Senior Tyler Gavlak heads towards the end zone for a touchdown in Friday night’s first round playoff game against Whitefish. Gavlak rushed for 134 yards on 11 carries with two touchdowns. Jean Schurman photo
One of the songs the Stevensville Pep Band played prior to the first round playoff game was ‘Danger Zone’. It proved to be an omen for the Whitefish Bulldogs as the Stevensville Yellowjackets ran over them, 52-19. The ‘Jackets put 33 points on the scoreboard in just over 10 minutes of the first quarter. The Stevensville defense stopped Whitefish at every turn and forced the Bulldogs to punt on every possession in the first quarter.
“They had a vision of what can be when you don’t do things right,” said Stevensville coach Hank Praast, who was talking about the Yellowjackets loss to Corvallis last weekend. “It doesn’t matter how fast you are and how good you think you are, if you don’t do things right, that’s going to happen.”
Praast said his team concentrated on doing things right in practice and executing the fundamentals at every turn. Their efforts paid off. “I’ve been waiting nine games for us to look like that,” he concluded.
Caleb Vance scored the first ‘Jacket touchdown when he made an interception and raced 55 yards for the score. Two minutes later, Tyler Gavlak had a 19-yard run for six points. Freshman Jesse Sims was next in the scoring run with an 11-yard reception from Vance. Josh Lords then caught a Vance pass for a 65-yard race and score. Josh Haynes was on the receiving end from nine yards out for the final score of the first quarter. Vance called his own number for the final Stevi score of the half and raced six yards for the score. Gavlak added a 51-yard run in the third quarter and Dalton Belcourt caught a 26-yard pass from Jared Schultz for the final score for Stevensville. Whitefish had touchdowns from Christopher Forest and Logan Harwood.
Vance finished the night with 134 passing yards. He was 7 of 14 with no interceptions. He carried the ball seven times for 60 yards.
“I think we were just a little two confident last week,” said Vance. “I guess it kind of motivated us to know that we can lose at any time but that if we work hard we can do it.”
Praast credited his offensive line for creating opportunities for the offense to score and control the game. “The offensive line has been much maligned all year but they really did an outstanding job. That allowed Boomer (Caleb Vance) to look great, Tyler (Gavlak) to run wild. That’s how you have to play if you want to play football in November but you got to do things right.”
The Yellowjackets will now travel to Billings for a quarterfinals game against Billings Central, the same opponent they faced last year. Last year, the Yellowjackets lost to the Rams, 53-15, but Praast said this year’s team is vastly different than last years. Billings Central had a first round bye as the Eastern A No. 1 seed. They have a record of 8-1. Stevensville has a record of 7-2.
“They’re not bad. But they lost their ‘all world’ quarterback, their receivers and their humongous running backs,” he said. “If we don’t turn the ball over and play the way we did tonight, we’ll be in it.”
Vance put it more simply, “we want some revenge.”
Southwest A third place Hamilton traveled to Libby to take on the No. 2 seed in the Northwest A conference in first round playoff action. Hamilton entered the contest with a record of 4-5 while Libby had a record of 5-4.
Hamilton scored twice in the first quarter to gain momentum over the Loggers and then went on to knock Libby out of the playoffs and advance to the quarterfinals. Tyler Murray caught an eight-yard pass from Josh Bauder for the first Bronc score. A few minutes later, Matthew Turley broke loose for a 10-yard romp to the end zone to pad the Bronc’s lead. Libby scored in the second quarter when Patrick Valentine kicked a 40-yard field goal but that would be the last Logger score until the fourth quarter when Nic Robertson plowed into the end zone from one yard out. Micah Germany completed the 2-point conversion. Hamilton scored in the third quarter when Murray hit Zander Smith from 40 yards out. They scored again when Mike Bienusa pushed his way to a touchdown from a yard out. Seth Mason was perfect at kicking PATs, hitting all four in the game. Murray and Bienusa combined for 107 yards on 31 carries.
Hamilton will travel to Havre to take on the No. 1 seed from the Central A conference. Havre has a record of 6-3.
Florence was on the road for their first round playoff game. They took on the defending state champions, the Bigfork Vikings. Florence had a strong first half and went into the locker room at halftime with a 20-0 lead. But the Vikings slowly crawled back into the game and came back in the four quarter to score 28 points and win, 35-26, in a disappointing loss for the Falcons.
The Falcon air attack was working early in the game when Zac Newbary hit Riley Phillips from 38 yards out and then again from eight yards out for the first two touchdowns of the game. Speedster Dylan Reynolds had a 54-yard interception he took back to the end zone for a score for the final Florence score of the first half. Florence scored once more when Phillips caught a 17-yard pass from Newbary. Florence finished the season with a record of 6-3.