An undefeated champion will be crowned sometime Saturday afternoon in Manhattan as the Tigers host Eureka in the Class B state football championship.
Both teams are 11-0 and it is the first state championship appearance for the Tigers and the fourth for the Lions. This is the third time Eureka has reached the state championship game over the past four seasons; the Lions won titles in 2016 and 2017.
“That’s about as special as it gets,” Eureka head coach Trevor Utter said of his senior class reaching three state title games. “There’s not too many kids that have gone through high school and make that statement. It’s a huge blessing to be here.”
Manhattan, which also includes students from Manhattan Christian, blanked Cut Bank in the first round before beating Loyola Sacred Heart in the quarterfinals, 26-7.
The Tigers then got past Fairfield, a team ranked No. 1 in the state throughout the season in various football polls throughout the year, by scoring a touchdown with 29 seconds left in the semifinals.
Manhattan is averaging 36.9 points per game and allowed just 102 (9.3 per) through their first 11 games.
Eureka handled its first two opponents — Baker and Columbus — without much of a problem, outscoring them 134-54. The Lions semifinal opponent, Red Lodge, proved to be a bit tougher as Eureka held on for a four-point win last week.
The Lions have outscored opponents 521-149 this year.
“To be undefeated, it’s a rare thing,” Utter said. “You’ve got to have some pretty fortunate circumstances to be there and we’ve had that and so has Manhattan. Obviously we’re two really good teams in order to be there too.”
Eureka’s rushing offense has been incredibly successful this year, tallying 3,467 yards on 392 carries as a team. Senior running back Chet McCully owns both the single-season and single-game rushing records for the Lions and has toted the ball 164 times for 1,690 yards and 22 scores.
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“He’s a physical runner, he runs the ball with speed, quickness, but he also has that power,” Utter said. “He’s a great mix of running back, basically."
Quarterback Hank Dunn has also broken school records on his own and has completed 98 of 173 passes for 1,814 yards and 23 touchdowns through the air.
Eleven different Eureka players have caught a pass and senior Jake Kindel leads the team with 29 passes hauled in. Austin Sartori, one of the team’s deep threats, has 620 yards receiving and averages 27 yards per catch.
Kindel and fellow senior Cory Chaney are two of the leaders for the Lions on defense and have been incredibly impressive on that side of the ball.
Kindel has racked up a team-high 112 tackles and has started every game at linebacker for the last four seasons. Chaney, a two-year starter, leads Eureka with 10 tackles for loss.
Seven different Lions have an interception this year as the team has picked off 11 passes.
The Eureka defense will be in for a tough task against Manhattan, which has run the ball well this year. That has set up some dangerous play-action that has caught some teams off guard.
Manhattan is physical up front, setting the stage for what could end up becoming a dog fight. Tigers quarterback Lane Veltkamp will certainly be a player to watch.
Defensively the Tigers will be bringing a lot of pressure, which the Lions are hoping they can capitalize on.
“It’s a great atmosphere, it’s very exciting,” Utter said. “At this point our preparation is done, we’ve just got to go get the job done tomorrow.”