties as well as the loss of senior running back DeMarcus Carr, who left the game early with an ankle injury and did not return. Carr was all-state a season ago.
“Josh is a very good player and he’s an excellent leader and quarterback,” Stanton said. “Tallman got us out of the funk there in the first half with the pick-six and Connor with the speed was big. Those three are dynamic. They’re tested, now we just need to get the babies coming along now.”
West (1-0) will host Kalispell Flathead (0-1) next week while Big Sky (0-1) will travel to take on Bozeman (1-0). Similar to Stanton, Johnson wants to see some of the mistakes cleaned up going forward. Lincoln finished the game 7 for 24 for 50 yards and three interceptions. Big Sky running back Colter Janacaro had 17 carries for 62 yards while Jett Rebish added 10 carries for 44 yards.
“They’re good but I don’t think the score should’ve been that,” Johnson said. “I thought we played them closer. We just had some mental mistakes and some guys not come through when we needed to.
“I think there’s some good stuff and we have the makings of doing something really good, but we have to clean that stuff up.”