The Wildcats steamrolled through the Northwest A conference, going 5-0 and outscoring their opponents 306 to 57.
Now, Columbia Falls (7-1) enters the playoffs with its sights set on defending its Class A state football title. The Wildcats, which had a first-round bye, host Lewistown today at 1 p.m. in quarterfinal action.
Lewistown (8-2) is the third seed out of the Eastern A and beat Sidney 21-0 last week to advance.
The Wildcats boast a ruthless ground attack, led by senior Colton McPhee. He rushed for 1,577 yards — 11 yards per carry — and 26 touchdowns in the regular season. That includes a 340-yard, five-touchdown performance at Whitefish on Oct. 12.
“He’s been pretty special,” Columbia Falls coach Jaxon Schweikert said.
“He’s never not had a big game.”
An outstanding offensive line is key to the Wildcats’ success in the run game. Schweikert called his line “really big and physical” and “the best line in the state,” exemplified by its ability to protect senior quarterback Drew Morgan, who has only been sacked twice this year.
Protection has helped Morgan become one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the state. He has completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,252 yards and 26 touchdowns. In his 121 pass attempts, he has been intercepted just seven times.
Schweikert said Morgan has “A-plus athleticism” and the intelligence to manage a playbook with up to 125 plays in a game.
“He’s stepped up into this role after preparing for years,” Schweikert said.
“He’s a great leader, a winner.”
Despite not being challenged in conference play, the Wildcats are battle-tested after opening the season against some tough competition. Columbia Falls lost 35-24 to Hamilton in its Aug. 31 opener (a rematch of the 2017 state championship game) before taking down Dillon 48-20 a week later.
The Wildcats led Hamilton 24-14 at halftime, but penalties and untimely turnovers cost them in the second half.
“There’s a fine line between being great and being not very good,” Schweikert said, and the Wildcats crossed that line in the second half of the Hamilton game.
“Our kids learned from that experience,” he said.
“We don’t take anything for granted because we know it can go south in a hurry.”
Today’s winner will play the Hamilton versus Miles City winner next weekend.
The Vikings travel across the state to play Roundup at 1 p.m. today in the Class B football playoff quarterfinals.
Bigfork is 8-1 overall after defeating Townsend 47-13 in the first round. But facing undefeated Roundup (9-0) promises to be a more daunting task.
The Vikings’ biggest challenge will be slowing down Roundup’s explosive senior quarterback Brody Grebe. He had six rushing touchdowns and passed for a seventh in the Panthers’ 60-14 first-round victory over Cut Bank last Saturday.
Bigfork coach Todd Emslie said the Vikings will have to find a way to pressure and contain Grebe.
“He’s a great athlete and makes that team go ... he’s fast and hard to bring down,” Emslie said.
But the Vikings boast offensive threats of their own. Senior Randy Stultz leads Bigfork’s ground game, with 887 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns on 129 attempts. He’s also caught 27 passes for 441 yards and four scores.
“Randy is incredible, quite an athlete,” Emslie said.
Stultz is also a menace on defense. He has a team-high four interceptions, which he’s returned for 139 total yards and a touchdown.
Bigfork senior quarterback Anders Epperly is having a fantastic season of his own. He’s thrown for 1,615 yards, 19 touchdowns and just seven interceptions with a 62 percent completion rate.
Senior Luke Schmit leads the Vikings’ receiving core. He has six touchdowns to go with 530 yards on 36 receptions.
But for Emslie, “it comes down to the big boys.”
Emslie said the offensive line has done an impressive job protecting the quarterback — they’ve allowed just three sacks this season — and both the offensive and defensive lines had their best performance of the year in Bigfork’s first-round triumph over Townsend.
“They’re really coming into their own ... coach John Little does an awesome job,” Emslie said.
On the defensive side, Bigfork has allowed more than 15 points just once — in a 26-21 loss to Missoula Loyola — while holding opponents to an average of 10.7 points per game. Opposing quarterbacks have just a 44 percent completion rate against the Vikings’ defense.
Emslie acknowledged it will be a challenge to get off the bus and play after a long ride across the state, but he is not especially concerned.
“We’ve had a lot of long trips this year ... these guys are ready to compete,” he said.
“We can hang in there with anybody.”
The winner of today’s quarterfinal will meet the winner of Fairfield versus Manhattan next weekend.