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Missoula Sentinel defensive linemen Torin Jackson (67) and Brock Field (14) celebrate after sacking Missoula Hellgate quarterback Rollie Worster in last Friday's game in Missoula. The Spartans will shoot for their third straight win against second-ranked Billings West Friday at 4 p.m. at Missoula County Stadium.

MISSOULA — It's been the same story for what seems like an eternity.

Missoula's best Class AA football team is typically good enough to get into the playoffs — and maybe get a win or two in the postseason — but never quite good enough to run with Montana's top dogs.

Sound familiar? That's because Zootown has not had a representative in the large-school state football championship game in 24 years.

This year Sentinel (4-3) has set itself apart as Missoula's best. The Spartans are on a two-game roll and on Friday at 4 p.m. they'll match up against a big dog when second-ranked Billings West (6-1) comes to town.

West's only loss came in a close contest at top-ranked Bozeman back in August, so the Golden Bears are for real.

"We get a chance to see if we're a contender or pretender, so that's exciting," Sentinel coach Dane Oliver said. "West is filled with athletes all over the field, and well-coached, so we're going to have to play our best game by a long shot to be competitive."

The Spartans secured a mythical city title with a win over Hellgate last week. That came on the heels of a confidence-building win at Kalispell Glacier the week before.

Prior to that, Sentinel lost three games in a row. But all were close, so the Spartans have to believe they can play with just about anyone.

"I think we're a talented team and (Friday) could be a tight game," Oliver said. "But we need to execute. I thought last week in the second half we kind of relaxed (in a 28-14 win over Hellgate). We didn't take care of the football.

"You have to be great at the fundamentals, which to me are blocking, tackling and ball security. If we take care of those three things, we have enough athletes on our team."

West will hit the Spartans with a spread offense designed to isolate skill players in space. Wideout Jesse Owens is a dangerous threat and junior running back Demarcus Carr has speed to burn.

"If he gets rolling downhill he's tough to catch," Oliver said. "They have what I think are three or four Division I/FCS-level players. Their front is as big as we're ever going to see, offensively and defensively. You know size helps in football."

The Spartans have some weapons of their own. Senior wideout Jace DeWalt is a speedster and senior running back Elias DeWaters is an electrifying player with his combination of speed and shifty moves.

A fundraiser for breast cancer awareness will be held in conjunction with the game. Fans are encouraged to wear pink and help with donations for Montana families dealing with breast cancer.

In other Class AA games involving Missoula schools, Bozeman (7-0) will invade Missoula County Stadium for a 7 p.m. tilt with Big Sky (2-5) and Hellgate (2-5) has a tall order at third-ranked Billings Senior (5-2).

Perennial power Loyola Sacred Heart (6-1) has a monster game at Bigfork (6-0). Both teams are 4-0 in Western B action.

The top-ranked Vikings are loaded with upperclassmen and up until last week they steamrolled the competition. Unranked Townsend (4-3) gave Bigfork a bit of a scare last Friday, scoring late in the fourth quarter to make it a one-touchdown game, 21-14.

Fifth-ranked Loyola may find comfort in knowing it has already faced a strong foe on the road. The Rams won at ninth-ranked Huntley Project on opening night.

Loyola has come a long way since then.

"Some of the kids that are in new spots are getting real comfortable and confident now," coach Todd Hughes said. "The decision making is a lot clearer, a lot faster, so it allows them to play faster. We've got juniors and sophomores and a mixture of seniors in there, so our communication is just now coming together.

" ... We feel pretty confident that we can match up with anybody in the state. We'd love to get a rematch with (Fairfield) down the road. But right now Bigfork is standing in front of us. It will give us a good test and we'll see where we're at."

Bigfork has a proven winner at quarterback in 5-foot-11 senior Anders Epperly. He helped lead the Vikings to a state basketball championship last March.

In Class C 6-man action, Valley Christian (4-3) is hoping to pull an upset over fifth-ranked Hot Springs (7-1) Friday night in Alberton. The Savage Heat won the 6-man state title in 2016 before getting moved up to 8-man and forfeiting their season last year.

The Eagles have to regroup after dropping a 42-28 decision at unranked White Sulphur Springs Saturday. The Savage Heat dominated Heart Butte last weekend in Hot Springs, 52-7.

"Our last game on the road we played well against Gardiner (on Sept. 28), so we're looking forward to a big test against a good Valley Christian team that is also in the (playoff) hunt," Hot Springs veteran coach Jim Lawson said.

"We've gotten a lot better every week. We knew we didn't have a lot of game experience with this group and we're getting that and seeing the results, eliminating mistakes and blocking and tackling better."

Fifth-ranked Loyola may find comfort in knowing it has already faced a strong foe on the road. The Rams won at ninth-ranked Huntley Project on opening night.

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Bill Speltz is the Deputy Sports Editor of the Missoulian. Email him at

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